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Mystery Debate Theater 2007

Once again the Mystery Debate Theater team of Tim Willette, Andrew Kingsford and Steve Rhodes gathered at Beachwood HQ to witness the grand political spectacle that is the presidential debate. This time it was the Democrats in Las Vegas, providing plenty of punnery that we will not inflict on readers, because really, it's too cheap and easy to make jokes about running into Dennis Kucinich at the Hacienda buffet. Andrew brought a six-pack of Pilsner Urquell and a microwave burrito ("Forty-five seconds my arse!"), leaving Tim and Steve to fend for themselves two hours later at the 7-11.

As always, the following transcript has been edited for length, clarity and comedy.


MODERATOR WOLF BLITZER: So let's begin our questioning tonight, Campbell Brown. Campbell?

STEVE: Her husband works for Mitt Romney.

MODERATOR CAMPBELL BROWN: Senator Clinton, recently in an interview on CNN, you said of the last debate that you weren't at your best that day. You stumbled on an important question involving illegal immigration. But your opponents are saying that that's really part of a larger pattern with you, that you often avoid taking firm positions on controversial issues. And one of your opponents on this stage calls this the politics of parsing. How do you respond to that?

CLINTON: I am aware that some people say that, but I think that the American people know where I've stood for 35 years. I've been fighting for issues affecting women and children, workers and families. I've been fighting for universal health care. And I know that people are looking at this campaign and evaluating us, and I've put forth very specific policies about what I will do as president. It is important that we have a candidate who is tested and a president who is ready to lead from day one.

BLITZER: Let me bring in Senator Obama, because you've been among those critical of Senator Clinton. You've suggested she's triangulating, whatever that means, on some of the key issues; she's running a textbook Washington campaign. What do you mean by that?

OBAMA: Senator Clinton is a capable politician, and she has run a terrific campaign. But what the American people are looking for right now is straight answers to tough questions. And that is not what we've seen out of Senator Clinton on a host of issues, on the issue of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

We saw in the last debate that it took not just that debate but two more weeks before we could get a clear answer in terms of where her position was. The same is true on Social Security.

CLINTON: I hear what Senator Obama is saying, and he talks a lot about stepping up and taking responsibility and taking strong positions. But when it came time to step up and decide whether or not he would support universal health care coverage, he chose not to do that. His plan would leave 15 million Americans out. That's about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

I have a universal health care plan that covers everyone. I've been fighting this battle against the special interest for more than 15 years. You know, we can have a different politic, but let's not forget here that the people who we're against are not going to be giving up without a fight. The Republicans are not going to vacate the White House voluntarily. We have some big issues ahead of us, and we need someone who is tested and ready to lead.

OBAMA: Well, let's talk about health care right now because the fact of the matter is that I do provide universal health care.

STEVE: No he doesn't.

CLINTON: Wolf, I cannot let that go unanswered.

You know, the most important thing here is to level with the American people. Senator Obama's health care plan does not cover everyone. He starts with children, which is admirable - I helped to create the Children's Health Insurance Program back in 1997.

OBAMA: That's not true, Wolf.

CLINTON: I am committed to making sure every single child is covered. He does not mandate the kind of coverage that I do. And I provide a health care tax credit under my American Health Choices Plan so that every American will be able to afford the health care. I open up the congressional plan. But there is a big difference between Senator Obama and me. He starts from the premise of not reaching universal health care.

[What the New York Times says (briefly) this morning.]


BLITZER: I want Senator Edwards to weigh in, because you've spoken about the politics of parsing in your criticism of Senator Clinton. I want you to explain what that means.

EDWARDS: Well, can I say first, nobody on this stage is perfect, and that certainly includes me. And I don't claim perfection, far from it.

What I would say is that the issue is whether we can have a president that can restore trust for the American people in the president of the United States. Because I think this president has destroyed that trust, and I think there are fair questions to be asked of all of us, including Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton says she will end the war. She also says she will continue to keep combat troops in Iraq and continue combat missions in Iraq. She says she will turn up the heat on George Bush and the Republicans. But when the crucial vote came on stopping Bush, Cheney and the neocons on Iran, she voted with Bush and Cheney.

