My Reaction to a 2004 Democratic Primary Debate

This is the first election where I was vaguely aware of the issues going on because I had to do a project for social studies class. We were tasked with collecting articles about the campaign, which is how I first learned about terms like “GOP” and other political jargon.

I remember at the time being absolutely crushed and flabbergasted that Bush managed to win since he had done such an awful job up to that point, and everyone I knew hated him. Now, I read about the Republicans putting anti-gay initiatives on state ballots nation-wide as a “get out the vote” effort and it all makes sense (and becomes even more disheartening.) I also think Bush’s objectively better managed campaign played a significant part as well as the rally-around-the-leader effect post-9/11. Had the Democrats offered up a real progressive who wasn’t afraid to say “The surveillance state has gone too far. I will repeal the Patriot Act, reign in the TSA, and stop torture my first day in office,” I think they would have won. Instead, they ran a center-right “Me too!” token opposition candidate when a strong moral voice was desperately needed. I can definitely imagine a lot of people at the time thinking “what’s the point? They both support the policies I hate,” and staying home. Personally, had I been old enough, I would vote for Kerry if it meant stopping Bush, but I wouldn’t be too excited to do it either. In fact, after watching the general election debates, I’d say this is probably the lowest the Democrats ever sank in terms of ceding ground to the Republicans. (In office, Obama has been very much a center-right Neocon himself, but he at least had the brains to run as a progressive.)

So, this then leads to the question, how and why did it have to be Kerry? Was there no one better? Well, right away I know there was at least one candidate who could match that description—Howard Dean. He was to this cycle what Bradley and Brown were to the previous two Democratic primaries—the standard bearer for the progressive wing of the party. Brown, from what I’ve seen, was just genuinely outmaneuvered by a slicker politician—Clinton. Bradley lacked any kind of charisma or excitement and was doomed to fail no matter what. If he hadn’t lost to Gore, he would’ve easily been destroyed by the charismatic W. But Dean, from what I’ve seen thus far, had charisma in spades. He was also the first candidate to really use the internet to get his supporters connected and mobilized. Obama would then build on that strategy in 2008, to great effect. And Bernie never would have gotten anywhere due to the media blackout were it not for his strong internet presence.

ASIDE: Speaking of the media though, it’s interesting how they seem to have a penchant for demolishing the progressive candidates, either through blackout if not deliberation misinformation like what happened to Bernie or playing their one misstep on loop like Dean with the infamous Dean Scream. Now, I’ve read articles saying that the Dean Scream wasn’t what killed his campaign and he was already dead in the water by that point. Even if that’s true, it still doesn’t excuse the news channels from twisting the knife. We talk about Trump delegitimizing the office and campaign, but I think the process started here if not earlier. When pointless, stupid “funny” memes took precedent over policy and fairness, we started the descent which made Trump not just possible but inevitable.

First Round

We have dead-on-arrival/Democrat-in-name-only Joe Lieberman for starters. Plus Dennis Kucinch, Carol Moseley Braun, John Edwards…and out of nowhere Gephardt is back after an almost 20 years absence! Edwards seemed like a passable candidate in the 2004 VP debate, but not anything too special. And of course I mostly remember him now for the 2008 scandal. Dennis and Carol I have no prior exposure to, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare.

Like the general election debate from this cycle, we start off with (of course) terrorism and the Iraq War. It was depressing as hell to watch the 2004 general debates with the obnoxious “HOW WILL YOU KEEP US SAFE??!?!??” line of questioning, and it’s equally obnoxious here listening to Edwards in the first answer prattle on about how we’re still so unsafe. He uses the fact that nobody he’s talked to has any idea what they’d do differently to stop 9/11 as proof of how under-prepared we are and the need to do a lot more. But really, I think the takeaway from no one knowing isn’t “holy shit, no one knows how to keep everyone safe! We better throw EVERYTHING, TSA, NSA, Torture, Foreign Wars, etc at the wall and see what sticks!!” It ought to have been “maybe NOTHING could have prevented it—maybe the idea of total security is unattainable, and not worth it anyway.” The focus then and now should be on better coordination between the existing intelligence agencies and law enforcement bodies, not empowering them to unprecedented levels, creating new ones like Homeland Security, and breaking the Geneva code because “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.” Conservatives are supposed to love cutting and consolidating wasteful government programs—we should have used 9/11 as the long overdue impetus to restructure our entire intelligence community from the ground up. Keep an interim force on standby while you take a few months or a year to consolidate the 12-odd agencies into just 3 or 4 with clear goals, clear chains of command, more effective info sharing as well as better oversight by Congress and the people.I don’t know what the hell Edwards was even trying to do with this answer besides just fear monger and imply without overtly saying the President wasn’t doing enough.

