Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Democratic Debate - June 3, 2007 High Points

First, the moderator: Blitzer could have gotten in at least a few more questions if he had taken the time before the debate to thoroughly prepare his questions and had practiced stating them as succinctly and briefly as possible. And, as usual with these debates, he wasted valuable time on ridiculous questions, such as what each of the candidates would do with Bill Clinton.

So far, none of the moderators has focused in on, forcing responses from all the candidates, the questions that matter most to me: what would they do about Gitmo and the wholesale assault on civil liberties in this country: torture, habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions?

Nevertheless, a couple of the candidates did mention these important issues.

Edwards was correct in calling the "War on Terror" a bumper sticker slogan:
I reject this bumper sticker, Wolf. And that's exactly what it is. It's a bumper sticker.

As president of the United States, I will do absolutely everything to find terrorists where they are, to stop them before they can do harm to us, before they can do harm to America or to its allies.

Every tool available -- military alliances, intelligence -- I will use.

But what this global war on terror bumper sticker -- political slogan, that's all it is, all it's ever been -- was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture.

None of those things are OK. They are not the United States of America.

In response to a question about The Patriot Act, Kucinich was eloquent:
Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would give up their essential liberties to achieve a sense of security deserve neither.

The Patriot Act has undermined civil rights in this country. And as president of the United States, one of my first acts in office will be to move forward to have the Justice Department overturn the Patriot Act as unconstitutional.

We have to remember that 9/11 led us down a cul de sac. Americans need to reconnect with our deepest sense of self here, Wolf. We have to remember that, you know, the courage that it took to form this country is still within us.

And I want to have what I call the 9/10 forum to recreate -- help us reconnect with the deeper sense of who we are as Americans.

In response to a different, and later, question about genocide in Dafur, Obama made a point that should be central to every Democratic campaign speech:
Second point, our legitimacy is reduced when we've got a Guantanamo that is open, when we suspend habeas corpus. Those kinds of things erode our moral claims that we are acting on behalf of broader universal principles, and that's one of the reasons why those kinds of issues are so important.

Gov. Richardson, in response to the same issue, said what I want to hear from every candidate - but he was cut off by Blitzer who didn't have the sense to take this opportunity to get responses from the other candidates:
We should shut down -- I would as first day as president, I would shut down Guantanamo. I would shut down Abu Ghraib and secret prisons. That is the moral authority that we don't have...

On health care, Edwards was the most honest when it came to the cost of overhauling the health care system:
Let me say, first, I think it's a very healthy thing that we have Democrats coming out with health care plans. This country's health care system is completely dysfunctional. I am proud of the fact that I was the first person to come out with a specific, truly universal health care plan.

Senator Obama came out with a plan just a few days ago, which I don't believe is completely universal, but he deserves to be credited because he laid out what the cost is, and exactly how he was going to pay for it.

I do believe that -- and by the way, you didn't say this, but my plan costs $90 billion to $120 billion a year.

I'd pay for it by getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.

And I believe you cannot cover everybody in America, create a more efficient health care system, cover the cracks, you know, getting rid of things like pre-existing conditions and making sure that mental health is treated the same as physical health, I don't think you can do all those things for nothing. That's not the truth.

And I think people have been so sick of listening to politicians who come and say, "We're going to give you universal health care. We're going to change the way we use energy in America. We're going to strengthen the middle class, have middle class tax cuts, and, in the process, we're going to eliminate the federal deficit."

I think it is way past time for Democrats to tell the American people that they can't expect something for nothing, and for Republicans to admit that they support tax cuts not in order to leave more money in people's pockets but because they want to starve the federal government in order to close down all of the government programs, which means just about everything except Defense, that they oppose. The reason Republicans don't do this, of course, is because they know they couldn't get elected dog catcher if they were honest about all the programs they want to shut down.

Senator Dodd surprised me by mentioning some key statistics that every Democrat should quote when Republicans start spouting off about our having the best health care system in the world:
Well, listen, this is a -- there's not a person in this audience or who's watching this program who wouldn't tell you that they've encountered the problems of the health care system in this country.

It is shameful. We rank 42nd in infant mortality in the United States worldwide. We rank 45th in life expectancy.

It is shameful that in the 21st century we have 47 million of our fellow citizens without health care coverage; 9 million children. And the number's growing every single day.

Look, as we've said here, there's basic agreement about universality here, dealing with information technology, preventive care, chronic illnesses -- what's been missing in all of this is the ability to bring people together to get the job done.

Senator Obama touched on the primary problem with health insurance strategies that rely on forcing everybody to buy some kind of insurance:
... But on this issue of mandatory versus nonmandatory (OFF-MIKE) going around trying to avoid buying health care coverage. And, in fact, if you look at auto insurance, in California, there's mandatory auto insurance -- 25 percent of the folks don't have it. The reason is because they can't afford it.

But, on health care, Kucinich wins. A single-payer system (which, Republicans to the contrary notwithstanding, is not the same thing as socialized medicine) is the only one that makes financial sense:
I reject this whole approach.

