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Mystery Debate Theater 2007

I don't know whose idea it was - wait, yes I do, it was ABC News's idea - to hold debates at eight in the morning on a Sunday, but God bless C-SPAN and it's 5:30 p.m. rebroadcasts. Beachwood loves C-SPAN. Beachwood is not morning people.

So once again, the Mystery Debate Theater team of Andrew Kingsford, Tim Willette, and Steve Rhodes gathered at Beachwood HQ to bring you live commentary to better inform citizens about to make a momentous choice. Andrew brought the Spaten and a crappy little bag of almonds.

Also on hand was an expert sound engineer from, which will produce an audio version of this episode - and future episodes - of Mystery Debate Theater. Details on where you can hear this will follow as soon as we get them.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: The podium order was determined by lot, but here's where they stand in Iowa, according to our latest ABC News poll.

At 27 percent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. New York Senator Hillary Clinton is at 26 percent, as is former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, also at 26 percent. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is at 11 percent. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is at 2 percent, along with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also at 2 percent. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is at 1 percent. And former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, no support registered.

ANDREW: And with the margin of error, he actually could be minus 5.



* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Barack Obama . . .

STEVE: . . . black enough?

STEPHANOPOULOS: . . . ready to be president, experienced enough to be president?

And can Senator Clinton, Hillary Clinton, in part because of your experience, bring the country together and bring about the kind of change that all of you say the country needs?

DODD: The point I'd make on that, when I disagreed with my colleague from Illinois, was about the issue of whether or not a speech, a prepared speech, which suggested here a hypothetical situation and a hypothetical solution here - that raised serious issues within Pakistan.

As I pointed out before, the only person that separates us from a jihadist government in Pakistan with nuclear weapons is President Musharraf. And, therefore, I thought it was irresponsible to engage in that kind of a suggestion here. That's dangerous. Words mean something in campaigns.

ANDREW: Words hurt, too.

* * *

RICHARDSON: You know, I think that Senator Obama does represent change. Senator Clinton has experience. Change and experience: With me, you get both.



STEVE: His advisers finally wrote a good line for him.

* * *

OBAMA: Well, you know, to prepare for this debate, I rode in the bumper cars at the state fair, and . . .



STEVE: No, to prepare for this debate he had David Axelrod write that line for him.

* * *

OBAMA: I think that strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries.

ANDREW: And then they arm wrestle.

* * *

OBAMA: We shouldn't have strategic ambiguity with the American people when it comes to describing how we're going to deal with the most serious national security issues that we face.

STEVE: Just tactical ambiguity.

TIM: That's a very strategically ambiguous answer.

STEVE: Carrot Top is really buff. [at this point, conversation had turned to the recent Flavor Flav roast]

ANDREW: Yeah, without his shirt he's really ripped.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: So Senator Obama rules out using [nuclear weapons] against al-Qaeda. You rule out using them against Iran. What's the principal difference there?

CLINTON: Well, George, you've got to put it into context. I was asked specifically about what was, very clearly, an effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to drum up support for military action against Iran . . . This was not a hypothetical, this was a brushback against this administration which has been reckless and provocative - to America's damage, in my opinion.

So I think there's a big difference, and I think it's a difference that really goes to the heart of whether we should be using hypotheticals. I mean, one thing that I agree with is we shouldn't use hypotheticals. You know, words do matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you accept that distinction?

OBAMA: There was no difference. It is not hypothetical that al-Qaeda has established base camps in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan. That was acknowledged in the national intelligence estimates. And every foreign policy understands that.

No military expert would advise that we use nuclear weapons to deal with them, but we do have to deal with that problem.

And so, this is part of what I think Americans get frustrated about in politics, where we have gamesmanship and we manufacture issues and controversies instead of talking about the serious problem that we have.

STEVE: So at first he was saying he was challenging conventional wisdom, now he says there's no difference.

TIM: He's running an unconventional campaign. There's no difference between them.

EDWARDS: I personally think, and I would as president, not talk about hypotheticals in nuclear weapons.

STEVE: Okay, hypothetically, if you had a hedge fund . . .