The most important issue is, she says she will bring change to Washington . . .

STEVE (channeling the tardy Andrew): She'll bring dimes, nickels . . .


CLINTON: I don't mind taking hits on my record, on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it's both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook because what I - (cheers, applause) - what I believe is important is that we put forth what we stand for. I have been active for 35 years. The American people know where I stand.

You know, Senator Edwards raised health care again. When Senator Edwards ran in 2004, he wasn't for universal health care.

TIM: He wasn't even for himself for president. He was for John Kerry. Talk about a flip-flopper.

BLITZER: I want Senator Biden to weigh in.

BIDEN: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. (Laughter.)

MR. BLITZER: I want you to weigh in.

BIDEN: Don't do it. No. Don't make me speak.

BLITZER: What do you think about this exchange among Democrats?

BIDEN: Hey, look, let's get to it, folks. The American people don't give a darn about any of this stuff that's going on up here.

ANDREW: He's getting all Mike Gravel on their ass.

BIDEN: Look, they're sitting down at their table tonight, they've put their kids to bed, and they're worrying about whether or not their child's going to run into a drug dealer on the way to school.

They're worrying about whether or not they're going to be able to pay for their mortgage, because even if they didn't have one of those subprime mortgages, things are looking bad for them. They're worrying about whether they're going to keep their job. And they're worrying about whether their son in the National Guard is going to get killed in Iraq.

STEVE: But they're not interested in health care?

BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, look, every political campaign gets to this place. And I'm not criticizing any of the three people who are the ones who always get to talk all the time at these events. (Laughter) I'm not. I'm not. I'm not criticizing. But look, folks, let's get straight to it here. This is not about experience, it's not about change, it's about action.

Who among us is going to be able to on day one step in, end the war. Who among us understands what to do about Pakistan? Who among us is going to pick up the phone and immediately interface with Putin and tell him to lay off Georgia because Saakashvili is in real trouble? Who among us knows what they're doing?

I have 35 years of experience. While everyone's talking about their experience - and Hillary has a great experience, and John and the rest of them - I was passing the Violence Against Women Act. I was passing the crime bill. I was passing . . .

STEVE: The Loggins-Messina-Dodd bill. (see Episode 8)


MODERATOR JOHN ROBERTS: Senator Edwards, you have changed your position on several issues. You were for the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository before you were against it. You were for the Iraq war before you were against it. People change their positions. If it's fair for you to change your position, is it not fair for her to change hers?

EDWARDS: It's absolutely fair. But it's absolutely fair for people to learn from their experience and grow and mature and change. Anybody who's not willing to change based on what they learn is ignorant, and everybody ought to be willing to do that.

And I want to add onto something that Joe Biden said. You know, before I came over here tonight, I was thinking, we're going to have this debate; when we finish, all of you are going to be on television saying, oh, who scored points, who won the debate. All of us are going to be fine. The question is, will America be fine?

STEVE: Oh he's so frickin' smarmy. That's why I can't stand him.

EDWARDS: Because what I saw before we came over here on your scroll underneath the screen, 35 million Americans last year went hungry.

STEVE: Or 53. I could go either way.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, because you made a statement earlier in the week that you're "surprised at just how angry Senator Edwards has become." And you've suggested he's not the same person you once knew.

DODD: First of all, we Democrats have a job to do, and that is to unite this party, attract independents, Republicans who are seeking change to join us 12 months from now and elect a Democrat to the White House and to hold on to the House and Senate. And it's going to take more than just getting people in our own party to support us. We're going to have to reach out.

There's a shrillness to the debate. The American people want results. They want the job done, exactly what Joe Biden talked about here. When people get up in the morning and go to work, they sit around and they worry about their jobs, their retirement, their health care, their kids' education, and they wonder if anybody in Washington is paying any attention to them and whether or not the job is being done on their behalf. And frankly, when a campaign is about turning up the heat or who's angrier or who's yelling louder, the American people turn off, in terms of listening. They want us to come together. They want a president that can lead the country. We want a Democratic candidate who can unite our party, and I think if we waste time on the shrillness of this debate, then we lose the American people.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, go ahead.

