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Mystery Debate Theater 2007

Once again the Beachwood Mystery Debate Theater team of Tim Willette, Andrew Kingsford and Steve Rhodes gathered at Beachwood HQ for a night of revelry and disgust as the Democratic candidates for president spun their little lies and deployed cute laugh lines written for them by their highly-paid advisors. This debate was carried out mostly in a continual monotone; Mike Gravel was not allowed to participate because he was deemed to have an insufficient chance of emerging as the party's nominee, as if Bill Richardson, Joe Biden or Chris Dodd will be heading the ticket. Gravel was missed.

Here is a transcript of the proceedings edited for clarity, wit, length and sanity. Please note the late arrival of Mr. Kingsford, and his lame choice of convenience store snackery.


CO-MODERATOR BRIAN WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, we'll begin with you. You gave an interview to The New York Times over the weekend pledging in it to be more aggressive, to be tougher in your campaign against your chief rival for the nomination, the leader among Democrats so far, Senator Clinton, who is here next to you tonight.

Specifically, what are the issues where you, Senator Obama, and Senator Clinton have differed, where you think she has sounded or voted like a Republican?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think some of this stuff gets overhyped. In fact, I think this has been the most hyped fight since Rocky fought Apollo Creed, although the amazing thing is I'm Rocky in this situation. (Laughter.)

STEVE: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Stop, you're killing me.

OBAMA (in a steady monotone): But look, we have big challenges. We're at war. The country is struggling with issues like rising health care. We've got major global challenges like climate change. And that's going to require big meaningful change, and I'm running for president because I think that the way to bring about that change is to offer some sharp contrasts with the other party. I think it means that we bring people together to get things done. I think it means that we push against the special interests that are holding us back, and most importantly, I think it requires us to be honest about the challenges that we face.

TIM: My God, someone hold him back.


CLINTON: I don't think the Republicans got the message that I'm voting and sounding like them. If you watched their debate last week, I seemed to be the topic of great conversation and consternation, and that's for a reason, because I have stood against George Bush and his failed policies.

They want to continue the war in Iraq; I want to end it. The Republicans are waving their sabers and talking about going after Iran. I want to prevent a rush to war.

TIM: At the very least, if we invade Iran we should do it with more than sabers.

CO-MODERATOR TIM RUSSERT: Senator Edwards . . .

TIM: Who?

RUSSERT: You issued a press release, your campaign, and the headline is "Edwards to Clinton: American People Deserve the Truth, Not More Double-Talk on Iran." What double-talk are you suggesting that Senator Clinton's been engaging in on Iran?

EDWARDS: She says she'll stand up to George Bush on Iran. She just said it again. And in fact, she voted to give George Bush the first step in moving militarily on Iran, and he's taken it. Bush and Cheney have taken it. They've now declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction. I think we have to stand up to this president.

And then finally she said in our last debate that she was against any changes on Social Security - benefits, retirement age or raising the cap on the Social Security tax. But apparently it's been reported that she said privately something different than that. And I think the American people, given this historic moment in our country's history, deserve a president of the United States that they know will tell them the truth, and won't say one thing one time and something different at a different time.

RUSSERT: Do you stand behind the word "double-talk"?

TIM: No. I never said that.

CLINTON: Well, I think that anyone who's looked at my record of 35 years fighting, for women and children and people who feel invisible and left out in this country, knows my record. I fought for expanded education and health care in Arkansas. I helped to bring health care to 6 million children while in the White House. And now, in the Senate, I've been standing up against the Republicans on everything from preventing them from privatizing Social Security to standing up against President Bush's veto of children's health.

You know, I have a long record of standing up and fighting, and I take on the special interests. I've been taking them on for many years. And I think all you have to do is go back and - and read the media to know that.

But on specific issues I've come out with very specific plans.

With respect to Social Security, I do have a plan. It's called start with fiscal responsibility. That's what we were doing in the 1990s, and we had Social Security on a much better path than it is today because of the irresponsible spending policies of George Bush and the Republican Congress.

