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Mystery Debate Theater 2007

I guess the price we pay for a presidential forum at a football stadium is Keith Olbermann comparing the debates to the NFL exhibition season. It's gonna be a long night; moreso because Steve Rhodes is the only one watching from Beachwood HQ. Tim Willette is reporting live from Soldier Field. Andrew Kingsford is on assignment trying to convince some very wealthy strangers that he is heir to their charcoal fortune. As always, this transcript is edited for length, clarity and sanity.


OLBERMANN: What should we not build, what should we not be funding to see to it that our highways and our bridges and our tunnels and our mines are all properly maintained?

DODD: Well, thank you, first of all. And thank you for the warm welcome this evening. I'm a union guy - (cheers) - proudly a union man, and thank you for inviting us to be here tonight.

Let me first of all say that all of us here on the stage at this very moment are thinking about those six mine workers in Utah that are struggling, and their families, this evening. I can't begin without mentioning them and what they're going through this evening.

I happen to believe that putting our country back to work begins by cutting the funding for the war in Iraq. (Cheers, applause.) Spending $12 billion every month, spending $2 billion every week has got to stop if we're going to have a different set of priorities in our country.

CLINTON: Well, Keith, I want to thank the AFL-CIO and MSNBC for having us here. You know, my late father was a fanatic Bears fan and the idea that any of his children would be on the 10-yard line in Soldier Field is an extraordinary accomplishment, as far as I'm concerned.

STEVE: Oh Lord, she played the Bears card.

Hottest Debate Ever
  • From our man at Soldier Field.
  • TIM (imagined): And my mother was a Giants fan!

    CLINTON: And I am very much in mind of those miners in Utah.

    STEVE: Is everyone gonna have to mention the miners? We support the miners. You can be against the mines and still support the miners!

    CLINTON: We have to make investments in infrastructure. It's not only for the reasons that Chris was talking, as important as they are. This will create jobs, not only if we once again focus on our bridges, our tunnels, our ports, our airports, our mass transit . . .

    STEVE: Our dungeons, our torture chambers.

    OBAMA: Well, first of all, I want to welcome everybody to Chicago, home of the NFC - (cheers) - champion Chicago Bears.

    STEVE: Christ!

    OBAMA: Look, I don't believe that we are safer now than we were after 9/11 because we have made a series of terrible decisions in our foreign policy. We went into Iraq, a war that we should have never authorized and should not have been waged. (Cheers.) It has fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment.

    STEVE: Just look at Pakistan!

    OBAMA: It has, more importantly, allowed us to neglect the situation in Afghanistan. We know right now, according to the National Intelligence Estimate, that al-Qaeda is hiding in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And because we have taken our eye off the ball, they are stronger now than any time since 2001.

    As president, I want us to fight on the right battlefield, and what that means is getting out Iraq and refocusing our attention on the war that can be one in Afghanistan. And that also will allow us to free up the kinds of resources that will make us safer here at home because we'll be able to invest in port security, chemical plant security, all the critical issues that have already been discussed.

    STEVE: Wasn't the question about the Minneapolis bridge?

    ANDREW (imagined): Obama would bomb it.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: How would you convince [the American people] that these inconveniences are necessary to maintaining our infrastructure and making us collectively safer?

    STEVE: Force them to plunge to their deaths into the Mighty Mississippi?

    EDWARDS: Given what's happened in Minneapolis, given what's just happened in the mine in Utah, the American people understand how serious this is.

    STEVE: Was it a Mormon mine?

    EDWARDS: We should say, this game is over; the system is rigged in Washington, DC. It is not working for you; it is not working for the American people. And we're going to stand up to give the power in America back to you and back to all Americans who deserve it by saying no forever to lobbyist money in Washington, DC.

    STEVE: Back to the people? Like the ones at Taste of Chicago? Because that's who the people are.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: Congressman Kucinich, we're here tonight in this beautifully and recently renovated Soldier Field, partially renovated due to about $400 million in taxpayer money.