RICHARDSON: By the way, I'm Bill Richardson. I'm the governor of New Mexico. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) Nice to meet you all.

You know, it seems that John wants to start a class war. It seems that Barack wants to start a generational war. It seems that Senator Clinton with all due respect on her plan on Iraq doesn't end the war. And I say that because these are the fundamental issues.

Do our plans end the war? Do our plans make America energy independent? Do our plans give health care to every American? Are we creating jobs and economic growth? Are we resolving the real problems affecting this country? You know, let's stop this mud slinging. Let's stop this going after each other on character, on trust. Let us debate the issues that affect the American and let us be positive. Let's be positive.

STEVE: Oh Lord. He had something good going there. I was with him.

TIM: Until you were against him.


BROWN: Senator Obama, I want to ask you about immigration. It's an important issue in this state in particular. There are between 100,000 to 200,000 illegal immigrants here in Nevada. And you've supported various benefits for illegal immigrants, including driver's licenses and in-state college tuition.

What do you say to those Americans who say they are losing out because you would give benefits to people who broke the laws of this country, who came here illegally? And then more generally as president, where do you draw the line when it comes to benefits for illegal immigrants?

OBAMA: I would say that they're justified in feeling frustrated because this administration - the Bush administration - has done nothing to control the problem that we have. We've had 5 million undocumented workers come over the borders since George Bush took office. It has become an extraordinary problem, and the reason the American people are concerned is because they are seeing their own economic position slip away.

And oftentimes employers are exploiting these undocumented workers. They're not paying them minimum wage. They're not observing worker safety laws. And so what we have to do is create a comprehensive solution to the problem.

Now, I have already stated that, as president, I will make sure that we finally have the kind of border security that we need.

STEVE: That means building a fence. Say it! Say it out loud!

OBAMA: Step number two is to take on employers. Right now, an employer has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than be prosecuted for hiring an undocumented worker.

TIM: More employers need to be hit by lightning. That has to change. That is why I have invented a lightning gun.


BLITZER: I take it, Senator Obama, you support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

OBAMA: When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety.

STEVE: Because that's what Emil Jones told me to do.

OBAMA: But I have to make sure that people understand the problem we have here is not drivers licenses. Undocumented workers don't come here to drive.

BLITZER: Barring, avoiding, assuming there isn't going to be comprehensive immigration reform, do you support or oppose drivers licenses for illegal immigrants?

OBAMA: I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't - (interrupted by laughter). No, no, no, no, look, I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that drivers licenses at the state level can make that happen.

BLITZER: But this is the kind of question that is sort of available for a yes or no answer. (Laughter, cheers, applause.) Either you support it or you oppose it. Let's go down and get a yes or no from everyone starting with Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: Tell me again what your question is. (Laughter.)

BLITZER: Do you support drivers licenses for illegal immigrants?

STEVE: Only if they can pass the parallel parking part of the test.

EDWARDS: If we don't have . . .

BLITZER: Assuming we don't. In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, which doesn't look like it's going to happen any time soon, do you support drivers licenses for illegal immigrants?

EDWARDS: No, but I don't accept the proposition that we're not going to have comprehensive immigration reform. What I do support and what I will do as president of the United States is move this country toward comprehensive immigration reform. And anyone who's on the path to earning American citizenship should be able to have a drivers license.

DODD: Well, it's important to put it in context. Obviously, look, clarity is important here. The American people in a debate like this want clarity here, and certainly the whole idea of getting immigration reform, something I strongly support - but I believe part of our job is to discourage those who want to come here. I understand why they want to come, but coming illegally creates serious problems.

BLITZER: So is that a yes or a no?

DODD: No. I think driver's licenses are the wrong thing to be doing in terms of attracting people to come here as undocumented.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, yes or no?