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Gravel, then Governor Richardson.

ANDREW: Crazy Guy! He's all hypotheticals.

GRAVEL: I would say that, essentially, they're all wrong on this.

RICHARDSON: I wouldn't, as an American president, use nuclear weapons first.

ANDREW: They'd be my second choice.

* * *

OBAMA: I would not be running if I did not believe that I was the best person to do this.

TIM: I don't think anyone ever wins who goes, 'I can't believe I won, the other guy was so much better than me!'

EDWARDS: I don't believe you can change this country without taking on very entrenched interests in Washington, including lobbyists, that stand between us and the change America needs. And I don't believe you can do it by sitting at a table, negotiating with them and trying to bring them together.

These people will never give away their power voluntarily. We have to take their power away from them.

TIM: What if they hypothetically gave away their power?

EDWARDS: I have never taken money from Washington lobbyists.

STEVE: The Kerry-Edwards ticket never took money from Washington lobbyists?

TIM: He must mean this campaign.

ANDREW: He must mean this week.

STEVE: Some people may wonder how we can win by preaching change. Volume.

TIM: Hypothetically.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on to another issue we're hearing about a lot from the voters from Iowa in the poll. More voters wrote in questions for us on the issue of Iraq than any other single issue.

They all wanted to know what your plans were to get out of Iraq, and to get out safely from Iraq.

Senator Biden, you've put up an ad, just this morning, here in Iowa, on that subject. Here's part of it.


BIDEN: We were leaving Baghdad and it was pitch black. As I climbed into the C-130, strapped into the middle of that cargo bay was a flag-draped coffin. It turned that cargo bay into a cathedral. And all I could think of was the parents waiting at the other end.

We must end this war in a way that doesn't require us to send their grandchild back.


TIM: He was strapped to a coffin?

RICHARDSON: My plan is that, to end this war, we have to get all the troops out, all of them.

TIM: Even the Iraqis.

BIDEN: It's time to start to level with the American people.

STEVE: I thought it was that time in the last debate.

RICHARDSON: Many generals agree with me that we can complete this withdrawal within six to eight months.

TIM: As long as we leave all our troops behind.

CLINTON: Moving troops out cannot happen without careful planning.

ANDREW: We fly them through the air, we put them on trains, bicycles . . .

RICHARDSON: My point is that by taking them all out, all our troops are no longer targets. And then al-Qaeda and the insurgents, both that see American troops as their prey, will now turn on each other.

And so . . . [blah blah blah]

TIM: You know, if you change the channel and change it back he'll still be on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And I also want Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on that question.

ANDREW: Because they haven't talked enough.

BIDEN: Look, the fundamental disagreement I have with my colleagues up here is that . . .

TIM: I shouldn't be president.

ANDREW: My hair is not real.

BIDEN: Look, we've had 20,000 Western troops in a place where there's more sectarian violence - from Vlad the Impaler to Milosevic - than in 5,000 years of history in Iraq.

And what did we do? We separated the parties. There's not one single troop has been killed, not one, in the last 10 years. There is peace. There is a circumstance where the genocide is ended. They're becoming part of Europe.

Every troop must be out over time if there is not a political agreement.

RICHARDSON: Joe, answer my question.

BIDEN: But if there is a political - yes.

RICHARDSON: Why do you leave residual troops behind? Maybe if it's six months or eight months . . .

BIDEN: I leave residual troops behind because you're going to have a minimum of 4,000 civilians there. The military will tell my friend here it takes . . .


BIDEN: . . . it takes - no, no, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. You need combat troops, and you need them to protect . . .


BIDEN: . . . the 5,000 troops that are there.

STEVE: Look! A debate broke out.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, How many troops are going to have to stay for how long?

OBAMA: I think we also can all agree that it's going to be messy, that there are no good options. There are only bad options and worse options . . . This is the equivalent of George Bush drove the bus into the ditch, and there are only so many ways you can pull that bus out of the ditch. That doesn't mean you don't fire the driver and it doesn't mean that you don't evaluate how we avoid getting in these same problems in the future.

STEVE: Actually there are pretty good options. You could call AAA . . .