I like how Carol at least gives a stronger condemnation of the Bush agenda in Iraq, and speaks some common sense (but at the time, borderline treasonous “lies”) about how we should have focused on Bin Laden and Al-Qaida, not Saddam and Iraq. She says “fear is power” which to me was going just shy of accusing Bush of manipulating the crisis to accomplish an illegal and otherwise unpopular pet project. Had Braun actually come out and said that directly, she’d have been run out of the country at the time, but again we all know now that was more or less the case. Very smart, and one of the few examples of subtlety being a force for good in politics. As she goes on to call Iraq a “misadventure” I also get the feeling she’s holding back from calling it what it really is—a war crime—while still strongly criticizing it. If one were to give that kind of measured summation of Iraq now in 2020, I’d call them for chickening out. But in 2004 the rally-around-the-flag effect was still very strong in America, so it was best not to appear unpatriotic if you could manage to do so while still strongly criticizing Bush. The gist of it is, she was playing it smart.

I actually like Kerry’s condemnation of Bush manipulating the public into Iraq, but he gives a very vague answer to the actual question “when should the US invade another country, even without international approval?” He just says “only when we’re threatened” and then pivots to attacking Bush. And while the latter is well deserved, the fact is, his response doesn’t give a clear definition for what it means to be threatened. Bush certainly made the argument we were “threatened” by Iraq, and Kerry’s answer doesn’t imbue me with any confidence the Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing someday. We now know they have and will continue to follow the same neocon playbook, as Obama’s intervention in Libya and posturing with regards to Syria have shown. I want a clear outline that shows when a President can invade. I want to go back to the old days where Congress had to declare war first, and even then, that should only happen with a clear attack on our own soil.

The way the moderator frames Dennis’ desire to cut spending on the military by 15% is pretty shameful and indicative of the times. Apparently it’s impossible to keep us safe from terrorism by redirecting a measly 15% of our over-bloated military budget. He’s the only one to call for immediate withdrawal (within 90 days) out of Iraq as well. Now, that definitely sounds great, and especially at the time, but in hindsight with ISIS emerging from the vacuum left after Saddam, I don’t know if this was the best idea. That’s one of my main criticisms of Obama too. He left Iraq which was the popular thing to do (I supported it myself) at the time, but in hindsight it helped give rise to an even more heinous terrorist group. Withdrawal needs to be carefully coordinated and not rushed.

Lieberman confirms to me yet again that he is an unelectable chicken-hawk who belongs in the other party by saying Saddam’s ousting was a good thing that made America safer. This was the VP nominee just one cycle earlier, folks. This is why it pisses me off when people on the left with a tenuous grasp of history try to label Nader and his supporters as evil traitors who ruined America by voting for a real liberal. Gore might not have gotten us into Iraq, but he was surrounding himself with people like Lieberman who think that kind of illegal neoconservative imperialism is ok. That certainly doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence Gore wouldn’t have made a similar overreach of power in response to the public’s cries for vengeance in the aftermath of 9/11.

I do agree with Lieberman that we had to stay in Iraq once the damage was done by invading in the first place. We never should have gone in, it was illegal and our worst foreign policy blunder in all our history to do so, but once Iraq was broken it was our duty to fix it properly. We didn’t, and now look what’s happened as a result. However, this right-wing lunatic has the gall to claim that winning the war in Iraq will somehow win the war on terror! What? He even bizarrely pivots to Israel and Palestine, and claims that the Iraq War has made a two state solution there possible—implying that it wasn’t before. Seriously, get this joker off the stage. I’m actually livid listening to him. The fact that the Democrats gave Joe legitimacy by making him VP nominee over Bradley or just about anyone else in 2000, then let him waste time spouting his openly neocon nonsense at these debates shows that by this point they’d become a center-right party in all but name. I’ve never hated a Democrat as much as I hate Joe Lieberman.

