Archive for the ‘PBS All-American Presidential Forums’ Category

Once again the results of the presidential forum proved to me that the format is dead. I know you’ve heard this before, but I’m just tired of spending so much of my time for such little reward. If we insist on continuing this format with no time to really discuss major issues, and certainly no time to debate, then we ought to admit formally that this is a sound bite contest. Then instead of blogging about what is said, we can be like judges in a ice skating contest, and vote for the best style and content of the sound bites the candidates deliver.

What I really got from this event, that I did not get from its democratic counterpoint, was the development of a sense of community amongst the people watching the event at the LBJ Library. The group was a lot smaller for this one than the previuos one, and that may be the reason. Or, it may be that many of us attended both and so we’re more comfortable with each other. It could also be that the format for the discussion at the LBJ Library was far more informal for this one. Whatever the cause, I walked away from the event feeling good about what had transpired.

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These are loose quotes excerpted from the post Tavis Smiley All-American Presidential Forum debrief of participants at the Texas Forums Watch Party at the LBJ Library.

There is a great deal of frustration here because there is no dialgoue.

These are not even real debates. They are sound bite contests. None in the business graced it with a name.  A former political operative once told his candidate that if a reporter only gave him 30 seconds to respond to questions he should answer, “That is an assinine thing to ask me to do about such a complex issue.” The candidate did so and they received favorable response from the public.

One person was surprised that Tavis twasn’t able to negotiate a longer period of time for the candidates to have more time to respond to the questions. (Interestingly at this point someone referred to the one hour format. The program was actually 90 minutes.)

In all fairness to Tavis and this process, it’s really tough to do with that number of candidates. What would it have looked like if they all showed up!

Unless you are a Huckabee who is very good on their feet, you do not agree to anything more than soundbites. You can not rehearse someone who is not good at debate to follow a format that … Most politicians can handle that kind of format.

Do we really need more time? If we had it, then we’d see what real creeps these people are.

There is some value to these forums even if we don’t like the format because it forced them to think about how to answer these questions for this audience.

A former political operative felt that Huckabee walked away with the biggest score.

And that his message plays well with moderate whites.

An African-American journalist said that it was obvious that some of the candidates are not comfortable with African-Americans, for example Tancredo and Hunter. She’s interviewed Huckabee several times and know that he has lots of African-American friends – Republican and Democrat. And he did carry a large percentage of the Black vote.

Early on many of the candidates said that there is still racism but after that, no one ever addressed the issue and some even denied it, like Keyes.

Ron Paul will also give the same speech. He’s been saying the same thing for 30 years. He is like the Ross Perot of this election.

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The problem that (as seems increasingly likely) will be the toughest, most immediate thing on the plate of the next president will be what to do about the war in Iraq.  It wasn’t until over an hour into the debate that a single question about the war in Iraq was posed to the candidates.  They each gave their take on it and everyone moved on – with obvious relief – to a hypothetical question about involvement in Darfur.  If we can’t pin candidates down about what they will do about a real and crushing war we are already in (and doing a really bad job of it), why spend even more time asking them to imagine ways we might get involved somewhere else (regardless of how obvious the need is)?    And…it might be a good idea to find out how the next president plans to deal with the War on Terrorism.  As bad as things are right now, for sure, it could get a whole lot worse. 

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The pre-debate discussion and beginning of the debate itself contained an almost palpable sense of disappointment and indignation surrounding the lack of attendance by many of the front-running Republican candidates. Tom Joyner opened the debate and was the first to refer to this lack with a joke that hit a bit too close to home- thanking those who “are viewing from home…Rudy Guiliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson…”. This theme continued by Mr. Smiley, who, by explicitly refusing to comment on the lack of candidates, said more than commenting could. And the quiet commentary on this lack was further highlighted when the candidates filed in to a stage with podiums kept empty for their missing fellow candidates. Several candidates then expressed “disgust” and “embarassment” when presented with the question of why they attended.