BLITZER: Senator Clinton?


BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich?

KUCINICH: I take issue with your description of people being illegal immigrants. There aren't any illegal human beings; that's number one. Number two, they're undocumented. And I believe that the best way to do it is to cancel NAFTA and renegotiate the trade agreement with Mexico.

BLITZER: Well, let me rephrase the question, Congressman.

KUCINICH: You give people a path to legalization, and then they can be legal and have their driver's license. That's the way to work it. That's the way to work it.

RICHARDSON: Well, my answer is yes, and I did it. You know why? Because the Congress -- I notice Barack mentioned the president, but the Congress also failed miserably to pass comprehensive immigration.


STEVE: Well, the whole driver's license thing just got cleaned up for Hillary. They said the same thing she did.

TIM: I won't even get a smart card. They'll know where I'm at.


ROBERTS: What is wrong with rewarding a teacher who excels at the job that they're doing by paying them more than an average teacher would make?

STEVE: Assuming we don't get comprehensive education reform, would you allow teachers to get drivers licenses?


BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich, are there any issues with teachers' unions, or other unions for that matter, with which you disagree?

TIM: Yeah. They all don't want to make me president.


RICHARDSON: I want to be the education president.

STEVE: Who wants to be the journalism president?


RICHARDSON: We need to have science and math academies, hire a hundred thousand science and math teachers . . .

TIM: They never talk about literature teachers that way.


BLITZER: I want Senator Clinton to weigh in. On the issue of merit pay, if there's a teacher out there who's doing a great job, should that teacher get merit - get a bonus for doing a great job, that individual teacher who works really hard, does a great job educating young people?

STEVE: The president isn't going to micromanage who gets a frickin' raise!

TIM: Senator Clinton, if somebody makes a rolling stop . . .


BROWN: Senator Biden, a question on Pakistan. As you know, in the past few weeks Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency there. He's dismissed several Supreme Court justices. He has recently placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest twice now and imprisoned numerous other dissenters.

And I know you spoke with Musharraf last week. And you, along with several others on this stage, assert that the U.S. should maintain its current level of financial support for Pakistan. Is it your view that there are times when the security of the United States is more important than the way a key ally like Musharraf disregards freedom and disregards democracy?

TIM: Wouldn't it be great if Biden said, You know, I really haven't been following this Pakistan thing. Let's got back to this merit pay stuff for teachers.

BIDEN: First of all, I do not think we should maintain the same aid we're giving. I have made it clear to Musharraf personally, when he called me, and I've spoken personally to Bhutto - before, I might add, the president spoke to either one of them - I spoke to them and I indicated very clearly two things.

One, if he did not take off his uniform, if he did not hold fair and free elections by the middle of January, I would, on the floor of the Senate, move to take away the aid we're giving with regard to F-16s and P-3s, because that's the biggest leverage you have on him within his military. He is not a sole player. He has to keep his military happy as well. I would use that leverage.

TIM: What about all the torturing he's done? Doesn't he get credit for that?

BIDEN: Secondly, I've indicated that what we should do is move from a Musharraf policy to a Pakistan policy. Unlike anyone else, within five days of this happening I laid out a detailed plan. The president hasn't. No one on this stage has.

BLITZER: Governor Richardson, you've suggested cutting off military aid to Pakistan, so long as the Pakistani leader doesn't take these steps to restore the constitution, take off his military uniform, end the national state of emergency and have free and fair elections. But some are worried, including the opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto-- I spoke with her earlier this week - that cutting off military aid to the Pakistan military could undermine U.S. national security.

This is a country that has nuclear weapons. It has a strong Taliban presence, an al-Qaeda presence. Are you worried at all that as bad as President Musharraf might be, it could get a whole lot worse over there?

RICHARDSON: I believe that moderate forces can win. So if we're on the side of democracy and human rights and we're on the side of Musharraf having elections, then U.S. interests are preserved and the Pakistani people have a democracy.

BLITZER: What you're saying, Governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?