Either the question to Dean was a low blow, or else people were even more ridiculously patriotic (to the point where criticizing your leaders was considered un-American) than I thought. Apparently Dean was perceived to be “more angry at Bush than you are with the terrorists.” I just have to roll my eyes and say “Oh give me a break!!” According to this moderator, criticizing policies and pushing a bold new agenda equates to suspect behavior. Well, it sounds ridiculous and it was…but sadly that’s how brainwashed we were in the post-9/11 craze for revenge and unquestioning loyalty. The next time America gets swept up in an overblown panic like that and begins witch-hunting progressives like Dean, I want someone to boldly point out the shameful examples of post 9/11 US politics and the over-the-top Red Scare/McCarthyism which destroyed our entire left wing as evidence to how ruinous these periods in our history always are. To his credit, Dean answers as well as anyone could have, and reiterates that his campaign is about hope, not hate. But he shouldn’t even have to defend his perfectly reasonable platform with stupid, character-assassinating questions like that in the first place.

Gephardt is apparently responsible for helping to get support in Congress for the War…oh boy. As if that wasn’t disqualifying enough, he gives a disgustingly wishy washy answer to “would you do it again?” where he tries to play it off with “well, I’ll always do what will make America safe…” He even throws away what would become the greatest defense future politicians would use to excuse their support of Iraq—the “president Bush misled me” defense. He claims his support of the war came after meeting with the CIA, and his issue with the war since has been that Bush “did not do the right things.” It’s one thing to run as a long-shot if you have some great agenda you feel ought to be heard—McGovern and Bernie did the same thing. But when your stance on the main, defining campaign issue of the day is “I agreed with the President’s decision…I just would have done it slightly differently” then what are you even hoping to accomplish with your campaign? It’s the worst kind of token opposition possible, and without even a strong record or resume to justify it.

So, round one and both of the unknowns, Dennis and Carol, have left fairly good impressions on me. Dean seems like a competent debater thus far (I already knew his policies were good back then). Lieberman is unsurprisingly terrible. Gephardt is a dead man walking. And the two least interesting, least charismatic, most-similar-to-the-Republican-President candidates are the ones who made it the furthest and ended up being the ticket. Fantastic.

Second Round

The attempt to slander and smear Dean continues in the next round. “Governor Dean, when Saddam was captured, you said the United States could’ve gotten him six months earlier. Are you saying our troops weren’t working hard enough??!?!?” That’s literally the question, and with the exact over the top “I’m offended!” tone you can imagine. I thought the general election debates from this cycle were insufferable but this is just something else. The treatment of Dean this debate should be exhibit A to anyone who tries to say the media isn’t biased—oh yes they sure as hell are. And not in a liberal slant as the popular phrase “liberal media” would have you believe. This is a concentrated effort to keep Dean on the defensive—I’d bet my life on it. If you force him to spend his answers denying that he hates Bush and the troops it keeps him from being able to describe his platform to the audience. And the very first damaging gaffe they had of him (the Dean scream) they played it 24/7 to finish him off. They have gotten more subtle about this kind of thing when Bernie Sanders came along, but this debate is absolute proof this kind of thing happens, as is the blackout of Agran from 1992. Any candidate who challenges the status quo of neoconservative foreign policy and neoliberal economic policy will be destroyed by the media one way or the other. I love how Dean calls out Lieberman on his previous bullshit answer though. He handles this obvious bias like a pro.

Lieberman gives the expected bullshit “how can you say you’d prefer to have Saddam in power??” outraged defense. I just wish he apologized someday when he saw the rise of ISIS in Iraq after we left them the perfect conditions to grow. I’d much rather a cruel yet secular and rational dictator to a batshit insane fundamentalist group, Joe. And damn, talk about the pot calling the kettle black. He tries to hit Dean for changing the subject, when he had that ridiculous pivot to Israel when he was supposed to be talking about the war in Iraq. Give me a break.

At this point I have to say this is probably the hardest primary debate I’ve had to sit through yet. Even worse than the ’88 and ’96 GOP primaries. At least there I knew what I was getting into, and the candidates had some kind of mutual respect for each other and their visions. Here, it’s literally watching the few true liberals getting harassed out of their own party by a bunch of smug creeps like this insufferable panelist and Lieberman. It’s a complete and total parody; it’s something that never ought to have happened and the fact that it did betrays the reality that the Democratic leadership doesn’t give a shit about its own heyday or the will of its voters. The Democrats deserved to lose to an imbecilic war criminal like Bush for this farce alone.