If there are some of the long-term challenges that we need to address, let's do it in the context of having fiscal responsibility, and then let's put together a bipartisan commission and look at how we're going to deal with these long-term challenges. But I am not going to balance Social Security on the backs of seniors and hardworking middle-class Americans. Let's start taking the tax cuts away from the wealthy. Let's take away the no-bid contracts from Halliburton before we start imposing a trillion-dollar tax increase on the elderly and on middle-class workers. I don't think that's necessary.

So I have a very specific plan. My friends may not agree with it, but I've been saying it and talking about it for many months.

STEVE: Look at this, she's thrilled. It plays right into her hand. It's all about her.

TIM: Maybe she's going to have to start attacking herself. If Obama won't attack me, I will! I hate this outfit! My husband picked it out for me!


TIM: You know what Obama should have done? Started out the debate talking about how later in the debate he was going to go on the attack. Well, later in the debate, Tim . . .


STEVE: Mike Gravel couldn't be here tonight because he's attending a meeting of his gay condo association.


STEVE: Did Mike Gravel order the code red? You're damn right I did! I stuck the credit card companies with the bills!

TIM: I thought Duncan Hunter ordered it.


CLINTON: I am against a rush to war. I was the first person on this stage and one of the very first in the Congress to go to the floor of the Senate back in February and say George Bush had no authority to take any military action in Iran.

Secondly, I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I'm also not in favor of doing nothing. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is in the forefront of that, as they are in the sponsorship of terrorism. So some may want a false choice between rushing to war - which is the way the Republicans sound; it's not even a question of whether, it's a question of when and what weapons to use - and doing nothing. I prefer vigorous diplomacy, and I happen to think economic sanctions are part of vigorous diplomacy.

You know, several people who were adamantly opposed to the war in Iraq, like Senator Durbin, voted the same way I did and said at the time that if he thought there was even the pretense that could be used from the language in that non-binding resolution to give George Bush any support to go to war, he wouldn't have voted for it. Neither would I.

RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, you said that vote was a justification for war in Iran.

DODD: Well, Tim, I believe that this issue is going to come back to haunt us. We all learned, some of us here painfully, back in 2002 that by voting for an authorization regarding Iraq, that despite the language of that resolution, which called for diplomacy at the time, this administration used that resolution, obviously, to pursue a very aggressive action in Iraq.

It was interesting that people like Dick Lugar, the former Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, Republicans, also had serious reservations and voted against that resolution the other day.

RUSSERT: Senator Biden, do you agree with Senator Webb it was de facto a declaration of war?

BIDEN: I think it can be used as a fact - a declaration.

TIM: If you put a fluffy white beard on Joe Biden, he's a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers.

STEVE: Or Kenny Loggins.


WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, let's get at this another way. Red line is the current expression of the moment where Iran is concerned in Washington. What would your red line be concerning when to, if to attack Iran?

TIM: We should wait until Andrew gets here.

OBAMA: I don't think we should be talking about attacking Iran at this point.

STEVE: I'm too busy talking about attacking Pakistan.

TIM: I think Iran should know that, in a week, I'm going to attack them.


CLINTON: I believe we should be engaged in diplomacy right now with the Iranians. Everything should be on the table, not just their nuclear program.

TIM: Lasers.

CLINTON: I've been advocating this for several years, I believe it strongly, but I also think when you go to the table to negotiate with an adversarial regime, you need both carrots and sticks.

TIM: The Carrot of Damocles?


RUSSERT: Governor Richardson, would you negotiate with Iran without any conditions?

STEVE: Well, first I'd like to say thank you for having me here . . .

RICHARDSON: I believe that we can achieve a compromise on the nuclear issue in exchange for . . .

STEVE: A million dollars. Er, a hundred million dollars!

RICHARDSON: . . . them having a nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear power; they don't develop nuclear weapons - carrot and sticks, diplomatic initiatives, economic incentives.

The problem is, we saber rattle, and this resolution in the Senate saber rattles.

STEVE: The saber special interests have these people in their pockets.

RUSSERT: Congressman Kucinich, your opinion of this resolution?

STEVE: Well, first I'd like to say thank you for having me here . . .

KUCINICH: Well, first of all, we need to adamantly reject any kind of a move towards war with Iran. There's no basis for it whatsoever.

