JANUARY 29, 2004 –
This time it was a different story.
Tom Brokaw was laying
out the premise of a question to General Wesley Clark.
Clark, you've been quite outspoken in blaming the Bush
administration for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. You better...
Notice the trail of
dots. That is because this time Clark did not let the nonsense
continue, but instead cut in and immediately set things straight.
CLARK: No, no, no,
Tom, no, I didn't blame the Bush administration for the attacks.
We know who did the attacks. It was Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida.
But what I have said is that the president did not do all he could
have done to have prevented that attack.
The contrast between
the two debates were like night and day. No smears from the
moderator, everyone was treated equally. And so, we had a useful
event that truly gave each candidate a full chance to affect their
place in the presidential race.
The biggest story of
the night was answers from Senator Edwards that were
Asked by moderator Tom
Brokaw of NBC News if he believes we have gotten enough help from
our Arab allies in the War on Terror, Edwards chose to go back to a
previous point and made the following unthinkable statement:
"Can I just go back
a moment ago -- to a question you asked just a moment ago? You
asked, I believe, Senator Kerry earlier whether there's an
exaggeration of the threat of the war on terrorism.
"It's just hard for
me to see how you can say there's an exaggeration when thousands
of people lost their lives on September the 11th."
Let's repeat that:
"It's just hard for
me to see how you can say there's an exaggeration when thousands
of people lost their lives on September the 11th."
That was completely
absurd and a huge moment in this debate. Edwards, whose
weakest point already is his lack of gravitas and foreign policy
credentials, now said flat out that he is incapable of understanding
that, despite the fact that 9/11 occurred, the President could still
have lied and exaggerated.
What does one have to
do with the other? The answer is nothing.
To stand there and
assert that you can't say, "there's an exaggeration when thousands
of people lost their lives," is to buy into the most basic lies of
the Bush administration. It is the sort of thing the amoral
puppets at FOX News assert.
9/11 occurring did not
make Saddam have WMDs, and if the President exaggerated, as the
Carnegie Report detailed
him and his administration doing, then he exaggerated, regardless of
what else happened. There is no connection, and no useful
presidential candidate would ever assert that allowing the slaughter
of American people somehow means that it is impossible for lying to
exist. What is the connection?
Absolutely this was an
But wait, Edwards was
Asked about job
losses, John Edwards tried to get folksy. It was his moment to
shine. His father was a textile mill worker just 40 miles away
from where the debate was occurring, and so he was going to show he
understood things better than anyone else.
And then, he issued
the following comment:
"...all this talk
among politicians in Washington about, "We're going to get you job
retraining program, we're going to make sure that we give you the
transportation to get to a new job," say that to a 50- or
55-year-old man who's been supporting his family his entire life
working in a mill."
Now, I know some
factory workers. I've known a man who spent his entire adult
life doing nothing but pulling a single lever all day every day.
For years he would go to work at the factory where he worked and
pull that lever. With time, as he approached the age of 55, he
started to have health issues related to doing nothing but pulling
that same lever all day.
The health issues
became so big he started to miss work, and, in the end, couldn't go
back to pulling that lever all day. In his late 50's, he
wasn't trained for anything else, and so was forced to simply call
himself retired, even though he wasn't in the financial shape nor at
the place in his life where he was ready to retire. If he had
been offered job retraining, he would have been grateful.
But Edwards asserted
that 55 year-old mill workers were either too stupid, lazy, or
inadaptable to want or be able to take advantage of job retraining.
Many would welcome the opportunity to have a different career.
Edwards' comment was an arrogant, pedantic insult.
And yet, Edwards was
not done yet.
Brokaw asked Edwards:
to gay marriages and you say that, in your home state of North
Carolina, you do not believe that they should have to recognize a
gay marriage that takes place, for example, in Canada, or one that
may, in the future, take place in Massachusetts. How is that
moving the country forward on gay rights?"
Edwards, in response,
gave an answer that was both offensive and incoherent.
"Because there are a
whole group of issues, Tom, on which we can move the country
forward, the president can move the country forward. For example,
the recognition of partnership benefits, changing our immigration
and adoption laws, so that they provide equality to gay and
He was asked about gay
marriage, and he responded with talk about immigration laws.
He talked about adoption laws.
A) What does
immigration have to do with gay marriage?; B) If he is saying gay
people should be able to adopt babies together, why can't they call
themselves officially a family - even if they hold a marriage
license issued by another state or country? That was the
question, and Edwards completely avoided it, choosing to ramble
about entirely irrelevant and unrelated things.
