First, let me deal with the big issue surrounding the debate, which were the no-shows Romney, Giuliani, Thompson and McCain. I can sum their absence in three words, stupid, stupid, and stupid. I understand some of their reasons for skipping the debate, especially the fundraising imperative with the filing deadline approaching. The Campaign Spot details other reasons here.
However, campaigns both primary and general are battles of ideas. When Republicans and conservatives skip out on a chance to express those ideas to an audience that has been historically hostile to them, then they just missed out on an opportunity that all the campaign donations in the world can’t buy. The general wisdom is that Blacks and Latinos do not matter in Republican primaries because they are heavily Democratic. Fair enough, but that is not the point. The point is that we pride ourselves on being the “Big Tent” party, which on an ideological level is true, but ignoring groups that generally hold opposing views makes for less people in that “Big Tent.” The four candidates should have jumped at the opportunity to address minority concerns with conservative ideas. In fact, as Tim Russert noted this morning, “there were Republican answers to those questions.”
Also by skipping this debate, Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, and McCain gave the national and local species of crapweasal an avenue to propagandize and make base accusations about Republicans in general.
Now my rambling account of the debate.
Driving along Hillen Rd. and Argonne Dr. it was plain to see that the Paul Bearers had arrived early. Ron Paul signs were planted all along both sides of the street, the median grass and the parking lot.
Thanks to John Flynn and Georgia Woerner with the MDGOP for getting me a VIP ticket, which allowed me to bypass the regular entrance line (and the Paul Bearers) and go right in.
The Gilliam Concert Hall at Morgan State is a superb facility, a real jewel for Baltimore.
Cornell West was in attendance, does he wear a scarf everywhere he goes?
Tom Joyner opened the evening with some thoughtful comments and playful but well deserved jabs at the missing candidates. His best line was that he felt “as out of place as Dan Rather at CBS Premiere Week.”
He also gave a shout out to Michael Bell of the Jena 6. Joyner announced that Bell had been released from jail and would tried as a juvenile for his part in a “high-school brawl” over nooses being hung in a tree that Black kids had asked permission to sit under. Sorry Tom, it was a little more than a “high-school” brawl. As Jason Whitlock noted in his powerful column:
There was no “schoolyard fight” as a result of nooses being hung on a whites-only tree. Justin Barker, the white victim, was cold-cocked from behind, knocked unconscious and stomped by six black athletes. Barker, luckily, sustained no life-threatening injuries and was released from the hospital three hours after the attack.
A black U.S. attorney, Don Washington, investigated the “Jena Six” case and concluded that the attack on Barker had absolutely nothing to do with the noose-hanging incident three months before. The nooses and two off-campus incidents were tied to Barker’s assault by people wanting to gain sympathy for the “Jena Six” in reaction to Walters’ extreme charges of attempted murder.
But I digress.
Tavis Smiley, the moderator came up next. Smiley said that since this was PBS he couldn’t say what he really felt about those who didn’t show because of they perceived that they wouldn’t get an appropriate reception. He did say, however that he expected the audience to show respect to the candidates that did show up. The audience met that expectation.
Smiley also gave us a surprise, when he introduced two of the Little Rock Nine that integrated Central High back in 1957. They received a standing ovation, and rightly so. Smiley also thanked Michael Steele, Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, and Ken Melhman for their assistance.
Next was Michael Steele, who reminded the audience that it was Republican president Dwight Eisenhower, who added the full force of the federal government to the integration of Central High. Ike sent the national guard to Little Rock to ensure the integration of Central High. He also spoke of the divide between Blacks and the GOP. Steele spoke of the terrible consequences of the missed opportunities for both.
Ron Paul received the loudest ovation in the candidate introductions. The Paul Bearers owned the upper balcony sections.
The candidates all had a chance to comment on the absence of the front-runners. Huckabee was embarrassed, (so was I). Duncan Hunter said that his family reunions when someone doesn’t show up we usually talk about them. Alan Keyes defended the no-shows citing that they declined an invitation to a value-voters debate.
On to the panel questions.
Cynthia Tucker asked the candidates to address the racial disparity in employment between Blacks and Whites. Huckabee and Brownback pandered. Paul gave his usual freedom and liberty response, and that prosperity serves everybody, which has the virtue of being true. Tancredo rightly criticized the welfare state for one of the reasons.
Huckabee did give a great answer to a question about what Republican presidents did for African-Americans, he brought up Ike again, and that it was Democrat George Wallace who stood at the doors to the University of Alabama to stop integration. Hunter also brought up the pesky fact that more Republicans voted fort the 1964 Civil Rights act than Democrats.
The candidates were also asked about voting rights in DC. All of them were in favor of voting rights for DC residents if done through constitutionally appropriate means. Hunter’s response was the best when he said, that he would favor DC statehood is the Dc government would respect the second amendment and allow its citizens to bear arms.
Before he asked his question, Juan Williams gave us another surprise. He introduced Capt. Vernice Armour, the first African-American female combat pilot in U.S. history. Armour has already served two tours of duty in Iraq. She received a well-deserved standing ovation.
My state senator Catherine Pugh chose that exact moment to exit. She did not even bother to clap for Capt. Armour. Bad form senator, bad form.
Huckabee, Paul, and Tancredo made great points about the futility of the drug war and asinine federal drug laws. There is a movement in conservative circles that the drug war is a bad idea, and that it needs to end. There is room for allying with like-minded minority groups, you know like inviting more people to the big tent!
All candidates spoke of market solutions to health care issues. Hunter talked about bringing back the family doctor. Keyes retorted, that we need to bring the family back first.
Huckabee: A likable guy but I don’t think he has the gravitas to be president.
Paul: I love his domestic stuff, but he loses it with his moonbattery on foreign policy.
Hey Ron, try reading Sayid Qtub or Lawrence Wright, then you might understand why people say Al Qaeda attacked us because of our freedoms.
Brownback: A good senator, but as a presidential candidate he is too wooden and canned. He must have run against some real slack-jawed yokels back in Kansas.
Tancredo: He made another great case for enforcing our existing immigration laws, and I like him a great deal, but like Huckabee, it just isn’t gonna happen.
Hunter: People talk about John McCain as a possible Secretary of Defense if the GOP wins the White House in 2008, Hunter could fill the role just as well.
Keyes: He made great points about the centrality of the family to our nation and culture. Keyes is a great orator and is more suited for the pulpit than the podium.
Whether you agree or disagree with Tavis Smiley, there is no doubt that he is tailor made for moderating a debate and working in the media. He kept the pace moving and the candidates on their time limit. The one time he interrupted was to ensure that Duncan Hunter actually addressed the question he was asked. I disagree with Smiley on many things, but he kept things fair.
Overall, it was good debate, and as Tim Russert pointed out, there were Republican and conservative answers to minority concerns. The real shame was that the likely GOP nominee was not there to present them.