The issues

Criminal justice was an issue raised several times in the course of the debate. While most candidates skirted the issue, Hunter being called out on by Smiley for doing so, Huckabee, in this issue and most, showed a sensitivity to the question within a racial context while not focusing on it. He favored drug rehabilitation rather than repeated incarcaration. Other candidates, such as Tancredo, on this and other issues, skirted addressing race at all though it was specifically inserted as part of the question.

Healthcare was brought up in a minority context, but didn’t enter the conversation at all until the last half hour of the debate. Huckabee again brought forth good points, pushing for preventitive medicine and patient control of medical records, but skirted addressing how to give access to healthcare for all Americans. Ron Paul and Brownback typically emphasized less government and more choices, while the issue of savings accounts for health care was brought up by Brownback and reinforced by Tancredo along with an emphasis on “personal responsbility” regarding health, which seemed like a short-sided and hands off approach that could most lightly be characterized as insensitive. No Republican candidate seemed to feel or say that it was the government’s role to radically alter health care, and the only radical solutions proposed had to do with “personal responsibility”.

The “Winner”

Huckabee showed to be the clear “winner” if one can be declared. His answers were logical and mostly addressed the issues presented, though toward the second half, he showed to skirt the actual issue addressed in favor of presenting a side of the general issue brought up that showed him in a favorable light (for example, he skirted questions about Darfur and somehow used it as a segway for talking about abortion and poverty).

The Losers

Clearly, those absent were losers and were powerfully but not overtly shown as such by the candidates and moderators. No candidate other than Huckabee showed any sort of sympathetic sensitivity to the racial context in which the debate was presented. Brownback and Hunter tried for personal sensitivity by referring to personal experiences that were only vaguely related to the racial/minority situations presented and therefore looked even less sensitive to the issues presented.

In general, I felt that the format was flawed in that candidates used pointed questions to express general ideas instead of actually responding to questions asked. Any question with a racial bent was often responded to without any sort of reference to that (“oh you’re asking about health care? Ok personal responsibility blah blah blah”). I had wished they had been pushed to talk more about race, inequalities, and social equality, but as we discussed at the end, some of the candidates’ lack of comfort around African Americans and while addressing African American issues was almost palpable, which highlighted what had been our main point in the pre debate discussion: we need to have more community dialogue about race and politics! We need to feel empowered to get together and talk about political, social, and race issues and feel that we can make changes and inform ourselves by discussion with other citizens of all races and cultures.

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And so the ones who are not there? Said they didn’t want to face a hostile crowd? We want cowards to lead us? Will they cower before a hostile al Qaeda? What a hoot. Love those empty podiums.

Go, Huckabee! Embarrassment is a great, if almost soft, word.

Brownback, uses disgrace. Excellent. Against narrowness! Wow! A sense of humor!

Tancredo slams! Shoot score. Only man at the NAACP forum!

Hunter patronizes.

Keyes is still crazy.

Positive legacy?

Eisenhower is indeed the only decent Republican since Teddy. Huckabee scores again.

Paul, yes on repealing drug laws but again he misunderstands the basic community needs, that the structure matters. Personal charity does not replace communal responsibility.

Brownback wants to give us a museum. Woo hoo. But an aplogy is a beginning. Again, you can’t eat symbolism.

Keyes is still crazy. Taliban is a good idea.


Huckabee recognizes racism as fundamental. And equality does not exist yet.

Paul explains that it is the minimum wage that keeps us down. No taxes on waitresses. There you go.

Brownback. More museums! Optional flat tax.

Tancredo. The economical problem is race baiting. The real problem is Mexicans! Ai yi yi!

Hunter ignores corporate America’s place in this.

Keyes is still crazy. Taliban.

Immigration reform.

Paul would not sign an amnesty program but 12 million must not be rewarded. Welfare? The Mexicans work becauswe of really generous welfare state. Really? What year is this?

Tancredo stumbles around his tongue.

Hunter ain’t wonderin’ bout whose gonna build the fence?

Keyes. Even a broken clock is almost right once a day. New Orleans blacks are being screwed, but I don’t think it’s the Mexicans who are screwing them.

Huckabee gets it right. Damn, he is a decent man. Sounds like a conservative Democrat.

