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The 2004 Candidate Debate
May 6, 2003
By Ed Hanratty

Editor's Note: Democratic Underground welcomes articles promoting individual Democratic candidates for political office. Publication of these articles does not imply endorsement of any candidate by the editors of Democratic Underground.

Did anyone catch the recent Democratic Presidential debate? Of course not. Why? Not because you don't care - because the ABC network ignored its FCC duty to best serve the public interest, airing (at least in the New York market) "Wheel of Fortune" and "Gladiator" as eight men and one woman spoke publicly in the most underrated art-form we know, civil debate, about why they believed that they should be the forty-fourth President of the United States.

Now, my wife and I are losers. In bed by the end of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" at 11:00 PM, and up at FIVE THIRTY IN THE MORNING to watch ABC broadcast the tape delay of the debate at the University of South Carolina. Yes. 5:30 - 7:00 AM is the time slot deemed appropriate for a debate on who should challenge pResident Bush in 2004. I could go on and on and on about why this is a blatant abuse of the FCC Guidelines and Regulations, the clowns that run ABC (literally-Disney Corp.), or the growing FOXification of our news outlets. But I'm not going to do that.

Rather I guess it's best that I give you my slanted opinion on what was said, who looks good, and who doesn't stand a chance. Let's face it - if you listen to Joe Scarborough, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan, or the latest Neanderthal to find his way on to cable television, Michael Savage (who makes Trent Lott and Rick Santorum look like beacons of tolerance), they'll tell you to vote for Bush because none of these candidates are worthy anyway. So, withouto further ado, here's the opinion of one of the, oh, maybe 65 Americans who watched this debate on television.

Dennis Kucinich
Ohio Representative, Former Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio

Kucinich probably represents what I personally would love to see happen in America: Health care for all, a reduction of wasteful military spending, stronger environmental laws, tough anti-corporate crime laws and prosecution, campaign finance reform, and a firm dedication to finding alternative energy sources. Furthermore, he actually outlined plans and policy, and wasn't merely blowing ideological smoke. Too bad he looks like the offspring of Ross Perot and Kevin Spacey. He's got very little in the charisma department, and doesn't seem comfortable in the spotlight. But I'll tell you this: He would make a strong Secretary of Energy in the next administration.

Carol Moseley Braun
Former Illinois Senator, Former Ambassador to New Zealand

An impressive ideologue that just doesn't seem Presidential. Braun offered a lot of nice opinions that poll well with the more liberal wings of the democratic party, but she hasn't really campaigned, raised money or made her mark. Candidates like Braun are important to the primary process, they ensure that certain tough topics are discussed, but I don't see her picking up a strong following.

Al Sharpton
Activist

Hands down the most entertaining candidate, but he was more than the "jester" that he'll likely be made out to be in the press. Sharpton took others to task for their support of Bush War II, and more than any other candidate, spoke about the deterioration of our inner cities and the need for urban revival. He probably offered up the funniest line of the evening (or, early early Sunday morning for those watching at home), comparing the Bush tax cuts to cult leader Jim Jones' Kool-Aid: "It may taste good, but it's gonna kill you". Sharpton brings a lot to the table, but unfortunately, a chance to win the nomination, or better yet, defeat Bush, isn't one of them.

Bob Graham
Florida Senator, Former Governor of Florida

Graham may actually be more of a military hawk than President Bush if you could believe that. He advocated using the US military to aggressively pursue Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations, and I admit it would be interesting to see a Democrat debating Bush and calling him a dove. Furthermore, he has an impressive track record as an executive, even if lacks charisma. However, the reason Graham is a candidate to be taken slightly serious is pretty obvious: his home state. No need to rehash bad memories of 2000 (there's another candidate who seems to be making that his platform), but we know what Southern State is going to see a significant amount of Democratic campaign dollars and candidate appearances. Moderator George Stephanopolous (who did a fantastic, balanced job) called Graham out though on a widely held opinion: that Graham is actually running for Vice President - and it's quite likely.

Howard Dean
Former Governor of Vermont

It was obvious from the start that Dean is campaigning against one candidate: John Kerry. He's vying for the "Legitimate Liberal" title amongst the candidates, and with all due respect to Moseley Braun, Sharpton, and Kucinich - this is a two-horse race and Dean is the underdog. He attacked Kerry for his shady support of the war, accusing him of playing both sides of the fence. I had read a lot about Dean going into the debate. I heard he was a "Clinton-like dark horse", and in all honesty, he was quite disappointing. If you're going to be compared to Clinton, you have to have what my wife calls, the "It Factor." The charisma, that certain ingredient that above all else, makes you "presidential". Dean didn't have it. I agree with Howard Dean on many issues, probably more than Kerry, but Dean sealed his fate in my mind during his closing arguments, when he was reading off index cards while the other eight were well prepared and spoke directly to the camera or audience.