    STEVE: Say it! Say it!

    OLBERMANN: Should state and local and, in some cases by proxy anyway, federal governments subsidize private businesses like sports teams by building them stadiums, when perhaps that choice is being made at the expense of infrastructure and bridges?

    KUCINICH: I've actually been involved in that argument for many years. And I think that - here's what I said in Cleveland. Instead of spending $400 billion or more for a stadium, why don't we just buy the team?

    STEVE: [dumbfounded]

    ANDREW and TIM (imagined): [dumbfounded]

    STEVE, ANDREW and TIM (imagined): Why don't we just buy the team? Of course!

    STEVE: Out of the mouths of babes.

    * * *

    KUCINICH: I want to see America take a new direction in trade as part of this, and that means it's time to get out of NAFTA and the WTO - (cheers) - and have trade - and have trade - and have trade that's based on workers right: the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right to decent wages and benefits . . .

    STEVE: The right to join the mob.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: In this case, I'm going to take one of my discretionary follow-up questions and ask Senator Obama particularly about this stadium. You were in the Illinois legislature when Soldier Field was funded. You voted for it, although you seemed reluctant at the time.

    STEVE: 'Gee Davey, I don't know . . .'

    OLBERMANN: Was it the right call?

    OBAMA: Absolutely, it was the right call because it put a whole bunch of Illinois folks to work, strong labor jobs were created in this stadium, and at the same time, we created an enormous opportunity for economic growth throughout the city of Chicago. And that's good for the state of Illinois.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: Let's move on to another important topic for this audience in particular, the subject of trade. Senator Edwards had touched on this, Senator Clinton. Over the weekend, this past weekend, you expressed some disappointment that NAFTA, in your words, did not realize the benefits that it was promised - it promised, rather.

    How would you fix it?

    CLINTON: Well, I had said that for many years, that, you know, NAFTA and the way it's been implemented has hurt a lot of American workers.

    OBAMA: I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada to try to amend NAFTA because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now.

    STEVE: After I get off the phone with Kim Il-Jong and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

    OLBERMANN: Congressman Kucinich, scrap NAFTA or fix it?

    REP. KUCINICH: In my first week in office, I will notify Mexico and Canada that the United States is withdrawing from NAFTA. I will notify the WTO we're withdrawing from the WTO.

    STEVE: How very Bush-like.

    ANDREW (imagined): And then I'll withdraw from the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and the International Strongman Competition.

    STEVE: Is Olbermann going to do Worst Person in the World now?

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: How do you convince a working family that's struggling to get by on a tight budget and in part makes ends meet using $10 t-shirts for their kids, that buying American is still best for them no matter what the price is?

    SEN. OBAMA: The question is, on whose behalf is the president negotiating? Is he or she negotiating on behalf of the people in this stadium, or are you only negotiating on behalf of corporate profits?

    STEVE: Or, to put it another way, are you negotiating on behalf of the corporate profits of the team that plays in this stadium or of the taxpayers who paid for it?

    * * *

    GOV. RICHARDSON: China is a strategic competitor. And we've got to be tougher on China when it comes to human rights and trade. We've got to say to China, you've got to stop fooling around with currency.

    You've got to find ways, too, to be more sensitive to your workers, and you've got to do more, China, in the area of human rights around the world, like put pressure on the Sudan to stop the genocide in Darfur. (Cheers, applause.) So we have to have a relationship with China that is realistic. We have to have a relationship that involves both strategic competition and common interests.

    Here's what I would do. I would . . .

    MR. OLBERMANN: Governor, I'm going to have to cut you off, or we're not going to be able to get to everyone on the line here.

    STEVE: And if you could just move your stuff to Storage Room B, that'd be great, mmkay?

    * * *

    OBAMA: It is my strong belief - and I introduced legislation back in January - that the only way we're going to stabilize Iraq and make sure that al-Qaeda does not take over in the long term is to begin a phased redeployment so that we don't have anti-American sentiment as a focal point for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    STEVE: We'll keep it in Pakistan where it belongs.