TIM: You could set the bus on fire.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on now. We've got a question - we've got an e-mail question from Seth Ford of South Jordan, Utah.

STEVE: Oh no.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he said, 'My question is to understand each candidates' view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?'

TIM: Well, Seth, if I believed in the power of prayer I'd be president right now.

ANDREW: Is global warming really God's punishment for homosexuality?

GRAVEL: What I believe in is love.

ANDREW: And long deep kisses that last for weeks.

RICHARDSON: If I'm president, I'm not going to wear my religion on my sleeve and impose it on anybody.

ANDREW: I'm gonna wear it under my shirt. Then when I score I'm gonna rip it off!

OBAMA: I believe in the power of prayer . . . We don't have the power to prevent illness in all cases, but we do have the power to make sure that every child gets a regular checkup and isn't going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma.

We may not have the power to prevent a hurricane, but we do have the power to make sure that the levees are properly reinforced and we've got a sound emergency plan.

STEVE: And we've got the power to stop gay men from marrying.

KUCINICH: George, I've been standing here for the last 45 minutes praying to God you were going to call on me.

ANDREW: And it didn't work! What does that tell you?

KUCINICH: I come from a spiritual insight which says that we have to have faith but also have good works . . . As president, I'll bring strong spiritual values into the White House.

TIM: Like voodoo.

ANDREW: And shamans.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's turn to another question from here in Iowa. It's on the subject of agriculture, close to a lot of Iowans' hearts. And it comes from Mr. Blaine Baincon.


QUESTION: I'm Blaine Baincon, a farmer from Massena, Iowa. I was wondering how you plan to help small farms as the large companies take over more farms.

ANDREW: And I love Jimmy Dean!

DODD: Well, George, listen, one of the areas we've got to have is a Justice Department that starts dealing with some of the antitrust issues in our country. It just doesn't cover agriculture, but also a variety of other things, including media concentration here.

The ability today of just concentrating power, allowing so much to be accumulated, is making it very difficult for the kind of independents and smaller interests, including small business and small farmers, to be able to grow and to have the kind of economic success they'd like to have.

Rural America needs additional attention, as well, here. I'm a great believer that we need to extend the broadband access to our rural communities.

Opportunity shouldn't require that you leave rural America to come to opportunity, but opportunity ought to be able to come to rural America, by taking advantage of the technologies we have today, so that people can stay on these farms and stay in rural parts of our country, including Iowa.

ANDREW: Like there's a direct correlation between corn yields and Internet access.

* * *

EDWARDS: In an Edwards administration, the first question I will ask in every single trade agreement we're considering is:Is this good for middle-class working families in America?

STEVE: Just like he asked for every investment he made.


TIM: The first question I'll ask is, Where's my room? I'm tired.

CLINTON: So we've got to do more to make sure trade agreements are not only good for the exporting of agricultural products from great, big agribusiness, but also for small farmers.

ANDREW: So they only hurt a little bit.

OBAMA: On the trade issue generally, we're not going to suddenly cordon off America from the world.

STEVE: He voted for that fence, though.

OBAMA: Globalization is here . . .

TIM: It's here, it's queer, get used to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Richardson, we have 20 seconds left until a commercial.

TIM: I bet it's an ADM commercial.

* * *

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to go to a question that came in over e-mail. It was from Robert Malzarek of Montgomery, Alabama.

STEVE: He's got some Hoodia he'd like to sell you.


QUESTION: This question is for all the candidates. Unlike many others, I think that candidates may tell the truth, just not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, when advocating a position or action, candidates downplay or simply ignore the likely negative side effects . . .

STEVE: Is he being held at gunpoint? This looks like a hostage video.

QUESTION: . . . Can you name a major issue where you didn't tell the whole truth and describe what you left out?


STEVE: I thought Biden was telling the truth. He said it was time to start doing that.

OBAMA: I think there are a number of issues where there are going to be some choices we've got to make and some sacrifices involved.

STEVE: Telling the truth just divides us.