Thank god for Carol talking about providing healthcare and protecting the environment. I can’t handle Lieberman for more than 2 minutes at a time.

To reinforce the idea that appearances matter, I encourage you all to notice how old and tired Kerry looks compared to his competition at this debate. The lines on his face, the slightly belabored sound of his voice, the guy sounds like he’s seen better days. I think maybe he waited too long to run. Perhaps he ought to have made a bid in 2000.

Dennis talks about closing tax loopholes. Good stuff, but considering how often this is brought up and seemingly never addressed, primary cycle after primary cycle, I’m beginning to see this kind of talk as the Left’s version of Bible thumping. It’s an easy talking point to bring up, get listeners like me excited for 5 minutes…and then rinse and repeat every four years. Just like every GOP candidate is happy to brag about how they’ll be the quickest to overturn Roe v Wade. I have no doubt Dennis and many others are serious about wanting to fix the issue, but watching so many of these elections back to back I understand what a hopeless promise it really is.

Dean provides maybe the single most eloquent refutation of NAFTA I have ever seen, and I’ve listened to Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson and Bernie’s compelling arguments against it already. Dean builds on what Jesse Jackson said in ’88 about a global standard, livable wage. Even though economists agree free trade makes everyone better off, NAFTA and the WTO have failed, according to Dean, because workers’ rights and unionization never happened overseas like they did here in the early 1900s. So corporations were able to export jobs where unions, environmental standards and minimum wages didn’t exist. As a result, the foreign laborers are exploited abroad, all our hard work building a strong unionized labor force was undone virtually overnight, and all the benefits of free trade went to the 1%. I’m paraphrasing, but he lays it out faster and without using the new buzzword “1%.” I liked and sympathized with Dean before, but after this answer in particular, I think his ’04 campaign has joined the ranks of McGovern, Jackson and Sanders as one of my all time favorites in terms of policy.

Gephardt kinda builds on what Dean just said, but from what I recall he was one of the more rightist candidates in 1988 and one of the ones advocating for Free Trade and globalization that same campaign. If he really believed what he’s saying now, he ought to have joined with Jackson calling for a global livable wage. It’s possible his views genuinely shifted in those 16 years, but he ought to admit that and explain why they changed (go into the negatives of NAFTA he’s seen) not just copy the previous guy’s answer and then claim you’ve been the premiere voice of reason on this issue all along. That’s some weak-sauce Hillary Clinton nonsense and the people who make the difference in elections can see right through it.

I like Edwards’ rebuke of Gephardt immediately after. It was suitably cordial but also firm. And he makes a great point about how you could pull out any one vote of a Congressman’s career and use it to smear them by leaving out context. Gephardt’s comeback is pretty lame—he’s forced to admit he lied about Edwards voting for NAFTA yet doesn’t apologize.

I lost some respect for Dennis when he tries to make himself look better by shitting on Dean’s articulate and reasonable answer. He tries to challenge Dean to say whether he’d support NAFTA in office—a stupid “gotcha!” question to get a soundbite of Dean saying he supports NAFTA to smear him in the papers, or else forcing him to make a promise he can’t keep. (No President can turn back the clock on NAFTA and get our manufacturing jobs back, at least not without expending all their political capital on it and even then it would take decades of dedicated effort requiring future presidents to keep the course.) Dean’s answer was fine—I support the idea of Free Trade but we need to see wages increase in other countries along with universal environment and labor standards so everyone benefits from free trade. Boom. Done. Next question. I loved seeing the moderator all but tell Dennis to go fuck himself by saying “alright, we’re moving on” after that ridiculous challenge.

I actually begrudgingly give Lieberman some credit on his NAFTA answer. Kerry too, for calling out Gephardt’s flip-flopping and past record supporting free trade. Carol also basically reiterates what Dean said. She remains the second most reasonable and genuinely liberal to Dean. Speaking of which, Dean comes in again as the third person to call out Gephardt’s lies, and Gephardt tries to get him back by spouting some BS about walking the walk. A motif of this debate seems to be other candidates projecting their own flaws unto Dean.