    BIDEN: I'm the only one on this stage that has a detailed political plan how to get out. Separate the parties. Let them be in regions.

    STEVE: Like the NCAAs. There can be a civil war every March.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: Senator Dodd, last week you have said that Senator Obama, quoting you, 'His assertions about foreign and military affairs have been, frankly, confusing and confused'; you added, 'He should not be making unwise categorical statements about military options.' What, in your opinion has been confusing?

    DODD: Well, let me say on these matters here, I've spent 26 years on the Foreign Relations Committee dealing with these matters here on almost every major foreign policy debate; words mean things. We've got to be very careful about language that's used in terms of the danger and harm it can do to our nation.

    STEVE: Oooh, the split screen!

    DODD: My view was when you raise - issues are being raised about Pakistan, understand that while General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson . . .

    ANDREW (imagined): He's more like a John Quincy Adams.

    DODD: . . . he may be the only thing that stands between us and having an Islamic fundamentalist state in that country. And so what I'd like to see him change - the reality is if we lose him, then what we face is an alternative that could be a lot worse for our country.

    I think it's highly responsible - or irresponsible for people who are running for the presidency and seek that office to suggest we may be willing unilaterally to invade a nation here who we're trying to get to be more cooperative with us in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

    So my views - and I say this respectfully to my friend from Illinois here - I think it was wrong to say what he did in that matter. I think it's important for us to be very careful about the language we use, make it clear that if this United States is going to build the relationships around the world, we're going to have to do so with allies, in some cases allies that we may not particularly like.

    OBAMA: Well, look, I find it amusing that those who helped to authorize and engineer the biggest foreign policy disaster in our generation are now criticizing me for making sure that we are on the right battlefield and not the wrong battlefield in the war against terrorism.

    And, Chris, respectfully - and you and I are close friends - but the fact is you obviously didn't read my speech. Because what I said was that we have to refocus, get out of Iraq, make certain that we are helping Pakistan deal with the problem of al-Qaeda in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, Chris, if we have actionable intelligence on al-Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden, and President Musharraf cannot act, then we should.

    STEVE: He switched it from "won't" act to "cannot" act, as if now we'd have tacit approval. He's walking it back.

    OBAMA: Now, I think that's just common sense.

    STEVE: Apparently not so common.

    CLINTON: Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals.

    STEVE: For example, let's say that . . .

    CLINTON: And it may well be that the strategy we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence - but remember, we've had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence - might lead to a certain action.

    But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamic extremists who are in bed with al-Qaeda and Taliban. And remember, Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have al-Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons.

    So you can think big, but remember, you shouldn't always say everything you think if you're running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don't need that right now. (Chorus of boos.)

    STEVE: Barry Bonds just showed up.

    DODD: Well, I just want to say, look - and Barack, you know, I've certainly said, look, I made a mistake in that vote in 2002. I don't deny that. But when you make a mistake, as you run on something like this, I think if I had the courage, I made a mistake on the vote in 2002; if you're making a mistake today, you ought to stand up and say so.

    It was a mistake, in my view, to suggest somehow that going in unilaterally here into Pakistan was somehow in our interest. That, I think, is dangerous. And I don't retreat from that at all.

    OBAMA: I did not say that we would immediately go in unilaterally. What I said was that we have to work with Musharraf, because the biggest threat to American security right now are in the northwest provinces of Pakistan and that we should continue to give him military aid contingent on him doing something about that.

    But the fact of the matter is that when we don't talk to the American people - we're debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have a right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we're going to shift our foreign policy.

    STEVE: I thought we just spent the last six years debating unilateral strikes.

    BIDEN: Folks, I got to say something here. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. The truth of the matter is, none of what you heard earlier is correct. It's already the policy of the United States, has been for four years, that if there was actionable intelligence, we would go into Pakistan. That's the law.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: The next question will from you from our audience - or for you from Jorge Mulasano.

