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July 12, 2003

The Cost of War

This speaks for itself. What does it say to you? [Link via So Sue Me]

Posted 11:41 AM | general politics

NOW Presidential Forum

Will Lester's Associated Press story (also found here) is the only coverage I can find this morning of the NOW Presidential Forum L. and I attended last night. Lester's story hits a few of the high points, but skips over a lot of what seemed the best moments of the night. This only confirms the importance of voters getting the chance to hear the candidates for themselves so we can all make up our own minds about who to vote for (or against). If you think the media don't shape electoral politics, think again. For example, although I think Dean is probably the most viable—and therefore best—candidate, it's misleading for coverage of last night's forum to focus so much on Dean. There were four candidates at the forum last night (Carol Moseley Braun, Dean, Kucinich, and Al Sharpton), and the crowd cheered them all about equally. NOW's forum wasn't about Howard Dean, it was about women's issues, social justice issues, the more progressive factions of the Democratic party, and the kinds of things the Democratic party can do to address these issues. It's also significant that Lester's coverage didn't even mention the conspicuous absence of the other candidates. Don't Lieberman, Kerry, Edwards, Graham and Gephardt care about NOW's votes? Or more to the point, do they know that their equivocating about the war in Iraq and other issues has already destroyed their hopes of winning support from NOW? Lester should and easily could have found someone to comment on such questions.

Still, Lester's coverage is better than none. L. had the best take on the NOW forum when she said: "This shows how well Nader did his job," by which she meant that if Nader's goal was to move mainstream politics to the left, he accomplished that goal and then some. The evidence for this is in the kinds of things these candidates were saying, and the fact that at least Dean is being taken seriously for saying them.

Opening Statements: Carol Moseley Braun
Carol Moseley Braun opened the forum with a terrific quotation from William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech. Bryan said:

There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.

Bryan's grassroots sentiments nicely captured the tone of the whole forum, with each candidate competing to show that he or she was the most dedicated to empowering the people from the bottom up. Moseley Braun also got in some more great lines, including (the following quotes should be considered close paraphrases only; I tried to get every word but I'm sure I missed a few):

Moseley Braun on the "war against terror," and the Patriot Act:

If they spent as much time looking for Bin Laden as they do looking at what Americans read, they'd have found him by now.

Moseley Braun on her candidacy and approach to the race for the Democratic nomination:

I have no intention of dropping out. I'm often reminded of the civil rights mantra: 'If not now, when? If not me, who?'

(Moseley Braun appeared happily surprised when the crowd joined loudly in echoing this mantra. The energy in the room was incredibly positive for Moseley Braun, although, again, there was a lot of support for all the candidates.)

All of the candidates (except perhaps Kucinich, who was fairly serious and earnest throughout) tried to inject some humor into their remarks where appropriate and Moseley Braun was no exception. When forum moderator Elayne Boosler tried to cut her off for going over time, Moseley Braun said something to the effect that she always got cut short while the guys who follow her always go over time. The crowd roared and Moseley Braun got a few extra minutes to finish her opening statement. (The Washinton Post recently ran a good piece on Braun.)

Opening Statements: Howard Dean
Dean followed Moseley Braun and drew big laughs with his opening statement:

This is every politician's nightmare: Following Carol Moseley Braun at a NOW convention!

Dean was the only candidate to stand up for his opening and closing statements, which may or may not mean anything. He and Al Sharpton were also the two candidates who seemed to speak without notes, while Moseley Braun and Kucinich stuck fairly closely with prepared remarks, at least for their opening and closing statements. Perhaps that's one reason why I got fewer quotes from Dean. What follows is more a paraphrase of high points.

Dean covered a wide range of subjects and I was only able to record a few high points. He said "the President chose tax cuts, but you could have had health insurance for every American." He also noted that we could have had quality education for every American child, a strong economy, and several other things I missed, but we got tax cuts for the rich instead.

On the Bush administration's amicus brief against the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policies, Dean noted that Bush used the word "quota" five or six times on the evening news, knowing that word would inspire fear in many Americans that minorities were going to steal their jobs and take over their way of life. Dean then said "the President played the race card" and said we can do better than that.

