The most colorful figure in last week's Democratic presidential debate was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (official campaign site). From the very beginning he established himself as the unvarnished loose cannon who was not afraid to speak truth to power. Seeing that he really had nothing to lose, he came out with his guns a-blazing.
But did he actually hit any targets?
In my estimation, he actually did.
Let's be clear. Mike Gravel is not going to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee. However, he has already made a tremendous impact on the psychology of Democrats and Democratic legislators.
Let me explain. During the debate, Gravel fielded a question about how he would resolve the conflict. He said we should "get out" because "the Iraqis don't want us there, but we insist on staying!" He then said he would "make it a felony" for Bush to continue to prosecute this war and urged the other Democrats on stage to pass a law instead of a resolution to achieve this. After all, he reminded everyone, Bush said earlier that America was not pulling out of Iraq on his watch and that it would be a decision for "future presidents" to make.
That certainly got liberal antiwar Democrats fired up.
But then he went a step further. He said Pelosi didn't have to worry because she had the votes in the House of Representatives to keep passing bills ending the war. But for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), he said he should show some backbone and not worry about Republicans' threats of filibustering. Instead, he should schedule a cloture vote every day to get that bill passed. And if he did that while the Republicans continued to filibuster or Bush continued to veto this legislation, "it would be clear to everyone who was prolonging this war." (That's not an exact quote because I don't have the debate transcript with me, but that's the gist of what he said.)
And you know what? That's close to what the Democrats are going to do now. Even though Bush said he would veto the bill, the Democrats have said they will send him the bill anyway. Some Democrats have suggested they will send him the bill several times. I am not sure if they adopted this strategy before or after the debate, but at the very least, even if this idea did not come from Gravel himself, he still forcefully advocated this approach, which likely did not fall on deaf ears.
And by doing this, he showed the Democrats how to fight.
There's some debate about whether longshots should be allowed to participate in presidential debates because they often take precious time away from more viable candidates to express their positions. However, they can be beneficial in that they can throw more established candidates off script. In Gravel's case, it may behoove Democrats to keep him on the stage at the debates because he may be quite instructional to his colleagues in Washington and activists everywhere. Of course, Republicans will love to give Gravel as much exposure as possible because it would allow them to tar all Democrats as "far left lunatics." But I think most responsible voters see Gravel as a fringe candidate based on his lack of decorum alone.
National Journal was really miffed by his "rudeness" and dropped him from their biweekly race rankings. I think that's a mistake. My view is that knowledge is everywhere. You just have to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Even if Gravel comes across as something less than what is commonly considered senatorial or presidential, his advice about resolving the Iraq impasse suggests to me that people are giving him far less credit than he deserves.
Update: According to Parker (check the comments to this post), John Edwards advocated the exact same approach that Mike Gravel mentioned in the debate. Again, according to Parker, John Edwards stated this on NPR "about a month ago." If John Edwards owns this strategy, then Mike Gravel may have further validated it. At the very least, this is very favorable for John Edwards and really puts Barack Obama on the spot.
The most colorful figure in last week's Democratic presidential debate was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel (official campaign site). From the very beginning he established himself as the unvarnished loose cannon who was not afraid to speak truth to power. Seeing that he really had nothing to lose, he came out with his guns a-blazing.
Because of all the major political events happening locally last week, I wasn't able to get around to reading many of the articles that had collected in my newsreader. So I present the next installment of Stray Pins.
Craig Crawford observes that the three Democratic candidates with the most experience pertaining to terrorism and foreign policy happen to be the three second tier candidates. Would the GOP be able to effectively use the terrorism card against these candidates?
Political Derby authoritatively declares Obama to be the frontrunner based on polling data from Rasmussen. Rolling Stone, however, thinks Obama is moving down. This is a major contrast to their opinions about him before the debate because of the way he rolled out his foreign policy proposals.
Political Derby also talks about the real reason why the GOP hates John Edwards. To paraphrase, John Edwards has gotten to where he is by living the Republican narrative. He pulled himself by his own bootstraps. However, even though he has become wealthy, he does not "embrace" the wealthy the way Republicans do. Poverty is a big deal to him, and he's not afraid to talk about it. And that's where the rub comes from.
The Justice Department recently released a study giving credence to DWB (Driving While Black). According to the study, Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched or arrested during traffic stops than Whites. However, there were no racial differences with regards to being stopped by the police. Surely Al Sharpton is going to ask what Barack Obama thinks about this. And if his answer is insufficient, it can reignite debate about how well Obama understands the concerns of the Black community. And it brings up another issue as well. Where does one draw the line between talking about legitimate issues of race and pulling the "race card?"
You've probably already read that most Democrats are satisfied with their choice of presidential candidates while Republicans want more choices. In light of the recent Democratic debate in South Carolina, I wonder how many Democrats are now similarly dissatisfied with their options?
Who knew that Rahm Emanuel was such a colorful speaker?
Even though I often support Nancy Pelosi, I think good government is more important than partisan government. That's why this story disappoints me. Stuff like this basically maintains the status quo by ensuring that only the most liberal and the most conservative politicians keep getting reelected, thus removing the necessity for politicians to find common ground.
The Hotline talked about the Virginia Tech massacre and how various presidential candidates have responded to it. I am very curious about how guns will be covered in the Republican presidential candidates' debate this week. Romney is a recent convert to the NRA and Giuliani is a moderate at best. Could McCain own the issue of guns?
Speaking of Giuliani, what does he have in common with Mitt Romney and John McCain? Well, it looks like he may become bogged down by this issue the same way Romney was bogged down by flip flopping on gay rights. It also has the potential to sandbag his campaign the same way it sandbagged John McCain's campaign in 2000. Which issue am I talking about? It's an issue that barely came up in the Democrats' debate last week: the Confederate flag. Looks like Giuliani may have some explaining to do because he has gone from opposing the flag to saying it's a "states rights" issue. And do non-authoritative answers like citing "states rights" demonstrate presidential leadership? Does he support "states rights" if these states decide to do something he personally may disagree with? Look for conservative voters to ask him about this in regards to civil unions legislation that has passed in New Hampshire and Connecticut.
According to The Rothenberg Political Report, Howard Dean still doesn't get it when it comes to religion. And he makes a good point too. How can you talk about Easter without mentioning the name "Jesus?"
Apparently, non-pundit Bob Shrum doesn't get it either. "Scripted spontaneity" just doesn't sound right. Oh, and Rolling Stone also believes Mike Gravel, the loose cannon presidential candidate from Alaska, might become the next darling of the Netroots. I guess Gravel does speak truth to power ("Who the hell are we gonna nuke?"), but his mouth is a bit too radioactive for my tastes.
Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone is not amused. Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney. However, nobody else seems to want to touch it. However, Democrats are all calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's head. Why? Because his behavior in the lawyer firings controversy involves attacks against fellow Democrats. Torture, habeas corpus, and illegal wiretapping seem to have gotten a free pass.
I speculated earlier that as goes Obama, so goes Edwards. Quotes like this by John Edwards explains why. Fortunately for Edwards, Obama is still receiving the brunt of the "inexperience" questions. But that doesn't mean it's no longer an issue for Edwards. At least former New York Governor Mario Cuomo is impressed with Edwards' "spelling out his positions."
Looks like Iowa is a make or break state for Tommy Thompson and his presidential campaign. There is a straw poll there on August 11 and it seems like that will be the day of reckoning for him.
Are the Democrats going to revive the GOP culture of corruption mantra they relied on in the 2006 campaigns? They have new fodder for doing so, courtesy of Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi.
Former Bush donors are now supporting Clinton and Obama. What happened?
Final tally after the debate and the fish fry:
Hillary Clinton: One handshake, one autograph, no conversation, no picture
Barack Obama: One handshake with Obama's wife, no handshake with Obama himself, one refused autograph, one refused business card, no conversation, no picture
John Edwards: He did not show up at the post-debate rally. And although he was at the fish fry, I was unable to meet him.
Bill Richardson: One handshake, one accepted business card, one conversation, one autograph, one picture
Joe Biden: Two handshakes, one picture, no autograph, two conversations, one accepted business card, one funny compliment for my wife
Chris Dodd: He did not show up at the post-debate rally. And although he was at the fish fry, I was unable to meet him.
Dennis Kucinich: One handshake, one autograph, one picture, one long conversation, one accepted business card
Mike Gravel: He did not show up at the post-debate rally and did not attend the fish fry.
If I had to choose one word or phrase to describe the candidates based on my impressions of them over the past two days, this is what I'd say:
Clinton: Disciplined. "I am a machine. You cannot beat me, and I will not beat myself."
Obama: Hollow. "Who am I? I am you! Except when I'm not."
Edwards: Sniper. "Let Clinton and Obama bloody each other up. When they finish, take a good look at who's still standing."
Richardson: Executive. "Forget this American Idol BS. Look, I've gone to Darfur and North Korea. These other people haven't. End of story. Wake up, people!"
Dodd: Invisible. "I have many good ideas and am pleading with you to listen. Hello? Are you listening? Hello?"
Biden: Loose. "Play hard, work harder."
Kucinich: Sincere. "You are all my equals."
Gravel: Yikes. "Here! Catch the grenade!"
I watched a rebroadcast of the debate this afternoon on MSNBC. I have to say that I have to amend my original analysis. For the sake of professionalism and the credibility of The 7-10, I will not edit that original analysis. Interested readers can contrast my original analysis with my second one after viewing the debate again. I noticed a few subtleties that took place during the debate that I had missed the first time. Perhaps because I was so overcome with emotion and caught up in the moment I was unable to fully concentrate.