BLITZER: Senator Obama, is human rights more important than American national security?

OBAMA: The concepts are not contradictory, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because occasionally they could clash.

STEVE: Yeah. What if we're being invaded by a bunch of human rightists?

OBAMA: They are complementary, and I think Pakistan is a great example. Look, we paid $10 billion over the last seven years, and we two goals, deal with terrorism and restore democracy, and we've gotten neither. And Joe and Bill are exactly right on this. Pakistan's democracy would strengthen our battle against extremists. The more we see repression, the more there are no outlets for how people can express themselves and their aspirations, the worse off we're going to be and the more anti-American sentiment there's going to be in the Middle East. We keep on making this mistake.

As president, I will do everything that is required to make sure that nuclear weapons don't fall into the hands of extremists, especially going after al-Qaeda in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But we've got to understand that if we simply prop up anti-democratic practices, that that feeds the sense that America is only concerned about us and that our fates are not tied to these other folks.

And that's going to make us less safe.

BLITZER: Senator Dodd, what's more important when they clash, human rights versus national security?

DODD: Well, first of all, I hope - maybe other people find it as ironic as I do to have President Bush urging the Turks not to invade the Kurdish areas of Iraq and lecturing Musharraf about restoring the constitution. This is an administration that has stepped all over our own Constitution in the process.

BLITZER: So what's more important, human rights or national security?

DODD: Well, obviously national security, keeping the country safe. When you take the oath of office on January 20th . . .

BIDEN: That's right.

DODD: . . . you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously, yes, all right?

CLINTON: I agree with that completely. I mean the first obligation of the president of the United States is to protect and defend the United States of America. That doesn't mean that it is to the exclusion of other interests.

And there's absolutely a connection between a democratic regime and heightened security for the United States. That's what's so tragic about this situation. After 9/11, President Bush had a chance to chart a different course, both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, and could have been very clear about what our expectations were. We are now in a bind, and it is partly - not completely, but partly - a result of the failed policies of the Bush administration.

When I was meet ing with him earlier this year, I asked him if he would accept a high-level presidential envoy to begin to negotiate some of these issues.

He said, yes, I got back; I called the White House; I asked them to send such a high-level envoy. They did not do it; they're going to send one now.

So I mean, you've got to stay on top of this and you have to manage it all the time. That requires presidential attention. We haven't had that, and part of the reason is obvious now.

MR. BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

John Roberts.

KUCINICH: Hello? Hello?


ROBERTS: All right, to Governor Richardson, a military police unit from the Nevada National Guard, stationed about 12 miles from here, just left for its third tour of duty in Iraq . . .

TIM: Then later, a train going 30 miles an hour . . .


ROBERTS: I want to talk to you for just a moment here about the effect of the troop increase over there. It's true that 2007 is the deadliest year so far, since 2003, for American forces.

But it's also true that U.S. troop deaths have been declining steadily since the spring. And in fact, in the month of October, they were at their lowest level in nearly two years. At the same time, there has been a marked decline in the number of deaths of Iraqi people . . .

STEVE: He's going, Where is this going? These are the longest questions in debate history.

TIM: He's going, I should not have done that bong hit.

ROBERTS: . . . Is General David Petraeus correct when he says that the troop increase is bringing security to Iraq?

RICHARDSON: The surge is not working. There is less possibility of a political solution. Three out of the 18 benchmarks have been fulfilled. Even among Republican math is a failing grade. Look at this statistic - 65 percent of the Iraqi people now say it's okay to shoot an American soldier.

STEVE: How do they do polls in Iraq? We asked 536 registered Sunnis . . .

BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich, is the troop increase right now . . .

KUCINICH: Excuse me?

BLITZER: Is the troop increase, as General Petraeus has put forward over these past few months, is it working?

KUCINICH: No, the occupation is fueling the insurgency. In 2003, I put forth a plan to get out of Iraq. I'm actually the only one on this stage who voted against the war, voted against funding the war a hundred percent of the time and also who has a plan to bring the troops home, and they should be brought home now.