Third Round

Later on, in round 3, Dean makes probably his first actual mistake in saying he’ll balance the budget in the sixth or seventh year of his administration. Confidence is one thing, and that’s why candidates often speak of the job as if they already have it. But to already project reelection is getting into “too big for your britches” territory even for me as someone who likes him. Plus, it’s just a bad answer because it makes it sound like he’ll be incredibly slow to balance the budget. He should have just said it would be done slowly but carefully by redirecting funds to social programs and eliminating waste. I do think it was disrespectful how people laughed and someone said a presumably mocking comment which broke his concentration and didn’t allow Dean to finish.

On healthcare, Dennis promises medicare for all and states that we’re essentially already paying the costs for a universal system but we’re not getting it because all that money goes to insurance company profits. Dean’s plan sounds pretty similar but he really doesnt get the opportunity to flesh out specifics. Kerry’s plan sounds interesting but ultimately it seems to me like it’d end up like Obamacare—a lame compromise nobody wants when the simplest solution, the one the rest of the world is doing, stares us right in the face. Universal healthcare. That’s really all there is to it, John. To me, this is one of those litmus test positions which determines what side of the aisle you really belong in. Anyone who talks about some convoluted go-between with the private insurance companies that doesn’t include a clear path to transition to universal healthcare within a reasonable timeframe is not a true liberal.

Big surprise, Lieberman once again exposes that underneath that man-suit he’s a walking talking repilian. He spends his whole answer rebuking Dean yet again and defending the Bush tax cuts like a good little neoliberal undercover-Republican stooge. Hey Joe, the question was about healthcare, ok? It’s like he deliberately avoided answering because he knew his own position—change nothing—would be widely unpopular and rightly so. Remember, this is the asshole who voted against the public option in Obamacare and single-handedly crippled the best chance we ever had to transitioning towards a singlepayer system. Lieberman’s face doesn’t belong behind a podium, it belongs in front of a dartboard.

I’m a bit thrown by Gephardt’s answer to healthcare. On the one hand, I agree with him on the need of the Democratic Party to offer a real, actual choice. The problem they’ve had for years is hugging the center, offering meaningless overtures to the left while spending more time courting the right, having their cake and eating it too. He says if you want the Bush tax cuts, vote for Bush, but if you want medicaid for all, vote for him. I’ve noticed though that his new shtick this time around seems to be cribbing what someone else said earlier in the debate and using it in his own answer. This isn’t the first time Gephardt’s done it, but it’s the most noticeable yet, where he takes Carol’s line about “we’re not gonna fix economic issues until we fix healthcare issues.” This guy, man…like, I really do wanna like him. I’m not sure why but despite his obvious flaws as a candidate he actually does have some inexplicable personable quality. But there’s all these issues like his forced, awkward attempts at soundbites in 1988, the lies everyone calls him out for, and now this boerderline plagiarism, which prevent me from doing so. It really just reinforces my original assertion that he’s wasting everyone’s time by being on stage, if he’s just gonna repeat the popular thing and steal other people’s talking points word for word.

Carol gives the BEST answer of the lot BY FAR by saying the magic words—Single. Payer. And not tied to employment. Yes. Is it that hard? It wouldn’t be if everyone in government wasn’t sucking the corporate teat for bribe money. (I mean “donations.”) On this issue, she has surpassed Dean, in my eyes.

Fourth Round

Lieberman supports no child left behind. Big shocker. Seriously, join the Republicans already. You’ll be happier, and we’ll be better off for it. Why did he even join the Democrats since he’s so diametrically opposed to them, and is doing nothing at this debate besides being an annoying apologist for Bush. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Lieberman was in fact, some kind of sleeper agent or Trojan horse sent to derail the Democrats—similar to what many including myself initially believed Trump was for the Clintons in 2016.

At this point in the proceedings I cannot avoid saying this any longer: I hate the female panelist in the purple suit. Her mannerisms just scream “pretentious, self important Karen.” I also think her challenge to Edwards to send his own kids to public schools is not only unfair but completely out of bounds for her to even suggest in the first place. To me, that’s a personal choice he’s entitled to and neither hers nor the voters business. It’d be like challenging a candidate to use a certain hospital or marry a certain kind of spouse to “instill confidence in American values” as she phrases it. What if I don’t want my kids getting bullied—especially over my political career? Or what if I want them shielded from the press, or a multitude of other reasons? Being expected to cave into a demand like that just for being a politician is insane. The children of a candidate are not political pawns for their lives to be dictated by some condescending nobody on TV. This isn’t the first thing she’s done that rubbed me the wrong way, either.

