Democrats debate in Detroit

Posted 6:10pm November 1

by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

The nine Democratic presidential candidates took the stage again Sunday night in a debate sponsored by Fox News and the Congressional Black Caucus in Detroit.

The lively debate probed the presidential hopefuls with important questions regarding the current situation faced by the United States in both the international and domestic sphere. The candidates exhibited great “anti-Bush” sentiment, extreme Democratic Party allegiance and a vast amount of bitter in-fighting as they openly and covertly attacked their fellow peers who stood on stage with them. Humor, statistics and assertiveness were abound as each candidate attempted to hold their own and stand out as “the one.”

The debate brought together the nine remaining Democrats vying to get the party’s nomination next fall. In attendance were Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Representative Dennis Kucinch of Ohio, Representative Richard Gepardt of Missouri, former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, Revered Al Sharpton of New York, former Senator Carol Mosley Braun of Illinois, and Retired General Wesley Clark of Arkansas.

Beginning with international affairs, the moderators interrogated the candidates as to their position on the war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and reconstruction and the role of the United Nations in the future of global politics.

Crucial to this first round was the moderators role in forcing the candidates to clarify, affirm and decisively explain their individual positions in relations to their past actions and statements over the previous years and months.

All the presidential hopefuls were in agreement with their support for U.S. troops abroad. Kerry, Dean, Gephardt and Lieberman stood out as the strongest supporters of U.S. forces, while Sharpton, Edwards, Braun and Kucinich stressed the need to bring them home and the unreasonable nature of the Bush administration’s $87 billion reconstruction plan. Clark remained highly ambiguous as both his fellow candidates and the moderators questioned his hazy stance on war in Iraq and his support for the president.

The candidates made an effort to enforce a message that the American public had, in some respects, been wronged by the Bush administration in regards to its current military operations abroad as well as emphasizing President Bush’s lack of leadership and resolute determination.

Kerry told the audience, “This president has done it wrong every step of the way. He promised that he would have a real coalition. He has a fraudulent coalition. He promised he would go through the United Nations and honor the inspections process. He did not. He promised he would go to war as a last resort, words that mean something to me as a veteran. He did not.”

The role of the United Nation rather then American occupation, multilateralism, the abuse of power and the priorities of those among the top echelons of the White House and the definition of patriotism in times of crisis were reoccurring themes among all the speakers.

All agreed that an exit strategy or formal policy was necessary before “a blank check” was issued to Bush, but Edwards and Kucinich stood out among those who actually had formulated a plan of their own, calling upon multilateral coalitions and an extensive role for the United Nations in oil production, contractual reconstruction and Iraq self-governance.

Edwards stated, “…The president of the United States comes to us and says, ‘I want $87 billion, trust me on this, I’ll be back next year to ask for more and more money.’ Here’s my view, Joe: For me to vote yes on that would be to give this president a blank check, and I am not willing to give George Bush a blank check.”

The moderators continued with engaging the candidates in a discussion of the perceptions of the American public regarding specific candidates and their legitimacy and ability to hold the presidential office in regards to the international situation at hand.

Specifically, questions were thrust upon Clark regarding the grounds of his retirement from the military, upon Braun regarding her connections among African politicians of a sordid nature, upon Lieberman and his position on the Arab-Israeli conflict and upon Sharpton for his authenticity as a leader and political-religious orientation.

Clark responded with noting his impeccable military career and leadership abilities, Braun with her humanitarian rights record in fighting Apartheid in South Africa, Lieberman with a “no negotiations with terrorist policy” and Sharpton with his usual brand of humor and an emphasis on right and wrong moral decision making, not religiously driven zeal.

The other candidates discussed the importance of patience, judgment, experience, and negotiation. Gephardt stood out as being particularly strong as he emphasized a need for finding the roots causes of violence, and not simply dealing with the symptoms. Gephardt told the crowd, “…let me say this to you. I think this administration has failed in getting at the root causes of terrorism. I think they’re just dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, and I support those efforts. You’ve got to stop someone from doing harm to the United States if they’re bound and determined to do it.”

And again, Kucinich concisely presented his own policy that would create a Department of Peace that could handle domestic violence while leaving the international world in the hands of the Department of Defense.

The biggest topic of concern in the domestic round of questioning was tax reform, as each candidate bashed the Bush tax cuts as favoring the rich. Most made promises to repeal the cuts if elected to office and to focus on reestablishing the role of the middle class in American life in addition to abolishing the increasingly vast role of private interests in policy making. Continuing what President Clinton had begun seemed to be the core of most of the candidate’s policy in regards to creating jobs, balancing the budget and improving domestic life through public works, training and family aid.

Each candidate stressed their ability to formulate policy, to stand up for moral and democratic principles, the importance of the American public, the necessity to register and vote and taking the country back and placing it in the care of the Democratic Party in their closing remarks.

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