Dick Gephardt
Missouri Representative, former House Democratic leader

Gephardt has a big stigma to overcome: a career Washingtonian, a typical politician. I personally have never been a big Gephardt fan, but I can honestly say that I was very impressed. The other candidates took him to task for his health care proposal, which does have serious economic and plausibility concerns. However, he defended it well, and deserves major credit for actually having a comprehensive, well thought-out plan at this point in the race. He carried himself well and exerted more charisma than I had ever seen from him. Doesn't quite have the "It Factor," but is indeed a worthy candidate.

Joe Lieberman
Connecticut Senator, former Vice Presidential Candidate (2000)

Please, please, please. Anybody but GI Joe. This man is a Republican - plain and simple. I really don't know what makes him a Democrat. His strategy was obvious from the start, he's campaigning on two issues. The first strategy being "the hawk" among the nine. Sure, Graham was rather hawkish, but Lieberman sang the praises of the War in Iraq at every opportunity, using the Bush tactic of distorting the Iraq war as part of the overall war on terrorism, and using buzz words like "security", "defense", and "strength".

His second campaign platform is the "Woe is me. I was robbed in 2004. I should be Vice President". Joe, most Democrats agree with you, but as for independent voters, they don't want to hear it. After all was said and done, Al Gore conceded and George W. Bush was sworn in as President. I don't know if you've noticed, but a lot has changed in America since 2000. Bush has high approval and popularity ratings. People don't want to hear about how illegitimate you believe his election was, even if most Democrats agree with you, this is a losing strategy. Move on. We had to. Look, 2000 was a disgrace, and in certain districts in Florida it should be used during the campaign to drive people to the polls. And yes, I would like to see Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter monitor the elections, but that's not going to fly in this campaign.

John Kerry
Massachusetts Senator and Decorated Vietnam Veteran

Kerry has been my personal choice for quite some time, and remains so. I admire his ethics and track record. He, like Gephardt, has spent an awfully long time in Washington. There's also that "Massachusetts Liberal" label that doesn't fly well in certain parts of the country, not to mention the fact that the eventual nominee will be named in Boston. But I tend to look at it like this: The places where "Massachusetts Liberal" is a dirty word are decided "red states". They're already locked up for Bush in 2004, and no Democrat will win there anyway. So don't go worrying about how Kerry won't poll well in rural Mississippi.

I think Kerry's service record will make him a formidable candidate against Bush in the areas where Bush is strong, but he's still different than Bush in those areas. Whereas Gephardt accused Lieberman of being "Bush Lite" (another great line) because of his broad support for Bush's military agenda - Kerry has tempered his support with caution. Now, I would feel much more comfortable about Kerry had he not voted to authorize the war in Iraq, don't get me wrong. But his comment on "regime change" and his response to those who criticized it raised another possible strong point of his campaign. He's making it clear that he is sickened by this widespread notion that Republicans have the copyright to the American Flag, American service, and patriotism in general. It's an argument that needs to be made, and the Republicans need to be held accountable.

John Edwards
North Carolina Senator, Former Trial Lawyer

For the past few months, I've been saying the same thing about Edwards: he's a pretty face, a nice smile and a very inexperienced politician with little depth. After hearing him speak first in Iowa, and then last night, let me add one more word to my opinion of Edwards: wow! Talk about the "It Factor," this guy IS It. I've heard him described as "Clinton without the scandals" and boy, whoever said that was on target. Assuming that he's as clean as everyone says he is, this man could be the next President.

He's a great speaker, he seems incredibly genuine, and in tune with what's wrong in America. As much as I worry about his overall inexperience in policymaking, I just think of him debating Bush and I smile. Why? Because a Bush-Kerry debate would be a carbon-copy of the Bush-Gore debates. Kerry will come off as a liberal elitist using big words and Bush will crack a joke, a smile and come off as the winner. That won't happen with a Bush-Edwards debate. Edwards summed it up in his closing arguments, saying that Bush may talk like a regular guy, but he still has corporate interests in mind. He may live on ranch and wear a big belt buckle, but that doesn't mean he knows about the real problems facing America today.

Edwards spoke passionately about Enron and corporate fraud. He was eloquent and inspiring. He was the real deal. He has It, and being a Southerner most definitely helps the Democratic cause, seeing that no Democrat has ever won the Presidency without carrying one southern state.

In a perfect world, I would still prefer John Kerry to be the President of the United States in 2004. But this isn't a perfect world. We have a very conservative, very dangerous trigger happy corporate crook sitting in the White House right now. This isn't the time to play fantasy politics. The Democrats, the American people need a strong candidate capable of going toe-to-toe with a very popular president. America needs John Edwards.

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