OBAMA: I'll give you one specific example, and that's on energy. All of us on this stage have talked about global warming and how it is a moral imperative for us to do something about this, to ensure that we're passing on a livable planet to our children and our grandchildren.

There will be some costs involved.

TIM: For instance, we're going to have to put a quarter of the population to death.

STEVE: Hey, that's a hypothetical.

TIM: I watched Judgment at Nuremburg last night.

ANDREW: Who won?

* * *

TIM: I'd like each candidate to tell us the last lie they told us.

CLINTON: I, too, regret giving George Bush the authority that he misused and abused.

STEVE: Because I didn't know how much I'd be regretting it right now.

CLINTON: It was a very difficult decision, and I tried to weigh it as carefully as possible, talking to a lot of different people and being assured, both publicly and privately, by President Bush and the people close to him that they would use the authority to go in and get inspectors and try to find out if there were weapons of mass destruction and pursue diplomacy.

So, you know, looking back on it, I wouldn't have voted that way again, certainly, because obviously President Bush had no intention of doing what he said he was going to do.

ANDREW: She's lying right now or else she's retarded to have believed him.

TIM: If only somebody warned us that the president might not be completely candid. He had an otherwise unblemished record.

CLINTON: Well, as I saw it, yes, you know, similar to John. You know, when the president of the United States says, as he said publicly, and then as people around him said privately over and over again, "We're going to use this authority to get inspectors back in, 'We're going to go to the United Nations,' you know, at some point, you do have to make that evaluation.

And I thought that, based on what he had said and what we were talking about at the time in the Congress, that that would be an appropriate approach.

ANDREW: Oh, the anguish these people went through.

DODD: Well, I'll tell you one issue that I wish I had done more on, recently. And, I think, maybe one of the worst votes cast in the Congress, maybe in the last 20 years, was last fall, on the Military Commissions Act, in which we allowed the abandonment of habeas corpus, returning to torture, and abandoning the Geneva Convention.

I thought about filibustering that bill, and I didn't do it. I regret that deeply. I can't think of a worse vote we cast, to walk away from the Constitution of the United States.

ANDREW: Well, I had a tee time and The Sopranos were on that night.

* * *

BIDEN: Tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock, my wife will walk into a classroom and teach for the 30th year in a row. And the one thing any teacher can tell you is that . . .

STEVE: These students are getting worse every year.

* * *

EDWARDS: We also need a home rescue fund for all the millions of Americans who are . . .

TIM: Stuck in their own homes. And need to be rescued.

ANDREW: We're taking you shopping!

OBAMA: We do need more liquidity, but we're going to have to not only help homeowners who are going to be losing their homes as a consequence of this; we're going to have to go forward and make sure that we've got the kinds of tough regulation when it comes to financial instruments to make sure that people who have saved and are trying to get their own home for the first time are not hoodwinked out of it.

TIM: I want everyone at home to reach under your chair - there's an iPod!

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Kucinich, what's the decisive moment in your life?

ANDREW: When you called on me.

OBAMA: A decisive moment in my life was the transition from high school to college, because I had gone through a difficult time, not knowing my father, and was, at times, an angry young man.

STEVE: I wish he was angrier now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the last word.


BEACHWOOD ANALYSIS: This was the lamest of all the Democratic debates so far, and nobody was a winner. Which means Hillary comes out ahead by default. Edwards runs the risk of getting shrill in his smarmy way the more desperate he gets. Dodd has been unusually forceful - in a good way - the last two debates. The rest is a wash. Biden is Biden, which is just okay, Richardson is Richardson, which is way overmatched and out of his depth. This guy was a cabinet secretary? Kucinich and Gravel are being played as jesters even though they speak the truth more often than the others. Oh yeah, Obama was there too. His positions are still muddled. You can't claim you are challenging conventional wisdom when you are such a conventional pol. His message, instincts and actions are all at odds. George Stephanopolous isn't terrible but they should start giving those jobs to journalists or else will have Karl Rove moderating the 2012 debates.


See the entire Mystery Debate Theater collection.


Posted on August 20, 2007

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BOOKS - Being Sure About George Ryan.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Recall! Sriracha Chicken Ravioli.

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