Apparently we’re back to doing these stupid “ask each other questions!!!” rounds now after a whole decade without them, and the previous cycle where there was only two nominees so it at least made sense. Waste of time…but, unlike many other primary debates, I feel like I got a great handle on who these people are and what they stand for already so I’m not especially mad.

Howard Deans question is to everyone to agree to support the eventual nominee. Lame. I’m wondering if this is the first time that’s happened (it’s the first I’ve seen it at these debates) or if I just happened to pick the wrong debates to witness it before in the earlier cycles. I had thought the GOP pledge to support the nominee in 2016 was unique and motivated purely by Trump, but I guess not.

Joe Lieberman uses his question to attack Dean for not releasing some of his governor records, and pushing the issue further after Dean gives a satisfactory answer. Who the hell is Lieberman to say Democrats should be held to a higher standard, and dictating the terms of what a Democrat should be to anyone? This guy is a Republican Neoconservative in all but name, attacking one of only three progressive liberals who actually represent the tradition of FDR, Stevenson, Kennedy and McGovern. The absolute nerve it takes to do something like that…it’s almost surreal. Even when Dean responds a second time to this “question” (read: bald-faced attempt at character assassination) Joe just cannot seem to let it go, gets even more visibly annoyed and even has the audacity to tell off the audience for applauding Dean’s response.

I gotta say I also lost some respect for Dennis in his questioning of Dean on healthcare. While I prefer Dennis and Carol’s ideas of a single payer model, Dean’s position makes sense. He doesn’t think single payer will ever pass, so he wrote a plan which he thinks would. It’s an issue which I don’t agree with him on but understand his logic that its better to start by doing SOMETHING at least and then possibly inching up to a better way after. This is why I personally also supported Obamacare as it was proposed with a public option (fuck you, Lieberman.) I did say I consider universal healthcare to be a litmus test for true economic liberalism, but in a case like this where the reasoning is they want it, realize it can’t come immediately but have a plan to transition down the line, I can make a begrudging exception. Seeing Dennis make such a big show of being outraged at Dean over his reasonable if not ideologically pure position is pretty cringe worthy. I’m wondering why Dennis isn’t outraged at Kerry or the others whose plans are worse, to say nothing of Lieberman who didn’t even offer one. He’s trying to tear down his competition for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Pure and simple. Fake, petty, manufactured outrage for the sake of scoring some votes…and tearing down the candidate in the best position to do something about the problem if they were elected. Personal ambition over country.

Gephardt and Kerry also use their questions as thinly veiled attempts to tear Dean down. Literally, Kerry’s isn’t even a genuine good faith question about policy. It’s an obvious “gotcha!” question designed to trap Dean one way or the other and make him look like a liar. It comes off as mean spirited especially after the guy has been (unfairly in my opinion) hounded by so many of the other candidates.

Even if you don’t like Dean or think he deserves to have his feet held to the fire and answer tough questions like these, no one can deny how lopsided this segment is. Why should ONE candidate be made to answer all these mean-spirited interrogations back to back to back? There’s literally no balance whatsoever, where at least past “ask each other” segments, both Republican and Democrat, evened things out by having all candidates ask and answer exactly one question each. I don’t know if the rules were changed this cycle as an excuse to tar and feather Dean, or if it was just a coincidence things were more fair before, but either way it’s transparently rigged in this instance and makes the integrity of the entire primary process feel suspect as a result. I seriously wouldn’t doubt it if there was some collusion by the organizers as well as the various campaign staffs to try to destroy Dean on air. The vitriol, the visceral anger in the opposing candidates’ tones as they “questioned” him makes the idea of collusion very easy to believe.

Bizarrely, this segment ends and we go right back to usual panel questions like it never happened. (Also suspicious if you ask me.) We get to hear Joe Lieberman call himself a Bill Clinton Democrat (barf) as well as a social progressive (gag.) Seriously, and especially coming after his insufferable personal attack just five minutes earlier, Joe Lieberman can go fuck himself with this high horse talk. I cannot believe this guy was able to rise to prominence in the party, and I have now lost even more respect for Gore just by making him VP and giving him legitimacy.