Anyone who was
considering Edwards really has to have serious pause at this point.
General Wesley Clark,
on the other hand, had his best performance to date. He
started out the first round by using his first answer to state his
case that he is the outsider who can fix Washington. He
absolutely dominated the next two rounds which related to foreign
policy. And when asked a difficult question about the judge
who had been forced to remove the Ten Commandments from his court
house, Clark gave an answer that sealed the deal for himself as the
clear winner of this debate.
His answer finally
made clear that no, Senator John Edwards is not the only southerner
in this race. Even more, it gave Clark a chance to open the
door to his southern roots without being a pandering braggart, as
Edwards has been at times.
And best of all, his
answer was bold and direct.
"Tom, I grew up in
the South and I went to church every Sunday and I did all that and
I can quote Scriptures and so forth.
"But, you know, I
think that we need to preserve the separation of church and
He didn't beat around
the bush. He didn't take minutes going on and on about his
humble southern roots. He simply laid it out in the typical
understated nature of a truly confident man, and then directly
answered the question. Two sentences, and he had accomplished
More importantly, he
didn't pander - didn't even lean toward doing so for a second.
He could have spent a minute or so trying to appease the group of
people who stood behind the judge and who aren't so fond of
separating church and state. But he didn't, and his bold
clarity made a strong case for the General in an area far outside of
the foreign policy realm.
And as he continued,
he gave an answer that showed his views and values are inline with
"I think that kids
in school should have the opportunity to pray voluntarily. But
when I was a kid in school in Little Rock, we read the Bible and
we prayed in home room every morning. And it never occurred to me
that I had Jewish friends sitting right there. Now I think, "What
must they have thought?"
This is an answer that
people of all faiths and varying strengths of religious belief can
be happy with and which shows the General has respect both for
religion and for people of varying faiths and beliefs.
On the other hand,
John Kerry's performance tonight was sketchy and wandering.
Even more, Kerry had an outbreak of Dean syndrome, emphatically
asserting that he had never said things that he actually had said.
Brokaw asked him, "How
can you come South, given what you said about the Democrats making a
mistake in spending too much time worry about the South..."
claiming, "I never said Democrats made a mistake. I never said that
Sorry, John, but not
only do we have this quote, as reported by
"During a town hall
meeting on the Dartmouth campus, Kerry noted that former Vice
President Al Gore would be president if he'd won any number of
other non-Southern states in 2000, including New Hampshire, West
Virginia, and Ohio.
makes the mistake of looking South," Kerry said, in response to a
question about winning the region. "Al Gore proved he could have
been president of the United States without winning one Southern
state, including his own."
...but there is also a
video of you saying it right there on the ABC News page.
By "everybody" it is
clear Kerry means every Democratic presidential candidate, which he
even made clearer by then talking about the last one, Al Gore.
"I never said
Democrats made a mistake. I never said that all."
makes the mistake..."
What is it with these
New Englanders that they can't remember what it is they said - in
this case, just a few days ago? Nothing against New
Englanders, because the ones we know don't have this problem.
Maybe it is just a problem with politicians who don't want to be
held accountable for the BS they fling about. They want to be
able to say one thing to please one crowd and then have it as if
they never said what they said when they are before another crowd.
That is why people are leery of career politicians.
And another reason why
General Clark was the clear winner in this debate. He made
sure to make that case right up front:
"I want to make very
clear that I'm not a career politician, I'm not a Washington
insider. I am an outsider. And I'm running this race as someone
who's spent his life in leadership and public service in this
country. Not someone who's part of the problem, I'll be the
solution to the problem."
As in a solution to
the problem of people who don't say what they mean and don't want to
be held accountable for what they really say, for one thing.
If in the past John
Edwards had pulled himself from the fire in the September 5 debate,
General Wesley Clark did that tonight.
He didn't put up with
any nonsense from the moderator. He made the case for himself
early and clearly. He got to show he is a cut above on foreign
policy issues. He got to show he has a delineated plan to deal
with domestic issues. And he got to make clear that there is
more than one southerner in the race, as well as to show that he can
be respectful of both religion and the separation of church and
state without using some dishonest political trick.
And again, he showed
himself to be the boldest and most plainspoken.