Dean drew laughs by mentioning that he'd recently spoken with Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. "See, I'm a doctor, I can get that word out," Dean said. But he became serious again when he turned to his next topic:

We're going to talk about something no one is talking about: Domestic violence.

After citing some shocking figures about the prevalence of domestic violence in the U.S., Dean noted that he hasn't heard the Bush administration say a word about the issue, then concluded:

You cannot fix a problem until you're willing to talk about it. We need to talk about domestic violence now.

In response to a later question, Dean cited impressive figures for how much levels of child abuse and domestic violence had fallen during his tenure as Governor of Vermont, thanks largely to the fact that all children had adequate health care.

Finally of note in Dean's opening remarks was the fact that in the recent fundraising quarter over 60,000 people gave the Dean campaign less than $100 each, while Bush is raising all his money from big donors at $2,000 a pop. Dean was the only candidate to appeal several times directly to his audience for their help and their votes, reminding us that we had the power to change the direction of the U.S. through our votes, dollars, and hard work. It was a populist, people-power message that apparently has resonated well with voters so far.

Opening Statements: Dennis Kucinich
Kucinich's remarks revolved around what seems to be the theme of his campaign, which he repeated several times in different ways:

We can have the America we envision. We can have the America of our dreams.

Kucinich went on to talk repeatedly about his plans for government-funded child care, pre-kindergarten education for all kids, universal health care, a U.S. Department of Peace and many other expanded social programs which he plans to pay for by rescinding the Bush tax cuts and buy slashing the Pentagon budget, which he says is full of waste. At one point he mentioned that the Pentagon has over a trillion dollars in budget items it cannot account for, and that military spending is so out of control they don't even do audits on Pentagon accounts anymore.

Kucinich on the war in Iraq:

We went to war in Iraq because of a pattern of deception from the top down.

Kucinich on WMDs:

We must recognize that poverty is a weapon of mass destruction, and we know where these weapons are, and we know how to eliminate them.

(Kucinich listed other things as WMDs, but I missed them. I think they included things like lack of health care, perhaps low wages, etc. This formulation of the issue brought lots of applause and I just missed what he was saying.)

Kucinich on tax cuts:

It's time to take back the tax cuts from the people who don't need that money and put that money toward the future of America.

Overall, Kucinich gave the impression of wanting to deliver more social services to Americans than any other candidate, but he had lots of dollar amounts and statistics to suggest he knew exactly where the money for each social program would come from. As I mentioned, Kucinich seemed sincere, earnest, idealistic. I'd vote for him in a heartbeat but I fear too many people will find him too radical. If he could do it, Kucinich should license John Lennon's "Imagine" as his theme song.

Opening Statements: Al Sharpton
Sharpton got the crowd going right away with his first sentence:

The goal must be in 2004 the unequivocal defeat of George Bush!

He went on to explain to much applause that it was important the defeat be "unequivocal" so the Republicans don't (and again, I'm paraphrasing here) "rob us again." Sharpton was, hands down, the best speaker of the bunch at the NOW forum, peppering his comments with highly quotable and crowd-pleasing soundbites that fit into more serious riffs against George Bush and the Republican agenda. As Lester's article suggested, Sharpton made the point that women, African-Americans, gays and lesbians and other minority groups are not the "special interests" Beltway insiders make them out to be. He then turned to the question of whether "fringe" (my word, not his) candidates like himself were good for the Democratic party.

They ask if we'll hurt the party. Well, I missed something. The party doesn't control the Congress, the Senate, the White House or the Supreme Court. I think they're the ones hurting the party.

Sharpton then drew lots of cheers with a reference to conservative, Bush-lite Democrats who are little more than "elephants in donkey jackets." Other crowd pleasers included:

Sharpton on abortion:

Do I believe in a woman's right to abortion? No. I believe in a woman's right to do what she wants with her own body!

(In response to a later question, Sharpton stressed that he doesn't think religion has anything to do with abortion; it's a human rights issue.)

Sharpton on Iraq and state budgetary crises around the U.S.:

It's ridiculous to me that we can't find money to save the 50 states we occupy, but we can find the money to occupy and 'rebuild' Iraq.