But we have to realize, Tim, that we have a number of enablers, who happen to be Democrats, who have said over the last year, with respect to Iran, all options are on the table.

And when you say all options are on the table, you are licensing President Bush. When - and I'm the only one up here on the stage who not only voted against the war in Iraq, voted against funding the war, but also led the effort against Bush's drive towards war.

The problem is, these policies of preemption license a war. Preemption, by virtue of international law, is illegal. Our president has already violated international law. The war in Iraq is illegal. Even planning for the war against Iran is illegal.

Tim, we're here in Philadelphia, the birthplace of democracy. I want to know when this Democratic Congress is going to stand up for the Constitution and hold the president accountable with Article II, Section 4: an impeachment act. I think that our democracy is in peril. And unless the Democrats and the Congress stand up for the Constitution, we are going to lose our country.

We need to challenge him on this war but we need to challenge him at his core. And the core is, there needs to be a separation of powers, a balance of powers. Things are out of balance. It is time for us to stand up for the Constitution of the United States. (Applause.)

STEVE: Amen, brother!

TIM: Once you start defending the Constitution you know you're out of it.

STEVE: It's such a Hail Mary.


OBAMA: I think all of us are committed to Iran not having nuclear weapons. And - and so, you know, we - we - we could potentially short-circuit this. (Laughter.)

But - but I think there is a larger point at stake, Tim, and that is we have been governed by fear for the last six years, and this president has used the fear of terrorism to launch a war that should have never been authorized.

STEVE: Here we go again. Are his writers on strike or something?

OBAMA: We are seeing the same pattern now. We are seeing the Republican nominees do the same thing. And it is very important for us to draw a clear line and say we are not going to be governed by fear.

We will take threats seriously. We will take action to make sure that the United States is secure. As president of the United States, I will do everything in my power to keep us safe.

But what we cannot continue to do is operate as if we are the weakest nation in the world instead of the strongest one, because that's not who we are . . .

STEVE: What was the question?

TIM: I think he's talking about Social Security.

STEVE: I can hear his donors fleeing to Hillary at this very moment.

OBAMA . . . And that's not what America has been about historically, and it is starting to warp our domestic policies, as well. We haven't even talked about civil liberties and the impact of that politics of fear, what that has done to us in terms of undermining basic civil liberties in this country, what it has done in terms of our reputation around the world.

Andrew arrives with a few Heineken keg cans and chiquitos from 7/11.


RUSSERT: Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran . . .

TIM: . . . not have sabers?


OBAMA: [The Iranian Revolutionary Guard resolution] is yet another rationale for what we're doing in Iraq, and I think that's a mistake.

STEVE: Obama didn't even vote on that.

TIM: He's moving to post-election mode.


WILLIAMS: Earlier this month, Republican presidential front-runner Rudolph Giuliani said this about you, quote, "I don't know Hillary's experience. She's never run a city. She's never run a state. She's never run a business. She's never met a payroll. She's never been responsible for the safety and security of millions of people, much less even hundreds of people. So I'm trying to figure out where the experience is here."

TIM: She ran you out of the [Senate] race, dude!


EDWARDS: What I would say is Senator Clinton just said that she believes we desperately need change in this country, and I - I agree with that. I actually think we have a system that's broken. It's rigged, it's corrupt, and it does not work for the American people, and it's time we start telling the truth about that.

TIM: It sounds so much better when Mike Gravel says it. The system is dirty, corrupt, despicable, disgusting, I hate you all, die . . .


OBAMA: I'm the only person on this stage who has worked actively just last year passing - along with Russ Feingold - some of the toughest ethics reforms since Watergate - making sure that lobbyists could not provide gifts and meals to congressman, making sure the bundling of monies by lobbyists was disclosed.

TIM: And the bundling of meals. No more sacks of sliders.

And finally, I think we've got to have a president who has the experience of standing up even when it's not easy, which is what I did in 2002 when I stood up against this war in Iraq 10 days before the authorization. It is - that is the kind of judgment that I'm displaying during this campaign when I go to Detroit and I say to the automakers that they need to raise fuel efficiency standards; not in front of some environmental group.

TIM: No more bundling of automobiles.

