Reflections on Democratic Debate

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by David Remer Sept. 25, 2003 PoliWatch.Org

Looking for a presidential candidate? A number of them showed up yesterday at the 10 candidate Democratic debate. All of the candidates held their own and offered a diversity of views and many common themes.

I found myself asking why Al Sharpton is not considered a real contender for President. Sharpton demonstrated an astute knowledge of the issues, a very quick wit, and the ability to connect with audiences. I could only conclude that his skin color prevents pundits from declaring him a serious challenge. Sharpton is opposed to passing the President's 87 billion dollar request for continued action in Iraq calling it bad policy. He said he opposed the prescription drug plan and called for a national single payer health plan. He proposed a 5 year $250 billion dollar federal investment into rebuilding America's infrastructure. On trade policy he pointed out that blacks are here in America because of historical bad trade policy implying that trade has to be about workers, not just corporate interests.

The same might be said of Carol Mosley Braun and her status as a black woman, except that she did not appear to connect with the audience as often. While she demonstrated a high degree of intelligence, her responses often seemed lacking in nuts and bolts type policy responses on some issues. She did however; astutely point out that the deficits today will shift to working persons tomorrow in the form of higher taxes and lowered benefits. She made a good case for preserving Social Security but did not provide how it could be done.

Dennis Kucinich does not have a very presidential appearance if white male, chiseled featured face and tall countenance are the standard. But, he nonetheless, distinguished himself from the other candidates on a couple of issues. I saw last night why the Green Party is backing Dennis Kucinich. He was the only candidate to state that our job is done in Iraq, we need to turn Iraq over to the U.N. and bring our troops home out of harm's way. He strongly made the case that our continued presence in Iraq will increase our deficits and harm our economy. He calls for wealth redistribution in the U.S. since, he argues, much of the tax cuts have gone to the wealthy and deficits and debt will be born by the working class. He stood squarely against NAFTA and WTO calling for the abolition of both as well as favored trading status with China. He cited the $435 billion dollar trade deficit as a priority issue. Kucinich is for reimporting of prescription drugs from Canada to keep costs lower and a single payer national health care plan. He was the only candidate to call for an end to the death penalty in the U.S.

Bob Graham called for the elimination of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy and would not rule out targeted tax increases if he became President, since he is opposed to passing the current debt and deficits on to future generations. He called for a national investment in infrastructure such as roads, ports, and electric grids and proposed a kind of FDR program to put millions back to work on this infrastructure development. I thought he dropped the ball when he said we should use Iraqi oil revenues to rebuild Iraq and not spend any more tax dollars on Iraqi reconstruction. He did not make the case that Iraqi oil revenues would be sufficient.

John Edwards said nothing remarkable nor did he distinguish himself well from the other candidates. He called for providing the portion of Bush's $87 billion that would be needed to support and supply our troops. He stated President Bush is transferring the tax burden from the wealthy to the working middle class and this must be reversed. He called for withholding tax credits from any American company that moves operations over seas and granting tax breaks to those who stay here. He called for raising capital gains on those making over $300,000 per year. He supports farm subsidies except to millionaire farmers and called for strengthening union protections and banning striker replacement hiring.

Joe Lieberman too got lost in the crowd and failed to distinguish his position clearly from the others. He said jobs are the first priority but, only offered increased research and development spending partnered with companies and workforce retraining as methods to grow jobs. He did say trade policy should reflect the need for U.S. jobs. He agreed with Bob Graham that some tax increases should not be ruled out.

Richard Gephardt had no definitive reply on Bush's $87 billion Iraq funding request. He called for repealing all of Bush's tax cuts including those to the middle class. He linked the solvency of the Social Security system to the health of the economy and stressed job creation, level playing field trade policies and removing corporate greed as measures to improve the economy.

Wesley Clark admitted he has not had the time yet to fully develop a strategy for all our problems but assured watchers those plans will be finished soon. He spoke broadly on many issues declaring that he is pro-choice, for affirmative action, and strong military defense. He opposed any of Bush's $87 billion Iraq request that would add to the deficit implying it must be paid for now. He is for repealing Bush's tax cuts except those to the middle class. He called for putting all federal spending on the table for possible reduction in order to balance the budget. His health care stance was to enhance already in place programs. He stressed preventive health care focus. He called for enforcing current trade agreements and for independent corporate boards of directors.

John Kerry was cool, steady and measured throughout the debate. In voice, manner, and stature, he appeared to me to be very 'presidential' and comfortable in the role of candidate. Like Sharpton, he appeared self confident but without the showmanship. Like Kucinich, he appeared passionate in his beliefs but without the shrill tone. Kerry called for repeal of tax cuts for the wealthy, and was the only candidate to point out the a level playing field on trade will result in no trade, because the rest of the world cannot afford the environmental protections, worker benefits and pay scales that our wealthiest nation status affords. This appeared to be one of the most intelligent statements of the evening. He called for enforcing current trade laws but not closing the door on international trade.

He called for investments in science and capital investment in innovation to keep the U.S. competitive in trade. Kerry was also shrewdly adept at pointing out that the U.S. could drill till the cows came home and still not be more than 1 to 2 percent less dependent on imported oil than it is today. He called for investing in new energy technologies and energy independence from oil as a fuel. He stands directly behind saving Social Security, restructuring and democratizing boards of directors by placing shareholders on the boards. He called for rebuilding international relations in order to gain international cooperation.

Howard Dean held his own adeptly. I was impressed with Deans reference to the right trying to take ownership of Patriotism and Democracy. Dean wants to revise trade agreements toward equal standards and in so doing elevate the working standards and environment for all the world's workers. This he indicated would also create jobs in the USA. He stated the International and American worker standards are skewed toward multinational corporations and this has to end to level the trade agreements playing field. He stated he supported NAFTA and the WTO.

Dean proposed repealing all of Bush's tax cuts and emphasized that balancing the budget has to be emphasized. He indicated Congress should provide the $87 billion Bush has requested for Iraq implying that the job must now be finished and our troops should have everything they need. When attacked by Gephardt on his previous Medicare criticisms, Dean successfully countered by stating his criticism was toward how Medicare was managed, and not leveled at the program itself. Dean stated he is opposed to raising the Social Security retirement age.

My impression of him was that he projects self confidence, is a down to business kind of guy, and has the experience of working within government to get things done.

None of the candidates blundered. All appeared to be prepared for the debate and none of them lost their composure, including Howard Dean. Of the 10, it was my impression that the 4 candidates to watch are Gen. Clark, Representative Gephardt, Senator John Kerry, and former Governor Howard Dean. If I had tuned into the debates without knowing anything else about the candidates, I would probably have said Kerry and Dean were the winners of the debate with Sharpton close on their heels.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on September 26, 2003 5:38 AM.

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