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Monday, March 01, 2004
"Are you a liberal?" Only if
God's on our side! So what did we learn from the 1297th and
possibly final debate of the Democratic presidential primary season?
That journalist-questioners are endlessly rude, and hinder more than
they help. That John Edwards is pretty effective when he goes on the
attack. That Al Sharpton's and Dennis Kucinich's demands for equal
treatment were a whole lot easier to listen to back before they'd
been soundly rejected by primary voters and caucus-goers in every
state in which they've run. (Okay, Kucinich did all right in Hawaii.)
And that John Kerry isn't going to fill anyone with spasms of
excitement, but that there's virtually no way he can blow the
nomination at this point.
Yesterday's debate, sponsored by CBS News and the New
York Times, was particularly frenetic because it only lasted for
an hour. Dan Rather, at least, was polite in trying to move things
along; and I wanted to cheer when he told Sharpton that "I think you
will agree, the voters have spoken." But Andrew Kirtzman, of WCBS-TV,
in New York, seemed clueless. And Times reporter Elisabeth
Bumiller was a constant distraction, interrupting before anyone could
even get out a fragment of an answer, and continually trying to push
Item: In discussing yesterday's
departure of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first
democratically elected leader in that country's history, Bumiller at
one point asked, "But no one says he's a good president, so why is it
so terrible he's gone? You've all agreed on that." As her own
paper's editorial page puts
it this morning, Aristide
left because of pressure "from a Bush administration too willing to
ignore democratic legitimacy in order to allow the removal of a
leader it disliked and distrusted."
You know, the Democrats all agree
that George W. Bush isn't a good president, either, and he wasn't
even democratically elected. What do you suppose Bumiller's response
would be if one of the candidates called for Haitian troops to remove
Bush from office?
Item: Bumiller's intellectually
insulting interrogation of Kerry as to whether he is a "liberal."
BUMILLER: The National
Journal, a respected, nonideologic [sic]
publication covering Congress, as you both know, has just rated
you, Senator Kerry, number one, the most liberal senator in the
Senate. You're [she gestures to Edwards] number
four. How can you hope to win with this kind of
characterization, in this climate?
KERRY: Because it's a
laughable characterization. It's absolutely the most
ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.
BUMILLER: Are you a
KERRY: Let me just
BUMILLER: Are you a
KERRY: ... to the
characterization. I mean, look, labels are so silly in
American politics. I was one of the first Democrats in the
United States Senate in 1985 to join with Fritz Hollings in
deficit reduction. Now, does that make me a
conservative? I fought to put 100,000 police officers on the
streets of America. Am I a conservative?
BUMILLER: But, Senator
Kerry, the question is ...
KERRY: I know. You
don't let us finish answering questions.
BUMILLER: You're in New
Are you a liberal? Are you a
liberal? Are you a liberal? I would expect this from Rush
Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, not one of the lead reporters at the paper
of record. Pathetic. (By the way: Kerry is a liberal!)
Item: Dan Rather began the
proceedings by asking the candidates about their "spirituality" or
"religiosity." It was a little weird - Rather, after all, is a little
weird - but I thought it was within bounds, since all four of them
have brought up the G-word at one time or another. And, actually,
their answers were at least somewhat revealing.
But then, in the closing minutes,
Bumiller came back to it - this time putting it in the context of
President Bush, who, she claimed, "has made quite clear in his
speeches that he feels God is on America's side." (A fair
interpretation, perhaps, but has Bush ever said anything quite that
crude? I don't think so.)
She then asked: "Really quick, is
God on America's side?" Roll that around on your tongue, in your
mind, for a moment. Really quick, is God on America's side? Is
this what we need from the people who are supposed to be explaining
the presidential campaign to us? A sneering jab at Bush, followed by
an invitation to the Democrats to make horse's asses of themselves?
Kerry, understandably, looked
stricken at the vacuousness of Bumiller's question. He fumbled around
for a moment and didn't say much of anything. Edwards had such a good
answer that you couldn't help but wonder whether he knew it was
coming, observing that Abraham Lincoln once refused to pray that God
was on our side - but that "I'll join you in a prayer that we're on
Good recovery. But that doesn't
excuse Bumiller's cheap stunt.
Kerry supports federal benefits
for gay couples. On Friday, I asked
whether Edwards had moved ahead of Kerry in promising to extend
federal marriage rights - though not the word "marriage" - to gay and
lesbian couples that marry in states that choose to allow same-sex
marriage. Kerry answered that yesterday, saying at one point, "That's
why I am for civil union. That's why I'm for partnership
rights. That's why I'm for even the federal extension, with
respect to tax code and other rights."
With that, I would argue that Kerry
is superior to Edwards on gay and lesbian rights, since Kerry's
support of civil unions is more definitive than Edwards's. Neither
man supports same-sex marriage.
Rod Paige, meet Mike
Barnicle. Tim Francis-Wright catches
WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Mike Barnicle referring to two
Academy Award nominees with foreign-sounding names - one of whom is
(gasp!) Iranian - as "terrorists." One would expect outrage, but I
suppose that would be too much coming from a station that lets Jay
Severin refer to illegal immigrants as "wetbacks" and Arabs as
"towelheads." UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The original item appeared in
Saturday's Globe. Francis-Wright gives proper attribution, but
I misunderstood the sequence.
posted at 9:09 AM |
MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.