So here's my second analysis:
Hillary Clinton: No change here. She did a sufficient job of answering the questions posed to her. Keep in mind that "sufficient" doesn't necessarily mean "great." She even used some of the lines I thought she would, such as "I take responsibility for my [Iraq War] vote." She left the debate as the best positioned candidate. She looked poised, she smiled, she was attentive, and her answers were comprehensive. Her debate performance mimicked her campaign perfectly. It is obvious she had practiced rigorously prior to this debate because she did not look like she was thrown off kilter by anything the moderators asked.
Barack Obama: Obama was disappointing. I think a lot of his soft supporters were looking forward to hearing a lot more substance from him in the debate. I think the expectations had been built so high for him that he had a very fine line to walk. He made a rookie mistake by getting into an extended argument with Dennis Kucinich over Iran because Kucinich is not a threat to him. Politically speaking, Obama elevated Kucinich and his anti-war message. Obama also bombed on the terrorism question, no pun intended. Republicans probably feel much better about facing him now than before the debate.
John Edwards: I must admit that Edwards did better than I originally thought. He did not win the debate by any means, but I think he missed several opportunities to help his campaign. Edwards used a lot of the same language that Obama used in terms of hope and unity. However, Edwards can get away with this because Obama is receiving the brunt of the criticism about there being so little meat in his message. I still believe Edwards flubbed the moral leader and economics question. He seemed not to know how to respond to the hedge fund question and instead tried to turn it to a subject he was more comfortable discussing. I do worry that people who have worries about Obama and his lack of experience and meat may rub off on Edwards supporters as well. Edwards didn't do a great job tonight, but he did not hurt himself too badly either. I think he left the debate in the same position he was in before it started. But as goes Obama, so goes Edwards? By the way, one question was particularly damaging for Edwards. Obama, Clinton, and Edwards were the only candidates not to raise their hands when the moderator asked who has ever owned a gun as an adult. Southerners may forgive Clinton and Obama for being removed from "gun culture," but they might view Edwards, a North Carolinian, suspiciously. "Is he truly one of us?" Could that one question derail his campaign and limit his appeal in Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and other Southern states?
Bill Richardson: After watching the debate again, I can confidently say that Richardson mopped the floor with Clinton, Obama and Edwards in terms of his grasp of foreign policy and executive experience. He had a nice list of bullet points detailing how he would tackle certain problems and came across as the lone moderate in the race, which should provide solace to those who were supporting Evan Bayh and Mark Warner. He did make a small gaffe when he talked about "a post-democratic Cuba" and seemed to forget about the executive responsibilities he deals with in New Mexico ("guns?"), but those paled in comparison to his points about energy, Africa, diplomacy, and terrorism. I think he raised a few eyebrows, but needs to work on controlling himself in terms of following the debate rules because he consistently talked over the moderator. That may evoke images of Al Gore sighing during the debates.
Chris Dodd: I must give Dodd credit. He is an intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful man. He did not bomb any questions and answered them quite thoroughly. Liberals might not be happy with the way he handled the gay marriage/civil union question, but I do not think this is fatal. Dodd seems to be positioning himself as a mainstream liberal. He came across like a better disciplined John Kerry. Dodd did not hit any home runs at the debate, but he did present himself as a competent and reasonably nice guy who embraces center-left values. He was pegged as a Washington insider, but he embraced his family's career in public service. I don't think he energized any new supporters, but he has not taken himself out of the race by any means. He's not on the Republicans' radar right now.
Joe Biden: Simply put, Biden won the debate. He also did the most to help his campaign of all the candidates in the debate. He spoke forcefully, authoritatively, and competently while also showing how he could be funny and likable. His "yes" response to the verbosity question was priceless. Inexplicably, he singled out Hillary as a tough candidate for the Republicans to beat. Could it be that he thinks her nomination is inevitable? Is he trying to be her vice president or Secretary of State? I think Biden's performance has generated a lot of new potential supporters. At the very least, he lent his campaign credibility.
Dennis Kucinich: Kucinich gets credit for being authentic. I am not sure America is ready for a president like Kucinich yet because his thinking seems to put him about 20-30 years ahead of where America actually is. Kucinich's words probably resonated with expatriates and viewers from other countries. He is clearly the anti-war liberal in the race and is not ashamed to run on Iraq and Iran. The fact that no other candidate opted to support his motion to impeach Vice President Cheney works to burnish Kucinich's image as perhaps the only "genuine" Democrat in the race because I'm sure some of those candidates and almost everyone else in the audience want both Bush and Cheney to be kicked out immediately. The fact that Obama chose to debate him directly over the issue of war with Iran only elevated Kucinich and gave his anti-war stance greater prominence. Kucinich was clearly the most comfortable candidate on stage, as he seems to care more about his message, rather than how his message is received according to the polls.
Mike Gravel: If nobody knew who Mike Gravel was before this debate, they sure know now. He was a loose cannon and trained his sights on everyone. Joe Biden foolishly drew his ire by raising his hand during one of his responses, which led to Gravel saying "he had a certain bit of arrogance telling the Iraqis how to run their country." Gravel did get a few good lines in and made some good points about America's "military-industrial complex" and nuclear weapons, but his lack of speaking discipline and decorum have removed any doubts of his campaign's credibility. Gravel's presence detracted a bit from Kucinich because of the overlap of their positions. However, the other Democrats benefited from him because his lack of restraint made the other candidates look moderate or sensible by comparison.
Hillary Clinton: B+
Barack Obama: C-
John Edwards: B-
Bill Richardson: B+
Chris Dodd: B
Joe Biden: A-
Dennis Kucinich: A
Mike Gravel: 7.436RF4 (Can you better quantify his performance?)
I had the wonderful fortune of attending South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn's Annual Fish Fry in downtown Columbia last night. The fish fry took place on the lower deck of a parking garage downtown. Press releases and publicity materials said the fish fry would last from 8 to 11, but it looked like people started partying much earlier than that. My wife, my sister, and I got to 1411 Gervais Street at about 7:20 and saw a HUGE line snaking out of the garage. The smell of fried fish hit me a block away. I'm sure the police officers patrolling the intersections nearby loved that smell too.
The first thing I noticed was how many Obama volunteers were working the crowd. They were strategically placed near the event entrance, street corners near the parking garage, and at various points in the line of people waiting to get in. I am most definitely not an Obama supporter, but I didn't want to use today to start any debates or arguments with any of the other campaign workers and supporters. I just wanted some fish.
The Obama volunteers I met today were a lot more cordial than the ones I met at his campaign tent at the debate in Orangeburg on Thursday. They were persistent in trying to get me to sign up for their mailing list, but I didn't bite. I politely took a few Obama stickers and they left me alone after that. One of the volunteers looked vaguely familiar. It turned out that he worked at Best Buy and delivered my washing machine and dryer about two or three weeks ago. So I talked with him for a few minutes before he left to try and enlist new supporters.
While we were waiting in line, I ran into two German journalists that I had met at the debate. We joked a little as I told them about all the autographs I got. Then I started talking with a couple that came from North Carolina. They were Obama supporters, but they seemed soft. They asked me who I was rooting for and I told them I was in Richardson's camp. Then I explained what happened to me with Obama's supporters at the debate and how that left me with a sour impression of his campaign. They said I should tell Obama what happened directly because he would not approve of such behavior, but I told them Obama brushed me off too. They laughed and asked if I was wearing a Richardson campaign sticker when that happened. Touchee, but how could Obama win over any converts if he only interacts with people who already agree with him?
When we finally made it to the registration table, we had to fill out personal data sheets and take a Clyburn for Congress sticker. That's when I noticed all the Clyburn signs that had been plastered all over the parking garage. And that's when I noticed just how many people had already entered the garage. We saw two lines of people. A fairly short line of about 20 people was waiting to get some soft drinks and liquor. A muuuuuuuuuch longer line of people was waiting for what was in the back of the garage: the fish. The three of us then took our place in line and waited, and waited, and waited. It probably took 15 or 20 minutes before we actually made it to the food. There was bread, fish fillets, and various sauces. Nothing more, nothing less. And that was fine. They had another soft drink table nearby. We took one plate of fish each and then searched for a seat. We were able to find a table with three chairs in a nearby alley, so we sat there and tore into that fish.
Man, that was some good stuff. I have nothing more to say about that.
After finishing our food, we were still hungry. But we knew that if we left our table and seats, we'd lose them for good. So I volunteered to wait in line again while they guarded the table. When I went back out to the main area where the lines were, I saw that the line's length had doubled. Simply incredible.
There were so many people. All of Clyburn's volunteers were wearing blue "Clyburn for Congress" T-shirts. His actual aides were wearing black suits with some sort of lapel pin. A deejay was playing some old school funk and R&B. I distinctly remember hearing Parliament and Prince.
While I was waiting in line, I ran into a guy whom I had met the night before. Two nights ago, this guy approached me and shook my hand after I took the microphone and successfully recited the names, states, and titles of the eight Democratic presidential candidates. When I ran into this guy again today, I told him I remember him from the day before but didn't know who he was because he didn't introduce himself. He smiled at me and gave me his business card. He told me he was one of Congressman Clyburn's aides at his district office in Columbia and said "I had good knowledge" and "I did good last night." Needless to say, I quickly pulled out one of my own business cards and handed it to him.
