The Missing Words in Democrat Debates
© Jack Cashill
n an April 2007 MSNBC primary debate--with a broad field that included senators Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Obama as well as Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Gov. Bill Richardson — no one dared to use one of two particular words.
Those words were “liberal” and, the more trendy, “progressive.” Moderator Brian Williams refrained as well.
In ABC’s primary debate of April 2008, with just Clinton and Obama left standing, the candidates and their sympathetic moderators likewise ducked the “L” word.
Unwilling to define themselves, the candidates killed the time in both debates with vapid platitudes and hyperbolic attacks on George Bush.
Hillary Clinton told us that what she brought to the campaign was her “passion for empowering people, for giving people the feeling that they can make a better future for themselves.”
Obama was no better. “My job in this campaign,” he repeated in multiple variations, “is to try to move beyond some of those divisions [race, gender etc], because when we are unified there is nothing that we cannot tackle.” It did not get much deeper.
Unlike Brian Williams, George Stephanopolus did ask tough questions, at least of Obama, especially about his relationships with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers.
Following the debate, just about every chatterbox in the chattering class fueled what the L.A. Times called a “storm of criticism.” Their rage was directed not at Obama for his famously evasive answers—he dismissed Ayers, for instance, as “a guy who lives in my neighborhood”--but at Stephanopoulos for his effrontery.
How dare he confront Obama with "such tired tripe,” said the Washington Post's Tom Shales. How dare he ask Obama about an "obscure sixties radical," said Michael Grunwald of Time.
A Huffington Post blogger likened Stephanopoulos to the inevitable Joe McCarthy. He was one of many to do so. In the unkindest of cuts, several pundits accused him of conspiring with Sean Hannity.
“The real story of this debate,” snarled MSNBC’s inimitable Keith Olbermann, may be “where one of the moderators found his questions.”
The Republican debates have been altogether more open. This was obvious on Sunday morning when NBC’s David Gregory cajoled the participants into attacking presumed frontrunner, Mitt Romney.
The line of attack that all his challengers took was that Romney was insufficiently conservative. “There's a huge difference between a Reagan conservative and somebody who comes out of the Massachusetts culture with an essentially moderate record,” said Newt Gingrich.
Contrasting himself with Romney, Rick Santorum described himself as having “a 90 percent conservative voting record.” What is more, Santorum claimed to have “stood up and fought for the conservative principals.”
Although Ron Paul would not take Gregory’s bait, Paul said of Santorum on ABC’s debate Saturday night, “To say you’re a conservative, I think, is a stretch.” Said Santorum in response, “I’m a conservative. I’m not a libertarian.”
On Sunday, in the face of the accusations, Romney stood his ground. He defended himself as “a solid conservative,” one who is “very proud of the conservative record I have.”
After setting Romney up, Gregory goaded all the candidates: “There is a question about who is the true conservative in the race.” Rick Perry assumed that honor for himself, “There's a bunch of people standin' up here that say they're conservatives but their records don't follow up on that.”
What was heartening, and unprecedented, is that all the candidates, with the possible exception of the irrelevant Jon Huntsman, fought for position on the solidly right end of the spectrum.
This did not happen in 2008 or 2000 or 1996 or 1992. John McCain, Bob Dole, and both George Bushes would have been unable to compete in this field, either by dint of ideology or of ability.
The media, however, have not drawn the relevant inference from this battle for position: Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans candidates are proud of their ideology, proud enough even to inflate their conservative credentials.
Republicans obviously believe that a self-declared ideologue can win the general election. Democrats have no such confidence about their own.
|Home | Professional | Personal | International | National | Regional | Books & DVDs | Articles By Title | Email Jack|