Sharpton gave the impression that he's very sharp, he's an incredible speaker, and he might just make one of the best presidents the U.S. has ever had. Still, his, well, mixed past (for lack of a better word) is troubling and I tend to agree w/the mainstream pundits who say he's highly unlikely to convince enough voters that his maverick ways will be the best methods to lead the U.S. for the next four years.

Boosler and the rest of the panelists (including Helen Thomas, who appeared to be wiping tears from her eyes when the crowd gave her a standing ovation) asked the candidates a series of questions on issues important to NOW members. My pen got tired before it was over, but I did manage to record the following:

Dean on abortion:

Abortion is none of the government's business. What I find most offensive the gag rule. I'm deeply offended that a bunch of theocratic politicians are telling doctors how to practice medicine.

Dean on his position on the political spectrum:

After hearing all the opening statements I hope the press will stop writing that I'm too liberal to get elected. It's nice to be the centrist for a change.

(Sharpton hissed into his microphone at this and the audience laughed and clapped.)

None of the candidates had many good things to say about the No Child Left Behind Act. Dean and Moseley Braun denounced it as an unfunded mandate, Kucinich talked about promoting a "qualitative rather than a quantitative approach to education," and Sharpton said that a quality public education for every child should be a right added to the Constitution.

The candidates agreed with varied amounts of enthusiasm that gay marriage should be fine and that who a person chooses to marry should be none of the government's business.

Moseley Braun on the Iraq war and Bush's credibility:

This is a failed presidency. We should just call it for what it is. I think this issue will be enough to shake Americans' faith in this President.

Kucinich on the same issue:

We have to take America away from domination and back to cooperation with the world.

Boosler asked what I thought was a particularly good question framed in terms of an issue that was important to many in her audience:

We can strike pre-emptively at another nation, but a battered woman can't get the police to come to her house until a guy hits her. It seems our nation is suffering from some kind of battered women's syndrome—we're showing faith in a President who keeps lying and beating us up. Ho will you break Americans' irrational loyalty to this President?

All the candidates agreed that the best strategy was to get more people out to vote. Sharpton got in a jab at Dean by saying that Democrats must reach people who aren't on the internet, while Moseley Braun said she'd motivate voters by asking Ronald Reagan's question: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

That's where my notes end. The event lasted close to two hours so there were obviously more questions and answers, but I couldn't get it all. What I took from the experience was this:

  1. Every voter needs a chance like this to see the candidates answering substantive questions. If all you know about the candidates is what you see in the newspaper or hear on the nightly news, you only know what the reporters think is important, which means you'll be missing a great deal.

  2. Sharpton is a great speaker. No news there.

  3. Kucinich is an idealistic dreamer. He has terrific ideas, but I don't see him winning a majority of votes. For example, his idea for a U.S. Department of Peace makes eminent sense, but it's too easy for fearmongers like Yubbledew and Co. to reduce it to some kind of joke.

  4. Moseley Braun is charismatic and convincing in person. She has good arguments against those who would dismiss her for lack of experience or many other reasons. If the press would stop saying she doesn't have a chance, she might really have one. (The same is probably true for Sharpton.)

  5. Dean is far more "conservative" or centrist than some of his opponents. Of course, he's probably more "liberal" or "progressive" than many of the others (see Lieberman, for example). This is why I think he's probably the best candidate: He's saying the right things to win support from those on the far left who are sick of Bush-lite Democrats, but he's also working to reassure the middle-left (and even the Bush-lite Dems) that he's really representing their values, as well. Plus, unlike some of the other candidates, Dean also has a very solid record of experience that shows he's capable of doing the things a President needs to do. As you can read in Lester's piece, Dean closed by saying he was from the "'Let's beat George Bush' wing of the Democratic party." That's the most vital and important wing of the party at the moment, and I agree with Dean (and Sharpton) that that's where our focus should be.

The candidates are keeping busy with forums like this. According to this report, Dean Sharpton, Moseley Braun, Kerry, and Graham will all speak at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention tomorrow in Miami, and Moseley Braun, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Kucinich, Lieberman, and Sharpton will all speak at the Human Rights Campaign Presidential Forum next Tuesday in D.C. I have my ticket already for the HRC event, so I'll let you know if seeing the "left wing" candidates go up against some of the more Bush-lite candidates produces any good fireworks.

Posted 11:21 AM | Comments (2) | election 2004

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