I surveyed the crowd again while I was standing in line. It looked like about 85% of the people there were Obama fans, based on the stickers they were wearing. A few people had Edwards and Clinton stickers, but they were clearly in the minority. I only saw maybe five or six other people in the entire garage that had Richardson stickers, about four or five people with Dodd T-shirts, and the same number of Biden supporters. I saw nobody sporting any Kucinich or Gravel campaign gear. I also happened to see who I guess is the Richardson campaign's South Carolina campaign chairwoman. She remembered me from yesterday and asked if I needed any stickers. I told her I wanted one so I could show Richardson a little love in a sea of Obama fans.
When I got close to the food table, I called my sister on her cell phone and told her to send my wife out so we could get enough fish for the three of us. It was about 8:45 now. None of the politicians had arrived yet because they were attending the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner at the convention center (about 7 blocks away) until 9. So we still had time to laugh and chat while enjoying the warm evening breeze.
At about 9:15 we decided to relinquish our seats and head back to the main area of the parking garage where the candidates would speak. A stage had been set up in the center of the garage, where I noticed a few Secret Service agents had conspicuously planted themselves. People had already begun to congregate near the stage and stake out their positions there. Because of the shape of the garage, if you were not near this stage, it would be impossible for you take a good picture of the candidates, much less be able to meet them.
By 9:30, the crowd had become a bit restless. I'm not sure how many of them knew that the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was responsible for their delay, but nobody was budging from their vantage points. I noticed that the number of Hillary supporters had increased considerably as well.
Then I heard everybody cheering.
Bill Richardson had entered the garage and was working the crowd near the entrance. Needless to say, I was pumped up. However, I was standing too far away from him and didn't have a chance to shake his hand. Then I heard the crowd erupt into a deafening roar.
The 'Bama had arrived.
Obama was wearing his trademark sports coat with a white dress shirt, top button open. This laid back image was a direct contrast to Richardson, who was wearing a full executive suit. Contrary to my experience with him on Thursday, Obama shook as many hands as he could, including my sister's. ("Oh my gosh, I can't believe I actually shook Obama's hand!") Perhaps the more laid back environment was a better fit for him?
He then made a strategic retreat to the fish table. Obviously, he did not have to wait in line. When he returned to the stage, he had a plate of fish sans drink. Congressman Clyburn had already taken the microphone and I noticed that Obama took a strategically timed bite of that fish when Clyburn began to speak. Even my wife, whose knowledge of politics is minimal at best, could tell that this was staged. My thinking is that Obama knew that as soon as Clyburn, the single most powerful politician in South Carolina, began to speak, everybody's attention would be directed to the stage, where they could see Obama conveniently proving his Black credentials by getting his grub on as he takes an oversized bite of some fried fish. (We knew this fish had a few bones in it, so my sister joked that Obama would be in big trouble if that oversized bite of fish Obama took wasn't all meat.)
The crowd began to cheer again as Joe Biden entered the garage and walked onto the stage. He and Richardson exchanged hugs and handshakes. Chris Dodd, who was next, received a similar reception.
The next thing I heard was the sound of drums. That's when I saw a gang of supporters holding "Clinton Country" campaign signs file into the garage to the beats of a drum squad. Incredible. Suddenly I felt like I was at a college football game's halftime show when the schools' marching bands competed against each other. It was as if Obama and Clinton were trying to outdo each other with flair and bombast. But the crowd was eating it up.
And there she was. Hillary appeared out of nowhere and had her trademark wide-eyed smile. I could not tell if this smile was sincere or not, but her approach to the crowd was obviously different from Obama's. She looked like a seasoned politician and knew how to work the crowd. (In contrast, Obama was presenting himself more as a local homeboy.) Anyway, everybody, including myself, stuck out their hands so they could greet Hillary. Hillary actually made eye contact with me and shook my hand!
She then took her place on stage right next to Obama. Obama was standing on the far right side of the stage. Biden, Richardson, and Dodd were standing on the left, in that order.
Then I heard more drums, and that's when I saw the Edwards supporters make their presence known. A river of white Edwards campaign signs flowed into the garage and the crowd squealed with glee. That's when John Edwards took the stage. He was wearing blue jeans, a white dress shirt, and a sports coat. He stood between Dodd and Clinton. Edwards and Clinton shared a brief embrace while the other candidates received handshakes.
Noticeably absent to me (through probably not to the rest of the crowd) were Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. I thought every candidate would come and speak at the fish fry, but I wasn't surprised that these two candidates did not attend. I think they'd receive polite applause, but I can't help but wonder if their presence would be a distraction since they are such longshots, especially in South Carolina. People still don't know who Gravel is and Kucinich's liberal views might be a tough sell in South Carolina, even among Democrats, which is unfortunate.
Anyway, after all six candidates took the stage, Clyburn took the microphone again and thanked everyone for coming out to support the fish fry. He then teased the crowd by saying "there are many wonderful people on the stage with me, but the most important of all of them are..."
Was he going to make an endorsement? Did he have a sentimental favorite?
"...my two grandchildren!"
Of course, the crowd ate it up and cheered wildly as two children who were no older than 9 or 10 years old smiled on stage. Obama, Edwards, and Clinton clapped politely and smiled. I know everybody on that stage wants Clyburn's endorsement. But the fact of the matter is, they need Clyburn a lot more than Clyburn needs them. Clyburn is much more powerful and much more popular than Governor Mark Sanford, Senator Lindsay Graham, and veteran congressman John Spratt.
Then Clyburn said he wanted to introduce all the candidates from left to right. Again, this was probably planned because the order of the candidates was Biden, Richardson, Dodd, Edwards, Clinton, and finally Obama. (It would be rather anticlimactic if Chris Dodd was the last person to speak, right?)
Biden was first. He gave a brief speech and basically said "he might be down, but he's gonna keep on running" or something to that effect. He obviously knows he's trailing in the polls, but he has nothing to lose. He displayed a playful attitude and clearly conveyed that he'll be in it until the very end.
Next up was Richardson. He also gave a brief speech in which he talked about the debate the previous night. He said he wanted to say so much more than the debate format allowed, and talked a little bit about education (I think).
Dodd was next. His speech was even briefer, but he managed to give a shoutout to South Carolina State University (the debate site on Thursday), which Biden and Richardson did not do. Maybe that won him a few brownie points. Too bad he had lost his voice, as it was quite raspy.
(Here's an interesting aside. While the earlier candidates were speaking, someone behind me gave me a slip of paper and told me to pass it over to Obama. So I told the woman in front of me to pass it on. And she did. Eventually the letter found its way to Obama, and he took it! I was quite surprised. The letter looked like it was one and a half pages long with fairly large font. It was not handwritten, but rather printed from a computer. To my surprise, Obama started reading it. But about five seconds into reading the letter, his facial expression changed. I could not tell if the letter was about a serious subject or if it contained something negative about him or his campaign. But whatever it was, Obama did not look too happy after reading it. He then put the letter back in his pocket and tried to force an enthusiastic smile for the rest of the rally. I guess Obama was put into a really tough position here because if he refused the letter, that would make him appear inaccessible to "his peeps." But because he's still a largely inexperienced politician, he should get used to dealing with bad news. Perhaps he needs a thicker skin?)
Anyway, Edwards was the first of the heavyweights to speak. I could see that Biden, Dodd, and Richardson were visibly annoyed by Edwards' speech because he treated his "introduction" as an opportunity to give a campaign speech. In other words, it took him awhile to finish up. He was able to one-up Dodd by talking about the civil rights movement "in the sixties" and how three Black students from SC State were murdered. He used their sacrifices to talk about the struggle for equality that he's fighting for and how he wants to give a voice to the people who don't have one (i.e., the poor and the disenfranchised). The crowd ate it up.
Clinton took the mike next. She talked about the importance of electing a Democratic president and said that "with our help, we could bring America back to prominence and make the White House the people's house." Those are not her exact words, but I do remember the gist of what she was saying. In other words, she tried to keep the focus on the final goal of kicking the Republicans out of the White House and putting a Democrat (her) in it. Like Dodd, she was losing her voice as well.
Fittingly, the final speaker was Obama. The crowd could not stop hollering before erupting into sustained chants of "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" The Messiah then took the mike and gave what I guess is his standard speech including the line "I have become a vehicle for your hopes and dreams." One thing (I THINK) he did that the other candidates didn't do was give a shoutout to Congressman Clyburn. It appears that Obama is working hard for that coveted endorsement.
After Obama's speech, all the fans would have a chance to meet with the candidates as they worked the crowd. Or so I thought. The only candidate I could see was Biden. Biden was surrounded by cameras as he left the stage and mingled with the crowd. Curiously, Clinton, Richardson, and Dodd were nowhere to be found. Edwards was also missing, which was shocking because he didn't come to the post-debate party the day before either. I think Dodd's absence at the end of the fish fry was a huge mistake because it would have been a good opportunity for him to introduce himself to a lot of eager potential supporters. Biden appeared to be the only candidate who was working for votes.
I was able to make my way to Biden and shake his hand. I asked if he remembered me from the debate earlier and he said he did and also noticed that I wasn't wearing a suit this time. (So he was sincere.) Then he looked at my wife and said, "Oh, and I definitely remember her!" and flashed a cheesy smile. It was too funny. My wife, my sister, Biden, and I all laughed after that. I told Biden than I really had a lot of respect for him and was hoping he could break out. I gave him my business card and told him to please contact me if he needed any help from a journalistic or public relations standpoint. He took my business card, smiled, said he'd contact me, and then posed for a picture with me. Awesome.
