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Wrap on the CNN/YouTube debate

You can find the CNN transcript here and here. I thought I’d share a couple of observations I didn’t mention in last night’s thread.

Format: The YouTube question format was executed beautifully; the CNN editors selected a nice sampling of topics, some not covered at all in the other debates. I thought Anderson Cooper was fantastic; it was a long debate, but he kept it moving smoothly, and when the candidates tried to avoid answers, he interjected appropriately, ensuring that the audience was well aware of the dodges and canned answers.

You could tell some of the candidates were ill at ease with this format, due to the unpredictability of 1) content of the questions and 2) the framing of the questions, given they were being delivered by average Americans and in some cases directly addressed to a particular candidate. It put a personal face on what often seems like abstract issues

Candidates: To her credit, Hillary Clinton seemed quite comfortable onstage, as did Barack Obama. John Edwards seemed a tad nervous, and Joe Biden, well, is it me or did the man seem nearly as untethered at times as folks accuse Gravel of being? I guess for the pundits there’s a fine line between humorous and unhinged. I thought that Bill Richardson acquitted himself well in this debate, with an excellent stab at No Child Left Behind, and a sane answer on gun and violence, and the ties to crime and poverty in the inner city.

LGBT Rights: It was remarkable that LGBT concerns were so prominently featured, and that’s a good thing. It definite was healthy prime time for the issue;  a sea change from the last presidential cycle.

The format served this issue well, too, because Rev. Longcrier’s question was phrased beautifully

Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote. So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay American their full and equal rights?

And  the couple from Brooklyn asking if they should be able to marry put a human face on the question.

I think it was pretty clear that some of the candidates gave stock answers we in the LGBT community have heard before (Dodd, Richardson, Kucinich), but it’s likely the first time that most of America (the ones who tuned in anyway) had a chance to see candidates discuss the issue openly, without fear — even if we didn’t hear the answers we’d like from some of them.

This will present an interesting challenge for Republicans if they are confronted with the same questions. If they don’t have the security blanket of religion to hold on to as they suck their thumbs protecting marriage, they are  going to come out looking pretty damn bigoted. CNN would be wise to toss Rev. Longcrier’s question their way. More below the fold.Also, Edwards did take a few more steps across the bridge toward marriage equality (it’s like painfully publically inching his way, but whatever). He was clear that as president he wouldn’t let his personal religious beliefs get in the way of the issue.

I think Reverend Longcrier asks a very important question, which is whether fundamentally — whether it’s right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we’re president of the United States. I do not believe that’s right.

…I mean, I’ve been asked a personal question which is, I think, what Reverend Longcrier is raising, and that personal question is, do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage?

The honest answer to that is I don’t. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I’m president of the United States.

That draws a clear distinction between his “personal struggle” and how he views his role as president, not as proselytizer-in-chief. It would be good to follow up with Dodd, Richardson, Clinton and the rest of the “I personally believe marriage is between a man and a woman” crowd on this point. Obama completely dodged a question on a comparison between opposition to same-sex marriage vs. interracial marriage.

The logical follow up, and I hope these questions are asked, both at the LOGO/HRC debate and the CNN/Tube GOP debate:

* Now that we’ve seen the utter failure of civil unions in NJ, do any of them truly believe that civil unions are a separate and equal proposition that will actually work?

*  What do we do with the patchwork of states with amendments that have banned anything approximating marriage, or those states with civil unions or domestic partnerships or in the case of Massachusetts, marriages that dissolve when you cross a state line?

* If civil unions are the answer to equality under the law, then are the candidates advocating that all heterosexual marriages be converted into civil unions, leaving the issue of religious “marriage” as a separate entity outside of government interference (which it should be)? If not, then they are admitting that that heterosexual couples are entitled to “special rights” not available to gay and lesbian couples.

Race: I was amused by the question about whether Obama is black enough. It’s hard to listen to the talking heads in the MSM discuss this issue because to me it’s almost an insane question without appropriate framing.

” QUESTION: Hello. My name is Jordan Williams, and I am a student at K.U., from Coffeyville, Kansas. This question is meant for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.

Whenever I read an editorial about one of you, the author never fails to mention the issue of race or gender, respectively. Either one is not authentically black enough, or the other is not satisfactorily feminine. How will you address these critics and their charges if one or both of you should end up on the Democratic ticket in ’08?

COOPER: Senator Obama, how do you address those who say you’re not authentically black enough?

…OBAMA: You know, when I’m catching a cab in Manhattan — in the past, I think I’ve given my credentials.

You’ve got that right, Senator.  The question on its face is ludicrous — the man may be biracial, but he’s seen as a light-skinned black man.  As I said in my post Obama and race: our country is so confused

What I do know is that no matter how you slice it, Barack Obama, in this country, at this time in its history, is black. There’s no such thing as a “post-racial” candidate when you look black. In this country, Obama can still be followed in a store suspected of being a shoplifter, be passed by a cab driver afraid to pick him up, or stopped by a police officer for “driving while black.” In none of these cases would it matter if Barack Obama pulled out a family picture to show he’s half white.

I think this is what frustrates me with well-meaning white people who say they “don’t see color.” Of course you do. Our culture is steeped in race, and the history isn’t pretty; its legacy plays itself out today. That’s not said to engender guilt, but simply to say that race is irrelevant or has no impact on today’s society because you or recent generations of your family didn’t own slaves isn’t helpful. Denial short circuits difficult discussions that need to occur.

What’s really at the core of the YouTube question, and the criticism Obama has received about his racial “authenticity,” is his lack of connection to the establishment civil rights machine (political fealty). Another unbelievable caveat, this a bold one tossed out there by Stanley Crouch, is that you should have at least one biological parent who is black who is a descendant of slaves to really understand what it is like to be black in America. And, of course, the old saw that Obama isn’t culturally black enough, a term so ridiculously subjective and confusing — is there only one legitimate “black culture”? Is there a handbook out there I don’t know about?

Ah so many issues, so little time to write about them. It would have been interesting to see immigration issues addressed, btw, because that is another topic that has both parties tied up in knots. I’m sure that questions coming from the voters via YouTube would have been a strong way to present the difficult, conflicting feelings many have about immigration, simply because there are no clear answers and a lot of emotion surrounding the issue.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding