Thursday's Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina was as dead as Howard Dean's campaign. Not even intending to run ads in South Carolina, Dean put in a passive performance. A few times he fielded questions from moderator Tom Brokaw with his hands casually in his pockets. Dean's one attempt to challenge John Kerry backfired. Bragging about his record as governor of Vermont, Dean said Kerry as a do-nothing senator lacked the accomplishments to be president. Kerry replied that presidents benefit from knowledge of the workings of Congress and the crowd applauded. Kerry is a senatorial stuffed shirt, but next to Dean, who looks like a cocky JV wrestling coach, Kerry seems presidential.
More interesting than Dean's performance in the debate was Deborah Norville's interview with sacked Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi after it. She caught up with Trippi via cell phone in his car on his way home. She reduced Trippi to tears as she rehashed his sacking. She described Dean's move as a " sucker punch." Then a GQ writer came on to laud Trippi's dedication, and speculate on whether Dean " deserved" him.
Al Sharpton appeared on MSNBC after the debate too. The scroll at the bottom of the screen informed viewers that " Johnnie Cochran was doing radio ads" for Sharpton in South Carolina and that Sharpton had said of recently incarcerated musician James Brown: " He'll be out in time to vote for me."
Sharpton's performance in the debate was worthy of Johnnie Cochran. Sharpton came up with a novel way to out-demagogue John Edwards when Edwards waxed on about his hardscrabble Carolina roots. Edwards had said he was the " son of a mill worker." Sharpton trumped him, saying " I am the son of a father who couldn't be a mill worker." Sharpton also needled Brokaw, who seemed to botch a question about Islamic nations which came out like a question about the Nation of Islam. (Brokaw, wandering around the stage usually without notes, perhaps to show off a grasp of the material, kept getting corrected by the candidates for his askew questions.)
Perhaps Sharpton didn't take kindly to Brokaw's comment in a NBC interview before the debate on the black vote in South Carolina:
"Everyone in South Carolina says that the black vote here is not like a black urban vote, for example. These are church-going people who in many instances have the same moral values as members of the Christian Coalition in terms of their faith and their values and what they want out of life. It's a much more conservative black population in terms of values."
Edwards must not have heard the news. In response to a question about his reluctance to embrace homosexual marriage, Edwards defensively noted his support for homosexual " adoption rights," casting the homosexual issue as a civil rights issue. Church-going black voters in South Carolina might disagree.
Wesley Clark's one offering on cultural issues was to recall the horror of scriptural reading and prayer at his childhood public school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Only now, said Clark, does he realize the suffering that must have caused his nonreligious classmates.(Sharpton, earlier in the debate, chipped in that "we shouldn't act like our religion is better than anyone else's," though that didn't stop him from condemning fundamentalist Christians.)
Lieberman had little to say in the debate, except to note several times that he is an "experienced centrist." He took great hope in an endorsement from the Arizona Republic. But perhaps no one was more hopeful than Dennis Kucinich, who prefaced his answers with, "What I intend to do as President of the United States" and "My first act in office."
These exaggerating pols were all very disturbed by the "exaggerations" of the Bush administration. Dean said that Dick Cheney had "berated" CIA officials in an attempt to get them to exaggerate their findings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. "Berated" sounds like an exaggeration, perhaps something Howard Dean would do. But Dick Cheney?
Dean reserved his harshest words not for John Kerry but the "right wing." He usually says that he wants to take the flag away from Rush Limbaugh. But this time he added to his Al Franken-style inventory of insults a comment about the Constitution not belonging to " members of the Federalist Society."
Someone needs to inform Dean that he is not running against the right wing, and now that his campaign has collapsed, he never will.
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