(By the way, another person I was particularly impressed with was Dennis Kucinich, even though he was not at the fish fry. After the debate the day before, Kucinich came down to address the dwindling crowd. I was able to get an autograph from him and he and his wife talked with me for about five minutes. I could not believe how much Kucinich was actually interested in me as a person. He asked me questions about which languages I could speak when I told him I was a linguistics student, he demonstrated some of his own foreign language knowledge, he asked me about my travels, and he expressed his appreciation when I complimented him for his courage to say what everyone wants to say but is too afraid of because of the inevitable political recriminations. I know Kucinich is often lampooned by other pundits and talking heads, but I have great respect for him as a person after the wonderful impression he made on me. The extent to which he interacted with me as a person, rather than as a voter, truly impressed me.)
After we left Biden, we searched for any other candidate we could find. I thought Richardson was still floating around, but I couldn't find him. Maybe he had left. Too bad because I'm sure he would have remembered me.
I have to say, I am really impressed with Biden. He's a likable guy after all. It's a shame that the media seem to be giving him a raw deal. I'm still in Richardson's camp because I think he's the GOP's worst nightmare, but I'd be perfectly happy with Biden as the nominee because his intellect would allow him to demolish his Republican opponent in the debates.
Anyway, the last thing I did was try to meet Congressman Clyburn. I wanted to thank him for giving us the VIP tickets to the debate viewing hall. I also wanted to tell him that I was related to one of the close friends of his wife. When I was finally able to work my way over to the stage where he was taking pictures, I thanked him for the tickets and for putting together this awesome party. He smiled, let us take a picture with him and said thank you, although it was clear he was very busy and probably couldn't process what we were trying to say. That's fine.
What an amazing night. We ended up leaving the fish fry at about 10:30, but the crowd was still rocking when we left. I watched some of the news coverage on the local 11:00 news after I got home and people were still partying at the garage. They said about 1600 people showed up, although I have yet to hear any official attendance counts.
Anyway, they might as well change the name of the Sixth Congressional District of South Carolina to Jim Clyburn's Personal Playground. This guy has a stranglehold on this seat for as long as he wants it. What a great party and what a great way to connect with the voters in your district.
As promised, here's a rundown of my experiences at the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Orangeburg Thursday night.
Thanks to a family connection, I was able to score two tickets to the debate viewing and after-party. When I picked those tickets up on Wednesday from Congressman Jim Clyburn's field office, I found that they were VIP tickets that would allow us to sit on the floor at the large tables in the debate viewing area, which was the campus gymnasium. I was a bit concerned though because three of us were going to attend the debate: myself, my wife, and my sister.
Because I'm on the Bill Richardson campaign mailing list, I was able to arrange for three additional general admission tickets for the debate viewing area. Because we obviously wanted to sit together in the VIP area, we would try and score one more ticket after we arrived at the SC State campus.
The drive from Columbia to Orangeburg went smoothly enough. However, when we got to Highway 601, that's when the traffic backed up. There were South Carolina state troopers and county police officers EVERYWHERE. We could see how Orangeburg was benefiting from the economic boom they had likely been experiencing because of all the media coverage and the large entourages that accompanied the candidates. Marquees outside of local restaurants and hotels were appealing directly for their business.
After arriving at the SC State campus, we noticed immediately that we were in Obama Country, but Clinton and her supporters were clearly not conceding anything. One point to keep in mind is that SC State is a historically Black university located in Orangeburg, a mostly Black town in central South Carolina. It is located squarely in Congressman Jim Clyburn's majority Black district. So the strength of Obama and Clinton in this part of South Carolina is obvious to me. Interestingly, I noticed that while Blacks largely seemed split between Obama and Clinton, the Whites I saw there seemed to be evenly distributed between Obama, Clinton, and Edwards.
I went to the Richardson tent to pick up my three debate viewing tickets. When I asked the worker there about scoring one more VIP ticket, she said there would be a good chance I could since apparently several other Richardson supporters who had committed to attending the debate hadn't shown up yet. She told us to come back at 7:00. I picked up two Bill Richardson for President campaign signs and left.
We were surprised that we had not been subjected to a security screening so far. We didn't bring a camera with us because we thought they were not allowed. So we decided to walk to a nearby drugstore and pick up two disposable cameras there. While we were walking and sweating in the South Carolina heat, several passing motorists looked at my campaign signs. One person, presumably a Republican, shouted from his car that Democrats only want to raise taxes. Obviously, this motorist is not familiar with the issues, nor is he familiar with the candidates because Bill Richardson is probably the most tax-averse Democratic candidate running.
After returning to the campus with our cameras, I decided to mingle with some of the supporters of the other politicians. I approached the Clinton tent and asked the staffers there a few questions. They were polite and engaged me. They asked why I was a Richardson supporter and I asked the same about them and Clinton. I guess I tripped up the supporter I was talking to with her rhetoric when she responded to my question, "Well, I just think Hillary's the best candidate for the job." Okay.
Next I went to the Chris Dodd tent. I was surprised to see so many people there wearing Dodd stickers and T-shirts. This Dodd presence seemed to contradict most polling data I had seen so far, although perhaps it's not so surprising after all in light of straw poll victories for the Dodd camp. When I talked with some of the people congregating around the Dodd table, I found that some of them didn't even know who he was. It turned out that someone had paid them to sport Dodd gear and inflate the presence of his campaign.
Next up was the Biden tent. Nobody was standing there. Only one woman was manning the tent. I asked her what her story was because it seemed that about 95% of the people at the debate were either in the Obama, Clinton, or Edwards camp. She told me how the media haven't done many favors to the voters because they think voters don't have the attention span to pay attention to an eight candidate race. She also said it was still early and that the second-tier candidates hadn't had an opportunity to get their names and messages out.
I wrote about my negative experience with the Obama campaign earlier, so you can read what happened there.
I then spotted two men in the tent next to Richardson's. I approached them and found that they were from the Kucinich campaign. I happily took a bumper sticker and talked with the campaign workers because this was my first experience ever with "the loony gadfly liberal peacinik from Ohio." The man I spoke with seemed considerably more laid back than the other staffers from the other campaigns. We talked a little about Iraq and found some common ground there. I actually found myself agreeing with a lot of what this campaign representative was saying.
And finally, I saw a lone man sitting in the final tent. I guess he arrived late. I guess he was with the Mike Gravel campaign, but I didn't get a chance to talk wit him.
One final thing I want to mention is that there was a Black man wearing a Confederate soldier's uniform and proudly waving a Confederate flag by the street. He seemed to be arguing with all the other Blacks in the area about the flag and his perceived "identity confusion." I can understand these Blacks' obvious consternation. When I had my chance, I decided to approach this man and find out what his story was. Obviously, any Black man proudly waving a Confederate flag goes against the grain and is someone I want to learn more about.
So I calmly approached him and asked him why he was dressed in Confederate garb and why he seemed so angry. To avoid becoming the subject of his ire from the getgo and putting him on the defensive, I told him I was not approaching him in a hostile way. I told him it took a lot of courage for him to do what he was doing where he was doing it because Blacks like this are few and far between. This man seemed to appreciate the compliment and engaged me in a discussion.
It turned out that he was angry with Barack Obama and his supporters because some of them had been hassling him about his Confederate flag. He said that Barack Obama is taking the Black vote for granted and that he has to be more inclusive of all types of people. He thought Obama was a fraud because his supporters representing him at the debate were ostracizing and verbally assailing him. This man said he was considering supporting Obama earlier, but would definitely not do so anymore. He said that I seem to be a different and refreshing type of person and appreciated the way I talked with him. He saw my campaign sign and said that "he would give Mr. Richardson a look" because I represented him well. I am not sure my views represent those of Gov. Richardson regarding the whole Confederacy issue, but I did appreciate the compliment.
We then exchanged business cards. This man's name is H.K. Edgerton and he is the president of an organization known as Southern Heritage 411. I think I was able to get a picture with him, but out of respect for Richardson, I kept the campaign sign out of view. By the way, I had noticed this guy earlier and asked some of the people at the Clinton tent who that man was. They told me they didn't know, but that someone was offering the Clinton people money if they would take a picture of him while holding their Hillary campaign signs.
Wow. Talk about dirty politics.
Later, I saw him giving an interview with NBC News. I left him alone, was able to get that final VIP ticket, and entered the gymnasium to view the debate.
I will post more about this tomorrow (it's 2:15 a.m.), but I wanted to provide a brief summary of the candidates' performance at the debate tonight.
Hillary Clinton. She did everything she had to do. Her performance tonight is indicative of her campaign. She didn't hit any home runs, but she methodically belted out a series of successful singles and doubles. She did not come across as particularly engaging or exciting, but she made no mistakes and competently and confidently answered almost every question posed to her. I think the "woman" issue may have been laid to rest because of her performance tonight.
Joe Biden. In terms of beating expectations, Joe Biden performed far better than anyone else on stage tonight. He was knowledgeable, forceful, passionate, and even funny. He also successfully and humorously defused one of the problems that had been hamstringing his campaign--his mouth. Biden didn't have to win the debate tonight and become the new front runner. He simply had to come across as a credible candidate and give people a reason to give his campaign a second look. He more than succeeded in that endeavor.