And the American people should know that with half the bankruptcies in the country connected to people not being able to pay their doctor bills or hospital bills, premiums, co-pays and deductibles are going so far through the roof, 46 million Americans with no health care, another 50 million underinsured, there is only one way to get health care coverage for all Americans.

And that is to have a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system, Medicare for all.
Wolf, I have written the bill. It is H.R. 676, with John Conyers, supported by 14,000 physicians.

On gays in the military, I was surprised to find, on reading the transcripts, that the Democrats support not just ending "don't ask, don't tell" but on ending discrimination against gays in the military:

Senator Clinton:
And yet I have watched how "don't ask/don't tell" has been implemented. And I've concluded that it is not the best way for us as a nation to proceed.

It has been in many instances implemented in a discriminatory manner. You know, after the first Gulf War there was a big flood of discharges of gays and lesbians because they let them serve and then after they finished the war, then they discharged them.

In this particular time period, we've had Arabic linguists discharged under "don't ask/don't tell" when we are unfortunately so short of having people who speak the very language that our men and women in uniform have to understand in the streets of Baghdad.

So I believe we could change the policy to let gays and lesbians serve in the military and be covered by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So just like those who are not gays and lesbians, if there were conduct problems, then the conduct problems we looked at. But people would not be judged on who they are.

Senator Biden was both brief and inspired in his response:
Peter Pace is flat wrong. I've been to Afghanistan, I've been to Iraq seven times, I've been in the Balkans, I've been in these foxholes with these kids, literally in bunkers with them.

Let me tell you something: Nobody asked anybody else whether they're gay in those holes, those foxholes, number one.

Number two, our allies, the British, the French, all our major allies, gays openly serve.
I don't know the last time an American soldier said to a backup from a Brit, "Hey, by the way, let me check, are you gay, you straight?"

This is ridiculous.

And by the way, we got a war on our hands we're trying to end. In the meantime, we're breaking the military. Nine thousand of these people have been kicked out.

And on gay marriage, Edwards cut to the core of the issue:
I don't think the federal government has a role in telling either states or religious institutions, churches, what marriages they can bless and can't bless. I think the state of New Hampshire ought to be able to make that decision for itself, like every other state in the country. I think every church ought to be able to make that decision for itself.

And I think it's very important that we stand up against intolerance and against discrimination.

I think the state and federal governments should get out of the "marriage" business altogether: They should limit themselves to authorizing civil unions, regardless of the gender of the partners. Marriage should be a religious act , not a civil act. (In Latin America, a distinction between a civil wedding and a marriage por la iglesia has long been observed.)

Blitzer's dumbest question, about Bill Clinton, elicited the best response from Gov. Richardson:
Well, the ideal job for President Clinton would be secretary general of the United States. But that's probably not doable.

On global warming, we didn't get a lot of heat or light, but Edwards gets points for stating the obvious:
But in the short term, can America finally stop spending $3 billion a year of taxpayers' money subsidizing oil and gas companies that already make billions of dollars? That's what we ought to be doing.

One day I wish Republicans would should as much concern about corporate welfare as about social welfare policies.

Biden gave the best response on Iran:
Well, first of all, I would do away with the policy of regime change. What we're saying to everybody in Iran is: Look, by the way, give up the one thing that keeps us from attacking you and after that we're going to attack you, we're going to take you down.

It's a bizarre notion, number one.

Number two, understand how weak Iran is. They are not a year away or two years away. They are a decade away from being able to weaponize with exactly what the question was, if they put a nuclear weapon on top of a missile that can strike. They are far away from that.

Number three, in fact, we have to understand how weak that government is. They import almost all of their refined oil. By 2014, they are going to be importing their crude oil. There are much better ways if we had to get to the point of real sanctions of doing economic sanctions on them forcefully that way. But at the end of the day, if they posed a missile, stuck it on a pad, I'd take it out.

Most of the MSM appears never to have heard or, at least, learned from the saying "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me". Having not just been burned but scourged on the issue of Iraq and WMDs, most pundits are nonetheless confident that the government is telling the truth this time about Iran.

Kucinich raised an important point about how bad policies can boomerang:
I don't think that a president of the United States who believes in peace and who wants to create peace in the world is going to be using assassination as a tool.

Because when you do that, it comes back at your country. And I think that Osama bin Laden, if he's still alive, ought to be held to account in an international court of law. And so should any other person who's been involved in a violation of international law which has resulted in the deaths of many people.

And so, I think that an America which has a strong stand morally in the world is an America that shows a way to get to peace. And an America that stands for peace is a strong country. So I would say to answer that question, I don't believe in assassination politics, and when you do that, you inevitably bring the assassination of our own leaders into play.

As is true of all of these debates, there was a lot of bloviating and too little specificity. One should not expect Presidential candidates to answer hypothetical questions such as "under what circumstances would you bomb Iran", but I think every candidate for President should have well-considered plans about the tax system, health care, government priorities, etc.

The moderator and the during-and-after-debate pundits were also, as usual, the ones most deserving of outright disdain with their emphasis on who "won", who looked "presidential", what this did to their various chances, etc. I don't think I heard a single comment on something substantive.

June 3, 2007 Democratic Debate Transcript