Sharpton and Moseley Braun at the New Hampshire Debate
As Americans increasingly tune into the presidential race -- recent polls, cited in the debate, put the proportion of undecided Democratic voters at more than 50 percent -- the candidates are looking for a key moment or move that will ignite their campaigns. Tuesday night's New Hampshire Democratic debate was a bit thin on technology matters, but one shining moment for the Internet did occur courtesy of Rev. Al Sharpton.
He characteristically mixed humor and emotional rhetoric when pressed about the fate of his candidacy. Sharpton also lashed out at the media and political system that he said stresses fund-raising totals and endorsements over substance.
Early on during the debate, Sharpton, along with several Dems on the New Hampshire stage, took aim at Gov. Howard Dean and former Vice President Al Gore. The problem at hand was Gore's endorsement earlier in the day of Dean. Many candidates saw this an all too early shot against the eight primary folks running for the Democratic nomination and a stab in the back of Joe Lieberman who ran with Gore for President in 2000.
Debate moderator Ted Koppel of ABC decided that the Gore endorsement was important enough to take up the opening segment of the debate; he asked each Democrat how he or she felt about the Gore announcement and Dean's surging candidacy. But Koppel was rebuked several times for being preoccupied with the politics of the campaign rather than the substance of the debate.
Kerry told Koppel: "If I were an impolite person, I'd tell you where you can take your polls."
The Rev. Al Sharpton deemed Gore's trip to New York Monday to announce his support for Dean "bossism," suggesting it was an attempt to drive some of Dean's rivals out of the race. "He should have noticed Tammany Hall is not there anymore. Bossism is not in this party," he said.
"To talk about that people ought not run and that people ought to get out of this race is bossism that belongs in the other party. . . We are not going to have any big name come here now and tell us the field should be limited, and we can't be heard." said Sharpton. "I know that Governor Dean and Al Gore love the Internet (but) www.bossism doesn't work on my computer," he added.
Hmm. Well, it shouldn't come as a surprise that www.bossism does not work; it's missing three key letters - c-o-m. Funny enough though, www.bossism.com does work, carrying users to an Australian Web site describing boss ideology. The site is a bit thin on content, but it's still there. Thought you should know, Al.
Rev. Al Sharpton criticized Dean for refusing to support a quick end to the U.S. occupation. Dean said Tuesday that he would support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq "over a period of a few years until Iraq really has a democracy strong enough" to defend itself from terrorists and Saddam Hussein's supporters.
Said Sharpton: "Occupation is a continuation of the war."
At one point, Koppel asked Sharpton, Kucinich and former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun about the seriousness of their campaigns. All three are generally seen as forming a "second tier" in the race. Koppel wondered whether they were in the race "as a sort of vanity candidacy?"
Moseley Braun said it's time to take the "white-men-only sign" off of the White House door. "The people want to hear ideas. They want some energy. They don't want to just embrace the status quo and expect change. If you want to embrace the status quo, then let George Bush continue selling the White House and the American people out."
Sharpton said that "we are reducing politics to people with money." Referring to his money troubles, the New York minister and civil rights advocate said, "I think the fact I'm doing so well in some states polls shows that I know better how to deal with deficits than anyone else on this [debate] stage."
Sharpton added, "I think that people with no money that can generate the kind of support I'm generating, that can galvanize a lot of young people... this is what wins elections. I refuse to allow us to continue to act like the person with the best dollar -- or the biggest dollar -- has the best message."
But Sharpton had the last laugh. At the end of the debate, he told Koppel that "even though you're lower in the polls, you don't have the ratings of 'Saturday Night Live.' I showed up anyway."
Of all the candidates, Moseley Braun was most upfront after the debate about her own stiff challenges. The former Illinois senator and ambassador to New Zealand admitted difficulties raising money and "getting a word in edgewise" in the crowded field. But she said she planned to remain in the race and highlight the issues facing women and African-Americans as "an attempt to elevate other voices in the [Democratic] Party."
Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, was disappointed about the handling of the debate. "I thought that that part of the debate was a real disservice to the people of New Hampshire," she said. "I thought Ted Koppel did a terrible job."
While these three campaigns may have to face reality sooner than the others, some analysts say the window of opportunity is rapidly closing for the entire field. Ken Robinson, the New Hampshire director for Sen. John Kerry's campaign, said "the majority of voters will make up their minds in January."
Joe Lieberman hinted that this may not be so. " 'Undecided' gets more votes than anyone else," Sen. Lieberman said. "New Hampshire voters are notoriously open-minded."
In my opinion, this is the best quote of the night:
"That American flag doesn't belong to John Ashcroft and Tom DeLay and George W. Bush. I'm, for one, very tired of seeing him pose in front of our soldiers and sailors and claim the mantel of their heroism after he ordered them into combat unnecessarily." -- Wesley Clark.
Copyrighted source material contained in this article is presented under the provisions of Fair Use.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic, environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.