Dennis Kucinich. To Kucinich's credit, he was the only candidate tonight to openly say what almost every Democrat has been thinking for ages now: that the Iraq War is a farce and that our executive leadership should be impeached. I am not expecting a sudden surge in support for his campaign, but at least he must be respected for his arguments. His best moment was when he took out his pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and reminded the other candidates of what it means when you take the Oath of Office. He also tried to speak directly to the average voter, such as when he talked about the price of his house, unlike the other candidates, which was a nice touch. Kucinich proved tonight that he is not a loony lefty gadfly candidate. He may very well be the conscience of the Democratic Party. I'm honestly not sure why his campaign struggles to gain traction because I think he spoke with more sincerity than almost every other candidate tonight.
Mike Gravel. Nobody knew who this guy was before, but they know who he is now. He was easily the most animated candidate tonight and had the most memorable one-liners. People are not going to flock to his campaign because of his performance tonight, but at least his name recognition among Democrats went up and his brand image should improve.
COULD BE BETTER, COULD BE WORSE...
Bill Richardson. (Fair disclosure: I am a Bill Richardson supporter.) Richardson obviously is quite competent, experienced and intelligent. However, he seemed to try too hard at times to list all of his accomplishments and thus provided overly wordy and tangential answers to fairly simple questions. Thus, he seemed a bit unfocused in his responses at times. However, he did demonstrate that his grasp of foreign policy and executive responsibility far exceeds that of the three front runners. He also stuck up for the Western states when talking about guns, so maybe rural Southern voters may give his campaign a second look as well. I think Richardson did an okay job overall, but I'm not sure if he won over much support from casual observers of politics because he tended to speak at a level above them.
Chris Dodd. Dodd did a respectable job of answering questions and did not make any major mistakes. He did not come across as unlikable, arrogant, or stuffy. However, can you remember anything Dodd said tonight? For a second tier candidate who is generally considered to be running in fifth place, he missed a prime opportunity to reach out to new voters and make a lasting impression on them. Unfortunately for Dodd, he looked like "just another politician" and may have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Barack Obama. The debate over Obama's "Blackness" is a major issue with his campaign. However, there's one other debate that's far more threatening for his campaign. It's the "style vs. substance" issue, which ties in with his inexperience. Obama spoke heavily in platitudes and little in specifics, so I'm not sure I learned much of anything from his performance tonight. He seems to have a lot of good and broad ideas, but no details or specific proposals. Biden successfully addressed his weakness in the debate by confronting it head on. Obama, however, did not. Look for his support to soften because I just don't see how he can keep on giving these optimistic speeches without any meat. Also, his lack of experience may be a tremendous liability should he become the nominee. Why in the world was he engaging Dennis Kucinich? Does he really think that standing up to Kucinich is going to win him new votes? What does he accomplish by doing that? Hillary Clinton, who happened to be standing between the two candidates, had to be shouting "Hallelujah!" inside when this spat happened.
John Edwards. Unfortunately, John Edwards appeared like a lightweight tonight. His answers to questions seemed incomplete, evasive, or uninformed. He did not say anything memorable and demonstrated an insufficient command of some of the issues tonight, such as economic ones. He did try hard to sound humble when asked who his most important moral figure was, but it took him a long time to answer the question and his answer seemed insincere. He also recited a few statistics, but he didn't say much in terms of concrete plans. For someone who is a supposed "top tier candidate," he did not come across as one tonight.
FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE
Look for Hillary and Biden to see a nice bump in the polls, mostly at Obama and Edwards' expense.
Look for Richardson to gain a few points or to be more widely considered as a "second choice" candidate.
Look for Obama and Edwards to drop. Obama's numbers will probably fall more precipitously than Edwards' because I believe Obama's support is softer. Could this debate be Obama's Howard Dean moment? Meanwhile, Edwards might have to worry about being overtaken by Richardson and Biden.
Look for Dodd's numbers to remain flat. He's still in the game, but needs to be a bit more aggressive and vibrant if he wants to enter the top tier.
Look for Kucinich's numbers to remain flat while his favorability ratings improve.
Look for Gravel's numbers to remain flat while his name recognition improves.
This is the first of several posts I plan on making about the Democratic presidential debate in Orangeburg this evening. I submitted this post to the Washington Post. Hopefully someone in the Obama camp will read this and fix the problem because I am not particularly enthused about his campaign after my experience at the debate tonight.
Why this Black man is not for Obama
Barack Obama has lost this Black man's vote.
I attended the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Orangeburg Thursday night. I had done some research on the candidates beforehand and had made up my mind about who I was supporting. (I am a Bill Richardson supporter.) However, I was open to talking with people who supported other candidates and wanted to understand their rationale for supporting those candidates. I had no ill intentions whatsoever and simply wanted to have a few friendly debates with my fellow Democrats. Maybe I'd learn a thing or two.
I talked with representatives of the Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, and Kucinich campaigns with no problem. I stumped them a few times with my questions, and they stumped me a few times as well. Finally, I decided to talk with the representatives of the Obama campaign. The plurality of people at the debate seemed to consist of Obama supporters, so I was excited about the opportunity to find out what makes these voters support him so passionately.
When I approached the Obama tent, I told them that I was not approaching them in a hostile manner because I was proudly clutching my Bill Richardson sign. One of the men there jokingly asked me what it would take to convert me to an Obama supporter. I told him that I had not quite made up my mind about him yet, but was interested in learning more about him. Then I started asking the staff at the tent a few questions. I listened respectfully to their arguments and agreed with some of what they were saying. We were laughing and having a pretty good and engaging discussion.
However, one woman sitting at the table seemed to be quite annoyed with my presence and interrupted me. She rudely told me that I was not welcome at that tent because "it was for Obama supporters only." Then she asked me to leave. Shocked, I told her that I had a lot of respect for Obama and was optimistic about his candidacy. I also told her that her remarks contradicted Obama’s message of inclusion, but she cut me off and told me again to leave. The woman I was happily talking with earlier then cowardly crept away from me and walked over to the sour woman who told me I was to leave because "I was not an Obama supporter." Not wanting to cause a scene, I left.
Needless to say, my first direct encounter with the Obama campaign left me with a negative impression. However, I thought I'd have a second chance when Obama would come and speak at the rally after the debate.
After 90 minutes of rhetoric, ideas, jokes, gaffes, and insinuations, the candidates sauntered into the gymnasium where the rally was held. The first candidate to come out was Hillary Clinton. She gave a rousing speech and did an excellent job of working the crowd. I was able to get an autograph, as was almost everyone else who had shoved a business card, name placard, or sheet of paper in her face.
The next candidate to address the crowd was Barack Obama. He gave a good speech too and the partisan crowd loved it. But when it was his turn to work the crowd, I was sorely disappointed. He took a few pictures with some of the fans in the crowd, but he signed no autographs and refused all sheets of paper that were thrust at him by the people who had managed to get close enough to him, including photographs, business cards, and sheets of scrap paper for him to sign. He just flashed his pearly whites and waved as screaming fans pleaded for him to sign his autograph.
Then he was gone. Strike two.
Obama, his rude campaign staff, and Obamamania in general did not impress me at all. Obama did not really distinguish himself during the debate, his supporters there could not really articulate why they supported him, one of them was exceptionally rude to me, and Obama himself seemed to take his supporters' adulation for granted. Maybe he didn’t want to shake my hand because I was wearing a Bill Richardson sticker. (Clinton, Biden, and Kucinich had no problem with this.) Maybe he didn't shake my hand because he didn't see me. (I was standing no more than two feet away from him.) Maybe he didn’t acknowledge me because he was too busy. (Apparently he was too busy to acknowledge almost every person there who wanted an autograph, and there weren't that many of us there.)
Or maybe he just didn't care. I really don't want to say anything negative about Obama because I think he could potentially be a great president, but that doesn't change the fact that I was sorely disappointed by all elements of him and his campaign tonight.
The first major debate between the Democratic presidential candidates will take place on Thursday at South Carolina State University on Thursday. SC State is a predominantly Black university located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, about a 40 minute drive southeast from Columbia. Orangeburg is also located squarely in Congressman Jim Clyburn's 6th Congressional District, a majority minority district.
I was fortunate enough to snag a few tickets for the debate, although I won't be able to sit in the same auditorium as the actual politicians. (Those tickets are long gone.) However, I will be able to watch the debate at a site nearby and will attend a post-debate party where the candidates will drop by and give a few speeches. This is a great chance to network, get campaign literature, ask the candidates directly where they stand on the issues, and get a feel for how comfortable they are discussing certain issues. I'll be working the crowd to the best of my ability and will post my experiences here later.
Anyway, this debate is huge. It will be nationally televised, so this gives every candidate a chance to reach more voters now than ever before. People who have never heard of Dennis Kucinich or Chris Dodd will get a chance to see them on stage. People who know of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may have their opinions of them change because they don't actually know them. This is a huge opportunity for candidates to seize momentum. It's also an event that can winnow the field in the event that a candidate makes a major gaffe or performs so dismally that he (or she) has no choice but to see the writing on the wall.
So let's analyze the stakes here:
Why this debate matters: Hillary Clinton's campaign has been worried for the past few weeks because the aura of inevitability surrounding her campaign has all but dissipated. The 800-pound gorilla has suddenly been whittled down to a 400-pound gorilla. I still view her as the front-runner, but she clearly has the most to lose here. Everybody knows who she is and everybody has an opinion of her, be it positive or negative. Clinton's problem is that she can't generate new support as easily as she can generate defectors from her campaign. This debate offers her the opportunity to present herself as more likable than the voters "remember."