Only General Clark
took President Bush to task for allowing 9/11 to happen on his
watch. Everyone else gives him a free ride. And only
General Clark clearly stated from direct knowledge that, "the (Bush)
administration was determined to go into Iraq, whether or not there
was any connection with 9/11; that they were going to use it as a
pretext for invading Iraq."
Edwards said absurdly
that there was no possibility anything had been exaggerated.
The others could only flail around about some meeting Vice President
Cheney may or may not have interfered with things during. But
none could or did definitively say that the Iraq war was an
unnecessary war - and any candidate who can not clearly make that
case can not make the case against President Bush.
This is why the Bush
administration is so afraid of General Clark - he has the goods on
them. No one else can even take a stand, while Clark can do it
Kerry once again
showed himself unable to give answers that are direct and easy for
an average person to follow. Frequently he was off on rants
and even seemed lost at times. And he made, on top of his
earlier dishonest denial, another bizarre statement.
Asked by Brokaw about
previous comments he made with regard to affirmative action, Kerry
said in his answer:
I've ever made publicly supports it..."
Excuse me? Well,
John, tell us now what it is you say in private.
We must note here that
this comment, somehow, was not included on some transcripts of the
debate, such as the one they are running at the
Washington Post. We went back to the videotape just to
make sure we had it right, and we do.
This is, again, the
worst kind of politician-speak. He is concerned with his
record, has carefully chosen his words over the years and reviewed
them to make sure he can assert that he has always said he supports
affirmative action .
But in fact, as
reported in a
New York Times op-ed by David Brooks:
(Kerry) argued, "has kept America thinking in racial terms." It
has helped foster a "culture of dependency." Further, he said,
"there exists a reality of reverse discrimination that actually
The one thing Senator
Kerry did not say last night is that he believes in affirmative
action, that he agrees with it and thinks it is a good, important
program. All he said was that he, "always supported it," and
that, "every statement I've ever made publicly supports it."
But there is something
even worse in this if you look exactly at the exchange. Brokaw
"Back in the 1990s,
you expressed some reservations about affirmative action as it's
currently constituted. You said that it represented a culture of
dependency and that we have to reexamine that."
Back in 1992, Kerry
said about affirmative action, as affirmed by multiple sources, such
Boston Globe, that the cost of it was the creation of a:
dependency. . . . We must ask whether [social disintegration] is
the result of a massive shift in the psychology of our nation that
some argue grew out of the excesses of the 1960s, a shift from
self-reliance to indulgence and dependence, from caring to
self-indulgence, from public accountability to public abdication
This is exactly what
Tom Brokaw asserted he said. Brokaw didn't say that Kerry was
against affirmative action. He simply say that, "back in the
1990's," Kerry had said that affirmative action, "represented a
culture of dependency." Kerry exactly had. Brokaw said
that Kerry argued back then that "we have to reexamine that."
Kerry exactly had, saying, "We must ask," whether there has been, "a
shift from self-reliance to indulgence and dependence."
But when presented
with exactly what he had said, Kerry, once again, emphatically
denied he had ever said what he had exactly said:
that's not what I said."
Actually, John, it is.
Brokaw said it fairly and accurately. And for the second time
in last night's debate you showed yourself to be suffering from
Deanitis, the disease which causes a person to say empathically that
they never said exactly what they said.
That is politics at
its worst and something that calls into question the trustworthiness
of what Senator Kerry tells us. Don't give us dodges talking
about what you have said publicly. Give us straight talk, like
the General did.
Last night, General
Clark did what he needed to do in the debate, showing himself a cut
above the rest. He is leading in polls in Oklahoma, tied for
the lead in Arizona, and in among the best financial shape of any
candidate in the race.
Clearly, General Clark
is among the frontrunners at the moment. Now if he would just
deal with the 900 pound elephant doing everything possible to ignore
him and write him off, by next Wednesday he could be sitting in the
This morning would be
the perfect opportunity - fresh off a great debate performance and
with strong standing in the polls - for Clark to begin to comment
about the non-M/I media's coverage of him, or lack thereof. He
has to be aware of it, and not to deal with it is dishonest.
And dealing with it under the current circumstances would absolutely
have an immediate effect on the coverage he is receiving.
But we will have to
see if the General is ready to take advantage of last night's
victory or is willing to let it - and him - be tossed by the
In either case, last
night the General showed us all why his is the best candidate for
President of the United States. For one thing, he is able to
open his mouth without blathering nonsense flying out. And at
The Moderate Independent, we always consider that a big plus.
And in this Democratic field, it is a rare trait indeed.