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Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Rock the Vote Forum Review

I disliked the debate tonight. I find "Rock the Vote" to be pretty condescending to young people, as if those of us under 30 can't follow a campaign unless candidates make music videos to show us. The questioning was weak too, including such gems as asking what John Kerry would do as Red Sox manager, whether the candidates prefer Macs or PCs, whether they had used marijuana and with whom they would most like to party (who would hold your hair back if you got sick? the State Senate aide asked).

The substantive debate covered a lot of familiar territory. All of the papers and newscasts will lead with the testy moments early on when Sharpton and Edwards piled on Dean for his comment on wanting the votes of Southerners who have Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. Sharpton, who has been entertaining in previous debates, was less enjoyable to watch tonight. He's decided to attack Dean hard in order to try to siphon off black support. One of the "damn!" moments of the night came when Dean responded to the Reverdend Al's righteous indignation by pointing out that Jesse Jackson Jr. had endorsed his candidacy (and Jackson Sr. has defended the remark).

John Edwards took a different approach to attacking Dean, saying Dean was being condescending toward the South. Edwards' Southern defensiveness actually reminded me a lot of Zell Miller's interview with Russert this weekend, even though Edwards specifically noted his disagreement with Zell Miller's latest silly comments.

I wrote over the weekend that I thought Dean's remark was stupid, and I still believe that. It showed poor judgment to knowingly court a controversy over the Confederate symbol, which doesn't bode well for the rest of his campaign or a potential Dean presidency. The way he defended the remark tonight also made sense, though. He now says that his point was that Democrats should try to reach out to poor Southern whites in the 2004 election, which is a good idea. I just wish he had stated the point in a straightforward manner, as he did tonight, rather than inviting the attacks over racial insensitivity and patronizing the South as he did via his dumb word choice.

The second most interesting moment was John Kerry's attack on Dean over guns. This actually came in response to a pointed audience question about Kerry's hunting expedition in Iowa this weekend and his apparent need to show off his rifle play for reporters. CNN was showing pictures of Kerry shooting a rifle while Kerry was attacking Howard Dean for being too friendly with the NRA and allegedly opposing an assault weapons ban back in the day. It's hard to take Kerry's gun control message seriously when he seems to feel the need to go around shooting animals for the cameras.

A third good moment was when someone asked Wesley Clark about his acquaintances with gay people and Clark appeared kind of uncomfortable. He totally dodged the issue of don't-ask-don't-tell, saying he thought the policy should be "reviewed."