Jena Six.

Brownback did Club Med jail. And says he has a feel for it. Where was his bar of soap? How many batons to the kidneys did he take?

Tancredo says it is the welfare state! O, yeah. The three nooses was made by welfare mother, right?

Brownback goes uh uh uh uh. How about a Scooter Libby, Brownie?

Keyes makes sense again.

Huckabee knows the difference between medical problems and criminal problems. Excellent.

Paul says repeal the war on drugs! Amen! A health issue, indeed.

Voting ID.

Tancredo mumbles about Jim Crow.

Hunter does too. And he lies. But give ’em guns.

Keyes is crazy again.

Huckabee IS a democrat. You go, Huck. Motor voter.

Paul against to national ID. Yeppers. Good on ya.

Brownback amendment. Fine.

Medical care inequity.

Hunter wants us to move.

Keyes knows it’s the homos!!!

Paul has the same corporate medical BS. He is lying! Private is not less expensive!
Brownback another market shill. Bush social security scam.

Tancredo says don’t get sick.


Keys slams Bush but is still crazy.

Hunter supports the wounded. But what about stopping future wounded?

Paul tells the truth here. We are sending money overseas. BAd thing. Yes, ROn. It is a bad thing.

Brownback lies. No declaration of war. Let’s Balkanize the place! I’m a divider not a uniter!

Tancredo doesn’t know his constitution. The generals take orders from us not from them.

Hunter is a moron. The war is lost. Battle-hardened? Shell shocked.


Huckabee shows us dirty pictures of aborted babies.

Paul says stay out because we always fail in feel good efforts. Tell it to Malaysia.

Brownback tells us we be number 1. We can succeed. Food and medicine. OK.

Tancredo says no troops but force the UN to do what we won’t do.

Hunter says it’s always mucked up, but give ’em guns!

Keyes says we must help the universal mission to reinforce humanitarian efforts. Good on ya.

Death penalty justly applied.

Paul is against it. Rich v. poor. Damn right. DNA issue is right on!

Brownback supports life but will kill certain demons. Hee hee.

Tancredo says treason, baby. I’m in trouble in the future, eh?

Hunter says deter. O, man.

Keys justifies his God’s bloodthirstiness.

Huckabee waffles.

School integration unnecessary?

Brownback says we’ll volunteer. Right.

Tancredo says choice for vouchers. Grr. Racism.

Hunter. Racist.

So, there you have it. Huckabee wins, but this is a painful ugly smoke & mirrors game. Sound bite ugliness. But as a snapshot of the bankrupt morality of the Republican soul. Fear and loathing in cheap polyester. Too bad it didn’t go on for another three hours. It would be even more revelatory of their narrow & fear-based philosophy.

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Has integration outlived its purpose?

Tancredo: it’s not just about giving a black child the opportunity to sit next to a white child. It’s about making sure that they both have the same quality of teacher. In Texas, children in poorer schools that are largely minority are more likely to have teachers who are teaching out of their credentialed area.

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RON PAUL just changed his stance!  wow

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OK, in keeping with my goal to find something to like in every candidate, I am bowled over – as are my fellow forum watchers here – by Ron Paul’s change of mind about the federal death penalty. He no longer supports the death penalty. Not only am I impressed by his answer because I happen to agree. I’m impressed by anyone who has the courage to say that they have changed their mind. That they are able to reexamine their own positions in light of new information and new understanding of the issue.

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What should we do about Darfur?

Ron Paul thinks we should ONLY focus on safety and security NOT the feel good stuff like ending genocide. What?

Seriously, I need a little feel good. I want a country that I feel good about. A country that has compassion, leadership, vision. What’s wrong with doing something that feels good!

We are a nation of nations. Whenever someone hurts, we are hurt. Keyes is actually making sense and I support his call on humanitarian order. Had to at least find one thing in every candidate to like! It’s just taking longer with some than with others!

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Almost all of these suggestions are good ones, but are much more about the what should happen…I long for the questioners to break in repeatedly with a simple “and how would you do that?”  “how would you make that happen?”

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