And let me tell you something. The Democrats in Congress have not done the right thing for the American people. They should tell President Bush we're not going to give you another dime. We're not putting a bill on the floor. Bring them home now.

Also, when you talked about Pakistan you didn't get a chance to me on that question, but I want to point something out to you, Wolf. You cannot look at Pakistan and the destabilization that's occurring in many Muslim nations without understanding the role that our aggression against Iraq has played in contributing to that destabilization.

So I'm speaking about a new policy of strength through peace, no more unilateralism, no more preemption, no more first strike, to open dialogue, diplomacy, adherence to international law.

STEVE: That is so Orwellian, strength through peace.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, is General Petraeus' strategy working?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that because we put American troops in Iraq that they are making a difference in certain neighborhoods.

But the overall strategy is failed, because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders. And that is the essence of what we should be trying to do in Iraq.

This year we saw the highest casualty rates for American troops in Iraq since this war started. The same, by the way, is true in Afghanistan. If we have seen a lowering violence rate, that's only compared to earlier this year. We're back to where we started back in 2006.

And so the notion that somehow because we've gone from horrific violence to just intolerable levels of violence, and that somehow that justifies George Bush's strategy, is absolutely wrong.

STEVE: That answer is exactly right.


BROWN: Congressman Kucinich, we're approaching the holiday season right now and parents across the country are in a panic. They are riffling through their toy boxes, they are throwing things away, because they are so worried that toys, the products coming from China right now are too dangerous for their children.

Do you believe that the people on the stage who voted to fully open trade relations with China bear some of the responsibility for what's going on right now?

KUCINICH: Of course they do; I mean, in the same way that people who voted for the war bear responsibility for what's going on, people who voted for the Patriot Act bear responsibility for what's going on, people who voted for Yucca Mountain bear responsibility.

The fact of the matter is it was well known when China trade came up that China doesn't have environmental quality standards, doesn't have health standards, doesn't have workers' rights, doesn't permit people to form unions. Everyone knew that.

And for someone to come up afterwards - and I think in the last debate I think Hillary Clinton was criticized by John Edwards for some trade-related issue; but the fact of the matter is, John, you voted for China trade understanding that workers were going to be hurt.

Now, you're a trial lawyer. You knew better.

EDWARDS: Well (chuckles), I'm not sure what being a trial lawyer has to do with it . . .

KUCINICH: Product liability.

EDWARDS: . . . America, America's trade, (laughs), cute. Cute, Dennis.


OBAMA: You know what Japan does with the Chinese when it comes to, for example, food importation? They send their own inspectors over to China and they set up their own safety system and they say, "If you don't abide by our rules, you can't send food into Japan."

Now, the question is, why doesn't the United States impose these same rules and regulations as Japan has?

TIM: How about this: Food inspectors here in America!


BIDEN: Look, it's not the agreement; it's the man. Under the WTO, we can shut this down. What are they all talking about here? It's about a president who won't enforce the law. When they contaminated chicken, what happened? They cut off all chickens going in from Delaware - a $3 billion industry - into China. They cut it off. We have power under the - this agreement. I don't know what anybody's talking about here. Enforce the agreement.

STEVE: Biden can't believe he's losing to these people.

TIM: Not one person mentioned chickens!


ROBERTS: Senator Obama, the price of oil is flirting with the $100-a-barrel mark right now, making all the more urgent the need for alternate fuel forces. You support nuclear energy as a part of the plan for the future, but there is an issue of what to do with the waste. You are opposed to the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository about 90 miles from here. Your state gets about 48 percent of its power from nuclear compared to 20 percent for most other states.

Yet you are opposed to bringing nuclear waste from other states and keeping it in Illinois.

The question is, if not in your backyard, whose?

TIM: I deny that Illinois is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

OBAMA: Well, as I've said, I don't think it's fair to send it to Nevada, because we're producing it.