What she should say: Clinton's greatest asset is her husband and the prosperity that characterized his presidency. George W. Bush, the current president, is also an asset to her because she can use him as an effective foil. Clinton should try to present herself as a steady hand that can be tough on our nation's enemies without alienating our allies and neglecting our wellbeing at home.
What she should not say: Clinton should not say too much about Iraq because she has boxed herself into a rhetorical corner thanks to her war vote and her non-apologies for that vote. She is clearly trying to position herself as a centrist on this issue for the general election, but this won't work for the primaries. Any further nuanced "I take responsibility for my vote" type expressions will only feed into the negative caricatures that have developed about her--a cold, calculating, politically driven woman with no core beliefs. Worse yet, it also makes her look stubborn, just like the unpopular president.
Enemies on stage: Clinton has a big scarlet X on her forehead. Everybody is waiting for her to stumble so they can pounce and steal some of the oxygen she has been sucking up. Obama has become her (media-annointed) primary rival, so he is licking his chops. Anything negative that she says will make him look better by comparison. Edwards is hoping that she gets sandbagged by an Iraq-related question because even though he also voted for the war, he has since apologized for it. The second-tier candidates are waiting in the wings, ready to beam her over the head with the "inexperience" weapon. Bill Richardson in particular is a threat to Clinton because he can attack her as lacking direct executive experience even though her husband was president.
Question she hopes never comes up: "During the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush campaigned as 'a uniter, not a divider.' Due to the politicization of the government under his presidency, our nation has become more polarized than ever. Your husband's presidency was similarly polarizing because of all the investigations and transgressions that took place then. In light of this, how do you defend your candidacy as a chance to bring this nation together?" Obama and Edwards would be quite pleased with their chances if this question popped up.
Why this debate matters: This debate offers Obama the opportunity to close the sale with Black voters as well as with voters who still have reservations about his lack of experience. This also affords him the opportunity to get his name out because there's still a large chunk of the electorate that doesn't even know who he is. These voters who don't know anything about Obama are likely experience Stage 1 of "Obamamania," which I would characterize as swooning over his "freshness" and the "novelty" of his campaign. Stage 2 of Obamamania consists of being hopeful for his candidacy, but having their enthusiasm tempered by those nagging questions about his lack of experience. These voters should be considered soft supporters who may be more inclined to have a second secret desired candidate in this race. Aside from Hillary Clinton, Obama has the most to lose from a poor showing in this debate.
What he should say: Obama should speak of his international upbringing and his multi-ethnic family. He should then use this as a way to segue into a discussion about repairing our image abroad and making the United States a nation that is respected by others. This approach allows him to combine hope and competence, thus satisfying Obamamaniacs in Stages 1 and 2. It would also allow him to define himself as a new type of candidate that can bring new types of voters into the political discussion.
What he should not say: Obama should avoid saying anything that makes him sound to much like a civil rights era Black politician. While a lot of Black voters might respond to that, the larger White electorate might think of him as a younger Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson and be put off by it. I don't think Blacks are expecting him to rail against racism like they'd expect Sharpton to do, but I do think they are expecting him to show at least a modicum of outrage over such injustices. I think Black voters will give him a pass if he doesn't become a champion of "their" issues so long as he at least conveys to them that he will fight for them.
Enemies on stage: John Edwards probably goes to bed cursing Obama's campaign each night. ("How could this upstart be getting more media attention than me, a guy who ran on the Democratic ticket in 2004?") Edwards has been taking subtle digs at Obama by saying "he was too inexperienced as a candidate in 2004, but that he's much more experienced and knowledgeable now." Look for Edwards to make a similar attack in the debate. The second tier candidates will pile on from the "experience" angle as well. They will also say that the Democrats need a leader, not a rock star. Clinton will do her best to avoid engaging Obama because she doesn't want people to think she's worried about his strength.
Question he hopes never comes up: "Why did it take you five days to respond to the Don Imus controversy? Does it really take that long to identify offensive remarks as offensive?" Hillary Clinton would be beaming with joy if this question popped up because while Obama has delivered speeches to the Black community, her husband has actually delivered for them.
Why this debate matters: John Edwards has been running half a step behind Obama and Clinton, but half a step ahead of the second-tier candidates. Edwards' challenge is to remind voters that he is the populist candidate who is not afraid to bring issues of poverty, fairness, and decent wages to the forefront of the discussion. He also has to shake the label of being "John Kerry's running mate" because that reminds voters of the unpopular Kerry and the fact that Edwards played second fiddle to a losing candidate. Even though he is perhaps even more politically inexperienced than Obama (given Obama's tenure as a state senator), Obama is receiving the brunt of the criticism about his inexperience. This gives Edwards the chance to convey himself as more of an intellectual and political heavyweight than voters remember.
What he should say: George Bush's failures could be manipulated by Edwards in particular. Edwards should remind voters of the devastation along the Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Katrina and how Bush has "forgotten about them." He could also make an appeal to Southern voters (particularly those in North Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and maybe Louisiana) that he understands "their (Southern) issues" and how the Republican Party (and its business wing) may be taking them and their votes for granted. This message may resonate with economically downtrodden voters of all races in the rural South. Class, not race, is the key to Edwards' success.
What he should not say: Edwards can't bring up Obama's inexperience because it would remind voters of his own inexperience, despite his claims that he is "more experienced" now. Attacking Obama also strengthens Obama's message of hope while undermining Edwards' similar message of optimism and fairness. He has no choice but to let Obama implode with regards to the experience question, although Edwards may become collateral damage by nature because on this issue, they are one and the same.
Enemies on stage: Bill Richardson is the only other major Democratic candidate that hails from a red state. Look for Richardson to "out red-state" Edwards when talking about the government's role in people's lives. Also, Edwards is in direct competition with Obama for voters responding to messages of optimism and change.
Question he hopes never comes up: "You have said that reducing the deficit is not one of your priorities. How do you plan to pay for all the initiatives you propose? What kind of message do you think that sends the economically disadvantaged voters you appeal to who don't have the luxury of spending money they don't have?"
Why this debate matters: Of all the second tier candidates, Bill Richardson is the best positioned to break into the top tier. His resume is easily the most comprehensive in terms of the depth and breadth of his experience. This debate gives him the opportunity to introduce himself and his experience to voters who may think there are only three candidates in the race or voters who are dissatisfied with the "top three" candidates. Voters in Nevada and other Western states will listen to Richardson's message closely because he is the only candidate to hail from that part of the country, thus making him uniquely familiar with issues important to them. The growing Latino population may also be energized by his candidacy. Democrats who desperately want to avoid nominating yet another loser may respond quite favorably to Richardson's biography. This free media time offers him the chance to make the sale to a whole lot of people.
What he should say: He can neutralize Obama and Edwards simultaneously by focusing on his experience alone. If he can convey that rock stars and amateurs are the last things this country needs in these serious times because Democrats must appear tough on defense and able to stand toe to toe with our enemies, that will make a lot of people take notice. He can also score a major blow on Clinton by focusing on his own executive experience as governor and contrast that with her experience as an executive observer when her husband was president. He should also explain how he can appeal to voters in areas where Democrats have not been particularly competitive until recently, the West. George Bush can be used as an effective foil as well, thus allowing him to position himself well for the general election, should he win the nomination. His trips to Darfur and North Korea make him appear like a statesman in the mold that many voters wish Bush was. Richardson could also score rave reviews by offering responses to some questions in both English and Spanish.
What he should not say: Richardson should avoid saying anything condescending to Obama, Clinton, or Edwards even if they are less qualified than him because he has little margin for error and cannot afford to have his unfavorability ratings spike. Richardson cannot win over Obama's voters with a message of perceived nastiness. Statesmanship may trump optimism and inexperience, but knowledge and callousness may not. Basically, he has to let his resume and accomplishments do his dirty work for him, rather than his attacks.
Enemies on stage: Edwards is not a threat to Richardson. However, Clinton and Obama are. Richardson cannot break through until one of those candidates stumbles. Obama's campaign is hoping that Richardson does not siphon off their supporters because Richardson can position himself as an Obama who doesn't need on the job training. Clinton's campaign machine may also be armed with unflattering information about Richardson regarding his tenure as United Nations Ambassador or Energy Secretary, but don't look for her to attack Richardson for two reasons: 1) Obama is her main target, and 2) going negative is the last thing Clinton wants to do because it will reinforce her own negatives.
Question he hopes never comes up: "As a child of a Mexican mother and an American father, how does the debate over illegal immigration impact you?" This question would not really sabotage him for the Democratic primary, but it could really hamstring him in the general election because of fierce conservative opposition to it.
Why this debate matters: Like Richardson, Dodd has an impressive resume and is largely unknown to most voters outside of the wonks who study the Senate. Dodd has the opportunity to present himself as the steady veteran in the race, which should provide comfort to soft Obama and Edwards supporters who lament their lack of experience.
What he should say: Dodd's best ally is his experience, which allows him to attack George Bush, Barack Obama, and John Edwards easily and effectively. His decades of experience contrast nicely with his rivals'. He should also use his experience as the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee to talk about his understanding of the world economy and the impact of poverty and trade. These are probably not the issues he wants to focus on, but they are likely the best ones available to him at present because he can credibly discuss them. He should repeat his mantra, "Give me a chance" as often as he can because it appeals directly to voters who feel dissatisfied with Clinton, Obama, and Edwards and makes him appear humble, as opposed to a "yet another know-it-all senator."