    JORGE MULASANO: I'm from Argentina, and six months ago I proudly became citizen of this great country.

    STEVE: Now I want out. Can any of you help we with that? You know, the paperwork?

    * * *

    BIDEN: I terms of walking the walk, let's make something clear here. For 34 years, I've walked with you on picket lines. 25 years ago with Reverend Jackson - he and I walked on picket lines together. And the fact of the matter is, it's not where you've been the last two years. Where were you the six years you were in the Senate? How many picket lines did you walk on?

    How many times - look at our records. Look at our records. There's no one on this stage, mainly because of my longevity, that has a better labor record than me. The question is, did you walk when it cost? Did you walk when you were from a state that is not a labor state? Did you walk when the corporations in your state were opposed to you? That's the measure of whether we'll be with you when it's tough, not when you're running for president in the last two years, marching on 20 or 30 or 50 picket lines.

    EDWARDS: Yeah, I mean, every president of a union who's here today and their membership knows exactly where I've been. Two hundred times I've walked on picket lines. I was on a picket line on Saturday. I was on a picket line on Sunday. I have been in organizing campaigns all over this country.

    Here's the America that I believe in. I believe in an America where anyone who works hard is able to earn a decent wage. I believe in an America where somebody who works hard doesn't have to worry about whether their child has health care. I believe in an America where anybody whose been with a company for 20 years has a pension and it can't be taken away. And finally, I believe in an America where if you have to go out on strike, no scab can walk through that picket line and take your job away from you.

    MR. OLBERMANN: Senator Edwards, you're from a right-to-work state, though, are you not? In 15 seconds, are you not from a right- to-work state?

    MR. EDWARDS: I am. And I have been a leader on the issues of organized labor and the issues of labor unions for years and years and years.

    [POST-DEBATE FACT-CHECK: The Biden campaign says that Edwards supported North Carolina's Right to Work law when he was running for the Senate in 1998. Edwards also voted for NAFTA.]

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, I know you and Senator Edwards have taken a firm stand against accepting money from lobbyists, yet you allow them to raise money for you and, as the phrase goes, bundle it. What's the difference between those things?

    OBAMA: No, no, I do not have federal-registered lobbyists bundling for me . . .

    STEVE: I use state lobbyists for that.

    OBAMA: Just like I don't take PAC money.

    STEVE: I just spend it.

    OBAMA: And the reason that's important is because the people in this stadium need to know who we are going to fight for.

    STEVE: The stadium owners!

    OLBERMANN: Senator Edwards, trial lawyers are now contributing significantly to your campaign. How is that any better than lobbyists?

    STEVE: Because they don't have to register.

    * * *

    OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, were you president of the United States today, would you honor Barry Bonds at the White House?

    OBAMA: Well, first of all, he's still got to hit one more, and it's been taking a while. And I had the opportunity to meet Hank Aaron just this past weekend. It reminded me of what sports should be, and that is something that young people can look up to.

    Now, Barry Bonds has been a remarkable baseball player, and I honor his achievements. But I hope that all of us are focused on making sure that sports is something that kids can look up to, not something that they start feeling cynical about. We've got cynicism in politics without having cynicism in our sports teams as well.

    OLBERMANN: Is that a no, sir, or a yes?

    OBAMA: Well, like I said, he hasn't done it yet, so we'll answer the question when it comes.

    STEVE: He's punting on Barry Bonds?! A profile in courage! At least put your hands in your pocket when you're doing that.


    BEACHWOOD ANALYSIS: Obama connected the crowd emotionally even if he was wrong on substance. Hillary once again showed she is the toughest, smartest, and most disciplined candidate. Dodd was unusually forceful, and Biden had a good night. Kucinich was a crowd favorite he's likely not going to expand his base of support. Edwards seemed to say the right things for this event but came off oddly unmemorable. Was Richardson there? Gravel was missed.


    See the entire Mystery Debate Theater collection.


    Posted on August 8, 2007

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