So what we have to do is, we've got to develop the storage capacity based on sound science. Now, laboratories like Argonne in my own home state are trying to develop ways to safely store nuclear waste without having to ship it across the country and put it in somebody else's backyard.

BLITZER: Senator, until there's some new technological breakthrough, as you would hope and all of us would hope, where do you send the waste?

TIM: Make toys out of it.

OBAMA: Right now it is on site in many situations, and that is not the optimal situation,


BROWN: But Senator, if I can just ask you, what did you mean at Wellesley when you referred to the boys club?

CLINTON: Campbell. (Laughter.)

BROWN: Just curious.

CLINTON: Well, it is clear, I think, from women's experiences that from time to time, there may be some impediments. (Laughter.)


BIDEN: We had a vote in the United States Senate on declaring the [Iranian] Qods Force - their special forces - and the Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization. A lot of people voted for that; 70 some voted for it. It's a serious, serious mistake because what it does, it was completely counterproductive.

What it did was it convinced the rest of the Muslim world this is really a war against Islam and not a war in Iraq; and number two, it caused the price of oil to head to $100 a barrel. We're paying $30 a barrel for what they call a risk premium. And it helped destabilize the situation both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So the way to do this is to keep quiet, hush up, and do what I told the president personally and what I've said as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. If he takes the country to war in Iran without a vote of Congress, which will not exist, then he should be impeached.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, you're the only one on the stage who did vote for that resolution. Senator Obama, quickly.

OBAMA: But understand the problem with this vote on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It wasn't simply that it was identified as a terrorist organization. It was also that in the language of the resolution it said we should maintain our forces in Iraq with an eye towards blunting Iranian influence. So it's not just going to have an impact in terms of potentially having a war against Iran. It also gives this administration an excuse to perpetuate their failed strategy in Iraq, and that could mean that you could be redeployed in Iraq. That's why this was a mistake, and that's why not only do we have to bring the war in Iraq to a close, but we have to change the mindset that got us into war, which means we initiate - yes, I agree with Hillary that we've got to initiate bold diplomacy. I think the next president has to lead that diplomacy.

BLITZER: Senator, but this was an important vote, and you missed that vote. You weren't present in the Senate when that vote occurred.

OBAMA: No, this is true. And it was a mistake. This is one of the hazards of running for president.


MODERATOR SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Senator Edwards, you obviously voted for the Patriot Act, which gives the government extended powers of surveillance. What do you say to people like Mr. Khan, who say he's been abused by that power?

EDWARDS: I say he's right, he's right, and this administration has done more than abuse the Patriot Act.

TIM: Yeah, they've abused the Patriot Act by . . . using it. We never considered that, you know, all these protections that people had that we eliminated, that somehow that would be taken advantage of.

BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich, I believe you're the only person on this stage who had a chance to vote on the Patriot Act right after 9/11, who voted against it right away.

KUCINICH: That's because I read it. (Laughter, cheers.)

TIM: He had time to read it. He got into his time machine.


BIDEN: You know, facts are a funny thing; they get in the way. (Laughter.) You know what I mean?

There is nothing in the Patriot Act that allows profiling. Let's get that straight.

Nothing in the Patriot Act allows profiling, number one. You're profiled illegally. I have voted against and worked with legislation with many people on this stage to stop profiling. That's number one. It did not. It's not because of the Patriot Act. It's a convenient thing to talk about, number one.

Number two, you know, when we had a chance to close down Guantanamo, I voted against funding Guantanamo. Other folks up here voted for funding it, including the two leading candidates. I voted to not build the new $36 million part. I called for closing it three years ago.

And so folks, this - but this is not about who was right when, it's what's your plan now? What are you going to do now?


OBAMA: I will be very brief on this because, Hillary, I've heard you say this is a trillion-dollar tax cut on the middle class by adjusting the [Social Security tax] cap. Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000 so 6 percent is not the middle class, it's the upper class.

