DETROIT, MICHIGAN – JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden (C) speaks while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) (R) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) listen during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31,GETTY IMAGES
By MICHAEL MILLENSON
I could’ve been Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Marianne Williamson all rolled into one. That’s how I might have handled my first, only, and not-so-great presidential debate.
No, I wasn’t actually running for president. But I was involved in the campaign of someone who was: Barack Obama. In September, 2008, the campaign asked me to serve as a surrogate in a debate with John McCain’s health care adviser when one of Obama’s close advisers – as opposed to me, who’d met the candidate once at a campaign event – couldn’t make it.
As a policy wonk and politics junkie, I was ecstatic. Entering the debate, I was confident. Afterwards, metaphorically dusting the dirt off my clothing and checking for cuts and bruises, I was chastened.
Getting off the couch and onto the stage, even a small one, is tougher than it looks. Watching the cluster of Democratic presidential candidates go at it on health care, I scoffed and sneered along with other experts at their obfuscations and oversimplifications. (More on that in a moment.) But I also sympathized.
As the fictional Mr. Dooley character opined in oft-quoted wisdom, “Politics ain’t bean-bag.” That’s an old-fashioned way of saying that politics is a rough game.
The Obama campaign turned to me because they knew me, the event was close by, and it involved senior corporate human resources (HR) executives. I’d been a health care consultant for an HR consulting firm.
McCain’s adviser had been hurriedly brought onto the campaign when health care became a high-profile issue. Having pored over the differences between Obama’s thoughtful plan and McCain’s sketchy one, I