WILLIAMS: Governor Richardson, though there was broad disagreement on this panel about you having the only negotiation experience, you did raise your qualifications earlier. Is your contention that, say, the top three front-runners in this race are less qualified than you are to be president?

RICHARDSON: No. And I'm positive - you know what I'm hearing here . . .

ANDREW: I'm hearing people who aren't listening to each other. I'm hearing a lot of pain.

RICHARDSON: I'm hearing this holier-than-thou attitude toward Senator Clinton.

ANDREW: I need more vocals in my monitor.

RICHARDSON: That it's bothering me because it's pretty close to personal attacks that we don't need. Do we trust her? Do we - she takes money from special interests.

We need to be positive in this campaign. Yes, we need to point out our differences, and I have big differences with her. Over the war. I would get all our troops out. Over No Child Left Behind. I'd get rid of it.

I also have differences over Iran. I think that was the wrong vote for her to cast, because I think it was saber-rattling.

STEVE: Ding!

RICHARDSON: I'm the only CEO in this race.

STEVE: He's a CEO? Of what, Richardson Industries?


WILLIAMS: Senator Dodd, you gave an interview to our local NBC station here today alluding to problems with Senator Clinton's national electability. What is the point you want to make on that score?

DODD: Whether it's fair or not fair, the fact of the matter is that my colleague from - from New York, Senator Clinton, there are 50 percent of the American public that say they're not going to vote for her.

TIM: I'm Chris Dodd, and I can tell you with certainty that 50 percent of the public hasn't said they won't vote for me.

DODD: For 26 years I have, in every major landmark piece of legislation, had a Republican as my co-sponsor because no one party is going to straighten all of this out. When I started the Children's Caucus in 1981, I did it with Arlen Specter of this state. When I wrote the Family and Medical Leave bill, I did it with Kit Bond and Dan Coats.

When I wrote the first childcare legislation since World War II, I did it with Orrin Hatch - not because I agreed with him on any other issue, but because I knew in order to move our country forward we had to have leadership in this country.

STEVE: I had to write bills I didn't agree with.

TIM: I co-wrote the Loggins-Messina-Dodd bill.


BIDEN: Rudy Giuliani. I mean, think about it. Rudy Giuliani. There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11. (Laughter.)

TIM: He's copping our shit, man.


OBAMA: All the other suggestions that have been made are sound, but one of the things that we have to do with respect to conservation is increase fuel efficiency standards on cars. And we have to make that commitment not just by going to environmentalist groups and saying we're going to do it, but doing what I did, which is go to Detroit, talking to the automakers.

ANDREW: All Oldsmobiles will be made out of recycled paper.


STEVE: Mike Gravel's plane went into the Sea of Japan. There were no survivors.


RICHARDSON: This is what I would do. One, I'd have 100,000 new science and math teachers.

TIM: What's the difference, I'm not gonna win. Let's say a million teachers.


WILLIAMS: On behalf of all of us at NBC News, especially our road crew here who makes these all possible, good night from Philadelphia. Thank you for being with us.


Beachwood Analysis
As usual, Hillary Clinton wins for not losing, and the attacks on her from Obama only looked petty and desperate. Obama is actually now creating a narrative that Republicans will use in the same cynical fashion that Obama so often derides. The story is a little bit different with Edwards, and he might have gotten the biggest boost tonight. Edwards is a much more forceful alternative to Hillary, with a clearer populist agenda; unlike Obama, we know what he stands for and where his priorities seem to lie. The question is whether voters trust him, whether he is electable, whether he could actually succeed and whether he has the right kind of experience to be a successful president. But some of those disenchanted Obama supporters could find a home in the Edwards campaign.

The moderators seemed to ask questions of Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson (who is clearly running for vice president) and Dennis Kucinich only because they were obligated to. Blame that on Tim Russert. The debates moderated by Russert have been the worst. Russert doesn't seem to understand the difference between hosting his show and moderating a debate. He insists on trying to nail down pledges and playing insider baseball and gotcha as if the debaters were one-on-one guests on Meet The Press, which is no way to foster a fruitful discussion of issues between multiple candidates on a stage.


Catch up on all the installments of Mystery Debate Theater!


Posted on October 31, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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