What he should not say: At this stage, what Dodd says is not as important as how he says it. Dodd should be most concerned with lapsing into "Senatespeak," which turns off the average voter who does not follow politics regularly. This may put him at a disadvantage because of his obvious intelligence. Unfortunately, he cannot risk being portrayed as a cerebral John Kerry or brainiac Al Gore because that will alarm Democratic voters who want to nominate a winner for 2008. Thus, he may have to speak in more general terms than he may be used to speaking for the sake of accommodation.
Enemies on stage: Bill Richardson is Dodd's primary threat because they both want to wear the mantle of being the "knowledgeable veteran," but Richardson is better positioned. Dodd can't really attack Richardson because Richardson's experience is comparable to his own, so he'll have to find a way around this. Talking about his Senate experience might not be the best way to do this. Because of Dodd's weak performance in most polls, he needs a lot of the other candidates to beat up on each other enough first to make his "give me a chance" pleas resonate.
Question he hopes never comes up: "How would you characterize Joe Lieberman's performance in the Senate since the last election?" Liberal Democrats hate Joe Lieberman and will withdraw their support for Dodd if he is seen as being cozy with his "traitorous" home-state "Republican-lite" senator. The Lieberman-Lamont race is the last headache he wants to deal with right now. If Liberal Democrats withdraw their support, how will he survive?
Why this debate matters: Of the 8 declared candidates, Joe Biden is running 6th in most polls and analyses I've seen so far. His name recognition is higher than that of Dodd's, but for all the wrong reasons. The media seem to have tired of him and he has not done himself many favors after the "articulate" dustup that stepped all over his own campaign rollout. This debate matters to Biden because it will give him an opportunity for a "fresh start." He is obviously an intelligent man with a ton of relevant experience. This debate gives him the chance to rehabilitate his image far more effectively than any press release or one-on-one media interview.
What he should say: George Bush's incompetence and the problems in Iraq are Biden's best friends. His idea of partitioning Iraq into three distinct semi-autonomous regions is worthy of much more exploration and conveys to voters that he has an active interest in and understanding of the complexities of international affairs. Anything that portrays Biden as a serious, cerebral, thoughtful candidate is something he should consider saying. Focusing heavily on foreign policy issues should work to his advantage, as it will allow him to highlight his experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
What he should not say: Biden has to avoid doing anything that will further inflame the stereotype of him as being a gaffe-prone, washed up senator. First of all, he should avoid trying to be funny because that's how he usually gets himself into trouble. Displaying a serious side to match serious times might be an effective approach for him. He should also avoid lapsing into Senatespeak, which includes being long-winded. (Being long-winded is another negative caricature that has developed for Biden.) Lastly, Biden should not criticize the Democratic candidates who are pushing for a troop withdrawal date from Iraq. Even though Biden's partitioning approach has some merit, his political enemies are not those in the withdrawal camp. As long as he focuses on how his Iraq approach is "outside the box," it allows him to stand alone and cerebral while the "withdrawal" and "redeployment" candidates fight with each other (and with the Republicans) over which date to adopt.
Enemies on stage: Simply put, Joe Biden's biggest enemy is himself. He cannot afford another self-inflicted political wound. Do not look for the other candidates to attack Biden. Surely they are betting on him to sabotage himself. Biden's challenge is to appear credible. He doesn't have to take over Obama's position as the momentum candidate, but he does have to give voters a reason why they should at least consider giving his campaign a second look.
Question he hopes never comes up: "When shooting from the hip, you have had a tendency to say some controversial things that have sandbagged your campaign. What assurances can you give us that you won't say something similar to our nation's allies, rivals, and enemies if you were president?" This question sums up Biden's problems in a nutshell. If he can't sufficiently answer this question, his candidacy is doomed.
Why this debate matters: At this point, Kucinich is not a credible candidate. Perhaps it is possible for him to become a liberal kingmaker regarding withdrawing from Iraq, but it's tough to see voters taking him seriously regarding anything else.
What he should say: If he can tap into the anger among anti-war Democrats, maybe he can generate some buzz about his campaign.
What he should not say: Unfortunately for Kucinich, for his own political survival and to avoid becoming a Democratic punch line, he should avoid attacking the Democratic credentials of his rivals. He should also avoid mentioning the Green Party because he'd be ostracized for sure (a la Ralph Nader) even if his liberal positions put him more in line with that party instead of the Democratic Party.
Enemies on stage: If a tree falls in a forest and no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Question he hopes never comes up: "If the Iraq War didn't exist, what would be the rationale behind your campaign?"
Why this debate matters: This debate only matters for Gravel because it gives him something to put in his personal scrapbook.
What he should say: It doesn't really matter what Gravel says because nobody's going to listen to him anyway.
What he should not say: He should not criticize another candidate or the moderator for mispronouncing his last name.
Enemies on stage: In the world of the Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, Gravel is just a squirrel trying to get a nut.
Question he hopes never comes up: "Why are you here?"
Here's the second installment of Stray Pins, a collection of random articles I've been meaning to read, but never got around to:
Al Gore seems to have changed completely from the wooden, overly consulted, unlovable wonk to someone who knows how to deftly fight back while using the "enemy's issues" against them. Can you recall the last time a Democrat used the Bible to stop a Republican critic in his tracks? Had this been the Al Gore in the 2000 campaign, we'd be talking about the Republicans' presidential chances after 16 years in the wilderness.
Popular former Senator John Breaux announced that he would not run for Louisiana governor because of questions about his eligibility to run. (He currently lives in Maryland.) Breaux's departure probably means that Republican Bobby Jindal is a shoo-in to win the race. Republicans may very well win 2 of the 3 governor's races this year because the geography is so favorable: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kentucky are tough nuts for Democrats to crack in any year. Kentucky is the Democrats' best shot simply because current Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher is so unpopular. If the Republicans win 2 of the 3 races, will they spin the results as indicating the end of the GOP wipeout and the beginning of its resurgence? They probably will, but these seats are all in friendly territory. None of those states can be considered a swing state. So a second wipeout in 2008 is still quite possible, in my opinion.
If Puerto Rico becomes a state, what does that mean for Washington D.C.'s prospects of getting full representation in the House of Representatives? And how would Puerto Rican statehood impact the debate over bilingual education, immigration, and Cuban and Haitian refugees?
It's good to see politicians recuse themselves to avoid conflicts of interest in legal trials. These are the types of things that make the average voter respect politicians. It would be nice to see more acts like this.
According to Gallup, President Bush's approval rating has averaged 35% over the past three months. Only one out of three people support what our national leader is doing and how he's doing it. Incredible. Even more incredible is the fact that Bush seems to be so oblivious to this. Bragging about how "resolute" you are on the campaign trail ("my convictions don't change with the polls, etc.") is one thing. Ignoring the polls that actually mean something (election results) is something entirely different. This is why Republicans are very anxious about next year's elections. Bush has become an albatross on the party and other Republican candidates are going to be tarred with the same brush. Stuart Rothenberg says that "Bad news still falls primarily on Republicans, since the president remains the symbol of the government." This brings me to a new question: What are the Republicans going to do with Bush at their convention in Minneapolis next year? They have to let Bush speak, but nobody wants to be associated with him. Interesting dilemma indeed.
What is it with politicians these days? Why in the world do they say such stupid things? Why do they have so many "slips of the tongue" regarding ill-considered racist and anti-semitic comments, even if they're not intended to be so?
The latest moron is Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson. Seeing that he hails from Wisconsin, he potentially had an outside chance to steal a victory or have a strong showing in the caucuses in neighboring Iowa. He wanted to position himself as an amicable, reliable conservative and generally didn't have much in the way of baggage.
Well, it looks like Mr. Thompson suffers from foot-in-mouth disease, and his timing could not have been any worse, given the recent brouhaha over Don Imus and the "nappy headed hos" on the Rutgers women's basketball team. For those who don't know, Thompson eloquently stated to a Jewish audience that making money is "part of the Jewish tradition." Oops. (Hat tip: Political Wire)
Thompson only made things worse when he tried to apologize after some members of the audience were uncomfortable with his remarks. And according to The Politico, he blamed his remarks on "fatigue" and "a persistent cold."
Is this guy serious? How can "fatigue" be responsible for causing someone to crack unfunny jokes at the expense of a particular racial or ethnic group? Initial stupid remarks aside, regarding his "apology," is this the type of accountability and leadership we should expect from a presidential candidate? What ever happened to saying "I screwed up, and I'm sorry?" I'm not saying Thompson needs to attend sensitivity training (because the leader of the free world should already know how to do this) or kiss the stones of a synagogue in Jerusalem or anything, but surely he can do better than blaming "a persistent cold" for his stupid remarks. The fact that his remarks are so similar to President Bush's attitude towards accountability makes his remarks come across even worse. Here's a perfect instance in which the coverup is worse than the crime.
Needless to say, local reaction to this story has not been favorable. The editorial board of one of the largest newspapers in Wisconsin is calling for Thompson to drop out of the presidential race. I don't know if this is enough to sink his campaign, but someone in his position (second tier) obviously doesn't have much margin for error--especially stupid ones like this. Firing his PR staff and consultants would be a good start. Whoever suggested he could pawn his initial stupidity off on "fatigue" deserves to lose his job.