And you know, this is the kind of thing that I would expect from Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani - (laughter, boos, cheers, applause) - where we start playing with numbers in order to try to make a point. (Cheers, applause.) And we can't do that. No, no, no, no, no. This is - this is - this is too important. This is too important for us to pretend that we're using numbers like a trillion-dollar tax cut instead of responsibly dealing with a problem. This is the top 6 percent, and that is not the middle class.

CLINTON: First of all, I think that you meant a tax increase, because that's what it would be. But secondly, it is absolutely the case that there are people who would find that burdensome. I represent firefighters. I represent school supervisors. I'm not talking - I mean, you know, it's different parts of the country. So you have to look at this across the board, and the numbers are staggering.

Now, when people say be specific, I listened very carefully to what Senator Obama said when he appeared on one of the Sunday morning shows, and he basically said that he was for looking at a lot of different things and using a bipartisan commission to do it. I think that's the right answer. That is where I have been from the very beginning.


BLITZER: Would you insist that any nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court supported abortion rights for women?

BIDEN: I've presided over more Supreme Court justices than anyone in American history, number one.

STEVE: So he's to blame.


BIDEN: I'd start [uniting the country] by ending the war, and I've already gained the respect of my Republican colleagues; the only person that's gotten 75 votes in the United States Senate on a plan to end the war. It's sitting in a drawer. It'll begin the day that I get elected.

Secondly, one of the ways you work in the House and the Senate is over time you gain respect. Find me a Republican on the other side that doesn't respect my judgment and doesn't think I tell them straight up the truth. I've worked with them. I've already done it. I would also include Republicans in my administration. Look, the basic premise you operate on, I reject. The vast majority of Republicans think this war stinks as well. The vast majority of Republicans out there think that our foreign policy is shambles. The vast majority of the Independents think that.

Folks, this is not going to be that hard. This isn't pushing the rope. They're sticking with George Bush out of loyalty, but I promise you I've already brought them along. I brought them along on Bosnia under the administration of Senator Clinton - of President Clinton. I brought them along on the issue of dealing with arms control. I brought them along on the issue of the war in Iraq.

So folks, don't buy into this premise that Republicans - average Republicans and Republican senators - don't agree to this, they do. They're afraid to take on Bush. I will end that. I've already done it, and I would start with ending the war in Iraq with 75 senators -- (off mike). (Cheers, applause.)


MALVEAUX: Maria, would you stand, please? Give us your full name.

MARIA: Maria - (inaudible) - and I'm a UNLV student. And my question is for Senator Clinton. This is a fun question for you. Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?

STEVE: Oh please. Pearls, obviously.


Beachwood Analysis: In the narrow political sense, Hillary Clinton won the debate by not losing, as is usually the case with a commanding front-runner. But in a substantive sense, the best nights were had by Joe Biden, Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich. Biden may not be temperamentally suited to be president, but he's smart and speaks clearly, directly and forcefully. He does have a plan. Many plans, in fact.

Dodd has improved dramatically over the course of these debates and projects as a serious adult and elder statesman who would run a competent, low-risk presidency. With Mike Gravel no longer allowed into the debates, Kucinich stands alone as the the passionate believer unencumbered by the political cynicism of the front-runners who either don't believe or aren't willing to tell us the same truths that he speaks of.

Bill Richardson had perhaps his best night, but it's all relative. He's a mediocre debate presence at best. Great TV commercials, though.

You'd think John Edwards' populist anti-poverty agenda would generate more traction, but there is something smarmy and seemingly insincere about him. And who the hell is he to run for president? He's a lawyer who served one term in the U.S. Senate. He lacks heft, and his attacks on Clinton look increasingly desperate.

Barack Obama scored on the Social Security tax and the failure of the surge to produce a political solution in Iraq, but he was also caught waffling several times and - despite the hype - is a boring speaker lacking presence in these forums. Rock star? Hardly.

Hillary Clinton's performance mirrored that of the debate in general; she started out strong and then settled into a comfortable and sometimes numbing safety zone, while Biden and Kucinich took over in the sparks department.

Tim was better than all of them.


See the boxed set of Mystery Debate Theater 2007.


Posted on November 16, 2007

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