The Dem candidates gathered last night in L.A. for a nationally televised debate ahead of the Super Tuesday showdown (transcript here). We’re at the point in the primary process where people have identified their favorite qualities about each candidate and even the NY Times editorial team wished in print that Kerry and Edwards could somehow be merged into one candidate. And if combining the two Johns would equal the perfect running man, then the combination of Sharpton plus Kucinich would at least mean one less person wasting our time during these debates.
Kucinich, who was so stiff it looked like he had popped a year’s worth of Cialis and at one point unknowingly played the straight man in a Larry King – Al Sharpton Catskills variety act, explained that with the right adjustments to the Bush tax cuts, we could easily support government funded healthcare, higher education and one assumes free HBO for all. He otherwise had little impact (unless you count sending viewers into a state anorgasmia). Sharpton, who is inching back towards his pre-Vieques girth, forced his way into almost every exchange making (if possible) less sense than usual – while still coming up with evening’s major applause lines (the biggest could’ve easily been lifted from Heidi Fleiss’ employee handbook: “The issue in 2004 is not if gays marry. The issue is not who you go to bed with. The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning.”) and making it clear that he will fight for his time at the podium at the Dem Convention (we’ll pause here to give you a second to scream).
In the main event, the evening largely belonged to Kerry who seemed at ease and dropped a couple effective gravitas pile drivers onto John Edwards. Edwards, if anything, hurt himself during the debate. He is, as I’ve discussed here, remarkable on the stump. Less so during debates (except for those times when he can verbally work his way back into that stump-speech script). The guy simply makes a better lawyer than a defendant.
Much of the evening’s focus was on who between Kerry and Edwards is more electable in more states. Differences were established in the areas of trade, the death penalty and lobbyist’s donations. Kerry often brought things back to Vietnam while Edwards continued to focus on the Mill closing of his childhood (at this point I’ve never been so depressed about a company shutting its doors and I’m not even entirely sure what happens at a mill).
A few random thoughts about and samplings from the evening’s exchange:
When pressed by Larry King as to what he was still doing in the race when he had no shot, Dennis Kucinich explained (to applause): “That’s a conclusion that the people watching tonight will be able to make, not the media.” Hey, I’m blame the media for a lot, but not for DK’s poor showing.
A Republican cameraman perhaps? A few of the key applause lines of the evening were spoiled by a cutaways to Ed Asner cheering in the audience which were only overshadowed by cutaways to what looked like a smiling Gray Davis (in some pretty terrible seats).
Me, Myself and Why? Larry King opened the evening by explaining: “There are four Democratic candidates, myself and two questioners from the Los Angeles Times.” Quick question. What was “myself” doing on that list?
Questioning from Los Angeles Times Editorial Page Editor Janet Clayton on the Iraq issue was particularly pointed and actually drew applause. Her lead question (to Kerry and Edwards) on the topic and follow-ups went something like: “How can you criticize the president on his Iraq policy when both of you handed him a blank check to do whatever he wanted?” … “Well, then, why didn’t you not vote for it? Why didn’t you insist on caveats? It was a blank check. Why?” … “So are you saying you were suckered?”
Least necessary question of the night, from King to Kerry: “You don’t agree with Dennis?”
Kerry’s invented adage? “I mean, there’s one basic rule: When you’re digging yourself a hole, stop digging.” I’m pretty sure that line comes from Shakespeare although it’s a few beats short of iambic pentameter.
New debate drinking game for hardcore Democrats fixated on the issue of electability: Every time Al Sharpton makes reference to his desire to speak at the Convention, take a drink … of arsenic.