In my previous post, I mentioned that it would be interesting to see how some of the presidential candidates would respond to the tragedy at Virginia Tech. And sure enough, one of them responded just as I predicted.
Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas with libertarian leanings, said that a concealed weapon law "might have ended the problem." I'll talk a little more about his suggestion in a moment, but first let me quickly address the meaning of this statement as it pertains to this particular politician.
As some of you may know, Ron Paul is one of the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. Your first tier candidates are basically Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and maybe Gingrich. Your second tier candidates are Huckabee, Brownback, T. Thompson, and maybe F. Thompson. Your third tier candidates are Tancredo, Gilmore, and Hunter. Ron Paul is also a third tier candidate with little name recognition and little in the way of cash resources.
In my previous post, I said the following:
Look for at least one Republican to express caution regarding rushing to introduce new gun laws. I have no idea who this could be, although a third tier candidate with nothing to lose might give it a try. Tom Tancredo? Duncan Hunter? Ron Paul?
Now, regardless of the merits of Paul's argument, his statement can only help his fledgling campaign. There is a contingent of Americans who are pretty hardcore about their guns and want their rights to access and own them to be fiercely protected. The other candidates who are a bit higher up on the Republican food chain don't have the ability or the courage to issue such a statement, even if it is an accurate reflection of their true beliefs.
But for Ron Paul, nobody knows who he is. Making such a statement is bound to get a few people to notice him simply because concealed weapons laws are likely not the first things to come to mind in light of such a tragedy. I think the more common (though not necessarily better) reaction to this tragedy is one in favor of gun control. So while Paul's statement may seem outrageous, at least it gets people talking about him and his campaign. And those who are sympathetic to his views may be willing to give his candidacy a second look. So it's a potential winner from him.
This is somewhat similar to Joe Biden stepping all over his own presidential campaign rollout by referring to Barack Obama as "clean" and "articulate." Biden's name recognition went up considerably because of it. Unfortunately, his brand name was tarnished to the point where he became a regular punchline on Leno and Letterman. Unlike Biden though, at least Paul's remarks are not offensive, even if they may not be "politically correct." So there's a potential upside for his campaign.
Anyways, now I want to talk a little about the argument I've been hearing from conservatives and Republicans like Paul about how this tragedy could have been prevented if the students had access to guns.
Now, please forgive me for my sophomoric remark, but ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY?! WHAT GOOD COULD COME FROM HAVING COLLEGE STUDENTS CARRY CONCEALED WEAPONS ON CAMPUS?
Look. I've been a college student before. I've seen the crazy things college kids do. They party at the expense of studying for exams. They commit pranks. They ignore fire alarms. They rarely question the people who enter their dormitories.
They also drink and do very stupid things because of it.
I've seen drunk college students start fights, urinate in the streets, grope women, disregard authority, vandalize property, and even start fires. And you want to give these people guns? I would be too scared to attend a campus party if I knew everyone was armed. All it takes is for one person to get pissed off because he thought "I looked at his girlfriend the wrong way" or because "I dissed his fraternity brother" and have that situation escalate to something tragic thanks to being lubed up with a couple of brewskis. And then who's to say that college students are responsible gun owners? College kids like to do dangerous things and test the limits of their own perceived immortality. Why do you think car insurance rates are so high for drivers under 25 years of age? I would not trust a firearm in the hands of such a person who is more prone to be irresponsible by nature. College kids can't even be bothered to wash their own dishes. So what makes you think they can be bothered to take a gun safety course? 32 students died at Virginia Tech because of one lunatic armed with two handuns. That's a terrible tragedy, but would 32 accidental deaths at campuses around the nation because of gun misfirings or accidental shootings be any better?
Gun rights advocates rightly point out that gun control laws only pertain to law-abiding citizens. I can understand their argument. After all, what criminal is going to willingly give up his guns? But is arming everyone the right approach? Perhaps a better approach would be to assign certain people a firearm, such as dormitory resident advisors, professors, or administrators who have been properly trained on how to use firearms. Maybe an even better idea would be to give them something a bit less lethal, such as a low caliber handgun, a taser, or a stun gun that they could use to immobilize a criminal while the proper law enforcement authorities are being notified. I don't know. But allowing everyone to carry a weapon is most definitely NOT the answer.
Until people can find the right balance, I think students themselves are the best line of security. If you see something, say something. Plain and simple.
By now you have probably heard about the massacre at Virginia Tech. As of about 6pm EST, 33 people have been killed, including the gunman. It is now being described as the worst shooting in US history.
News coverage is eventually going to shift from describing what happened, to telling personal narratives about the victims, to speculating on the motives of the gunman once he's identified, to another debate about gun control. MSNBC is saying that students are reporting that the gunman was "an Asian male." So it looks like racism and immigration will make cameos as well. And that's where this nation's attitudes will truly be tested.
Gun control advocates will predictably talk about the importance of increasing the restrictions on certain types of firearms. Gun rights advocates will cite their Second Amendment rights and talk about the importance of enforcing the laws currently on the books. The 2008 presidential candidates are going to be tasked with responding to this tragedy and issuing statements detailing their stances on gun control.
Liberals, Democrats, and women are more likely to favor more stringent gun laws, or even the prohibition of firearms. However, their position seems to be the minority view, given the influence of the National Rifle Association and the number of legislators from rural states which have a high population of hunters or libertarian-minded people who vehemently support the Second Amendment.
Conservatives, Libertarians, rural voters, and men are more likely to oppose new or stricter gun laws and support enforcing existing gun laws more vigorously. However, sometimes their political antennae may be too sensitive, thus causing even modest proposed gun legislation to be viewed as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights.
My personal belief is that Democrats seem a bit closer to the most pragmatic approach to gun control than the Republicans. I say this because enforcing existing gun laws has no effect on people who are so deranged or so intent on killing others that they don't care about taking their own lives. The law might stipulate that using a semi-automatic firearm in a crime can result in an extra 20-year prison sentence or something, but it's meaningless if the gunman commits suicide. Finding the right balance between gun laws and gun access is key.
It's not practical to ban all guns because you would never ever achieve full compliance. Guns would go the way of drug use and prostitution. In other words, it would push illegal firearms to the black market and behind the scenes. Also, the outrage among Second Amendment defenders, hunters, and conservatives would ensure that Democrats would be relegated to the minority for years, so the Democrats would be wise not to overreach here.
So what would be reasonable? How about background checks and waiting periods for all handgun purchases, be they from formal gun shops or informal gun shows? If a gun buyer's criminal record or psychological profile suggested something troublesome, the sale could be refused or postponed. Gun dealers who sell firearms to customers with criminal records could lose their licenses to sell firearms or be assessed stiff fines. Semi-automatic firearms and their bullets could be taxed heavily.
Anyway, those are just some of my personal suggestions. The 2008 presidential candidates will have to respond a bit more forcefully to this issue and posit more solutions than I just did. If the debate focuses solely on gun control, this is likely yet another headwind for Republicans, particularly among female voters. However, it could also remind voters of homeland security, especially if it is revealed that the shooter (again, MSNBC says students described him as "an Asian male") was not a US citizen. Homeland security may be a jump ball for both political parties. If the shooter is a foreigner, immigration reform may be another potential avenue for debate, although political lines and attitudes are less clearly aligned there. And if the shooter was indeed "an Asian male," look for the debate to piggyback the Don Imus racism controversy from last week.
Mitt Romney's response to this tragedy will be particularly interesting to watch since he hails from heavily Democratic Massachusetts and claims to have joined the NRA last summer.
Rudy Giuliani faces a bit of risk as well because the conservative jury's still out on how much they are willing to embrace him despite his sometimes moderate or liberal views on social issues, such as gay marriage, abortion, and guns.
Other Republican candidates will offer their statements of regret, but it will be interesting to see if they talk about the importance of using guns responsibly. I think that would be a political loser in this case. Look for at least one Republican to express caution regarding rushing to introduce new gun laws. I have no idea who this could be, although a third tier candidate with nothing to lose might give it a try. Tom Tancredo? Duncan Hunter? Ron Paul?
As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton will probably offer a statement of regret while saying nothing about gun rights or gun control. This would allow her to placate the left during the primaries without turning off the right in the general election. Or will the left demand that she tell voters exactly where she stands?
Chris Dodd and Joe Biden will be more likely to talk about more gun laws, which are political winners in Connecticut and Delaware.
Barack Obama has a good chance to add some substance to his name by coming down for or against more stringent gun laws.
John Edwards' response to this issue will also be particularly interesting because he hails from North Carolina, a fairly conservative state. How will his response affect voters in Iowa, his strongest early state?
I have no idea how the other Democrats will respond.
It's a shame that I'm even talking about the political repercussions of this tragedy, but unfortunately life and politics never waits. I can only wish the families of those impacted by this tragedy a speedy recovery.
One final thought: The bulk of the shootings seem to have taken place at an engineering building on campus. I worked for a year and a half at a university's international office that provided services for study abroad students and foreign students. I noticed from my time working there that a very good chunk of the students (perhaps the majority of them) were in the engineering, science, computer, and math departments. So there is a good chance that some of the victims here are foreign students. If so, this could potentially be a global tragedy.
UPDATE: MSNBC's Countdown is now reporting that the shooter may be a 24-year old Chinese national on a student visa. Homeland security, terrorism, racism, and immigration are most definitely going to enter the national debate in addition to gun control now.