That same pink-jacketed woman panelist is grating on my last nerve too, by this point. Her question to Kerry is either so deliberately obtuse or else just plain bad faith—basically she wants him to win back the South and explain how to do so. Well, lady, I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Civil Rights Act and Southern strategy, but the short and sweet of it is, the South doesn’t consider voting Democrat because of racism. And that’s not a slander or over-simplification either. It’s the truth, and if there was any doubt, Trump’s campaign has beaten us over the head with that reality like a sledgehammer. No one can say it’s due to principled fiscal conservatism because the South uniformly and consistently voted for the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, through the New Deal of FDR right up to the Great Society of LBJ. So unless you want the candidate to spin some useless bullshit (which is what Kerry does, surprise surprise) the answer would be to dump the black vote wholesale, which would destroy the current Democratic coalition anyway, rendering any gains meaningless.

ASIDE: In the previous paragraph, I’m not saying all or even most of the people in the South are racist. But it’s undeniable that there’s a not-insignificant piece of their electorate who shunned the Democratic Party since the Civil Rights Act despite voting the most liberal Democrats ever, consistently, for 100 years prior. And this not-insignificant percentage of the population is enough to have left the region a reliable Republican voting block for 50 years since.

What’s absolutely stunning though, is that when they’re all asked about a mistake they made and what they learned, Kerry describes attack ads he suffered through in his very first race, and how he learned you always have to respond to attacks. “I will NEVER make that mistake again. I will not stand George Bush or Dick Cheney attacking my patriotism.” HOLY SHIT. And this guy would then go on to not react to the attacks on his war record by the Bush campaign during this very cycle’s general. Now that is the textbook definition of irony. Kerry literally knew how damaging it could be, said he’d never make that mistake again, did, and lost for it. What an absolutely awful campaigner.

One of the dumbest questions ever in a debate is when Dennis is asked how he could possibly care about the impact of mad cow disease on the meat industry because he’s a vegetarian. Oh I don’t know, maybe I care about peoples’ health, the jobs the meat industry provides, and the well being of animals? What a ridiculous, sociopathic question. I can’t even pretend to come up with an explanation for why they thought that warranted clarification. (Except that the questioner has Antisocial Personality Disorder and literally can’t comprehend the idea of caring about issues that don’t affect you personally.)

Conclusion

That’s it. And thank God for it. This was in some ways the most infuriating one I’ve yet sat through. The field of candidates is similarly divided between economic liberals and neoliberals as the ’80s. Once again, the best candidate by far was actively snuffed out by the media like Larry Agran and Jesse Jackson before him. But in this case it was even more insufferable. At least Jackson got a fair shake at the debates while he was presented as a non-starter by the news reporting. Agran was barred from most debates but when he could show up, he wasn’t made an object of ridicule. Dean was just viciously brutalized here by the obviously slanted questions of the panelists and his own party members. I need to read more about him and this primary, but watching this I’m convinced as anything there was some behind the scenes shenanigans going on to knock the charismatic progressive out. Yes, Dennis and Carol are progressives too, but they weren’t building a following like Dean. (Dennis even joined in on the betrayal by attacking Dean over the far more deserving targets on stage as a way to try to steal his base of support.) The Dean Scream alone didnt kill him, but it was one example of a larger overall problem of smearing and slandering the non-status quo candidate.

I do like Dennis overall just for his platform, and Carol is great. Neither one has the charisma or gravitas of Dean though. After watching this, I think he could have beaten Bush, and certainly would’ve done at least as well as Kerry had in a worst case scenario. Speaking of which, another parallel to the ’80s is the Democrats chose literally the worst possible person to go on to the general. Or at least, one of the worst—the blah, center-rightist nobody’s excited for who’s just competent enough to get to the general but not passionate enough to win.

The panelists/moderator were some of the most unforgivable I’ve witnessed as well. And by far the worst thing about this whole thing was Lieberman wasting time polluting the air with his Conservative bullshit that has no place in a Democratic primary.

1 Comment

  1. I the to admit that I didn’t watch this debate in 2004. To be fair to me, I was undergoing treatment for cancer at that time and politics was not a priority issue for me. I could not stand Bush or Chaney and knew their wars were about lies even then, But while I knew I could not support the Republicans, My impression of Democrats at that time was so negative I never even considered voting for any of them. I probably voted for a 3rd party candidate but now have no idea even who they were that year. I trust your analysis is accurate. Don’t feel I missed anything by not watching the debate at that time. I admire the way you can clearly see the key arguments and point out the their strengths and weaknesses.

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