The Times’ write-up of tonight’s debate suggests that Kerry and Edwards, both of whom oppose both gay marriage and a constitutional ammendment to ban it, chose to stake out less than bold stances on the issue:
“What’s happening here is this president is talking about, first, amending the United States Constitution for a problem that does not exist,” Mr. Edwards said. “The law today does not require one state to recognize the marriage of another state.”
Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, attacked Mr. Bush for raising the issue in the first place.
“He’s trying to polarize the nation,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s trying to divide America. You know, this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can’t come to America and talk about jobs.”
Needless to say, being told that your rights needn’t be excised from the constitution because they don’t yet pose much of a threat of being realized anyway is, one suspects, less than comforting to millions of gay couples in this country. And while there is of course truth in the oft-repeated argument that the Republicans exploit social issues to distract people from their economic interests, you don’t win people over to your side by telling them that your stance on the issue isn’t something they should be concerned about. Kerry deserves credit for voting against the Defense of Marriage Act, and it was good to see Edwards try to position himself to Kerry’s left on the issue by offering greater certainty that he would vote against it today, but there remains a serious lack of moral leadership on this issue.
Kerry was right on target, on the other hand, on the death penalty, saying pretty much exactly (with the exception of his support for executing convicted terrorists) what every Democratic candidate should when asked why he wouldn’t want to see perpetrators of heinous murderers killed:
“My instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands,” he said. “I understand the instincts, I really do.” He added: “I prosecuted people. I know what the feeling of the families is and everybody else.
“But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row ? death row, let alone the rest of the prison system ? because of DNA evidence that showed they didn’t commit the crime of which they were convicted.”
Edwards, unfortunately, took this one as a chance to move to Kerry’s right.
Then there’s this troubling continuation of Kerry’s muddled record on trade:
On trade, Mr. Kerry was asked to square his support for inexpensive clothes and goods from overseas for consumers with his support for labor unions seeking better wages and job protections.
“Some jobs we can’t compete with,” he said. “I understand that. But most jobs we can.” Mr. Edwards seized the issue, as he sought to draw a sharp a contrast by noting different votes the two men have cast on trade pacts over the years.
Kerry did get something else right though:
Mr. Kerry was then asked to name a quality of Mr. Edwards’s that he wished he had himself, but appeared not to entirely grasp the question. “I think he’s a great communicator,” Mr. Kerry said. “He’s a charming guy.”
Looking at the transcipt, Sharpton effectively called Edwards on his support for the PATRIOT ACT:
I don’t see how anyone that supports civil rights could support the Patriot Act. You talk about a difference of direction, Senator Edwards, the Patriot Act…The Patriot Act that you supported is J. Edgar Hoover’s dream. It’s John Ashcroft’s dream. We have police misconduct problems in California, Ohio, Georgia, New York, right now…And your legislation helps police get more power. So I think that we’ve got to really be honest if we’re talking about change. Change how, and for who? That’s why I am in this race.
And he provided the needed historical perspective on gay marriage:
I think is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions.
And Kucinich (who, incidentally, captured 30% of the vote for second place in Hawaii) tried, with limited success, to focus the debate on the policy differences between the four candidates rather than the personal differences between two of them:
I think the American people tonight will be well- served if we can describe, for example, why we all aren’t for a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. I think the American people will be well-served if we can describe why, for example, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are not for canceling NAFTA and the WTO, as I would do, because that is how you save the manufacturing jobs. And I think they’d be well-served if they would be able to see the connection, as I will just explain, between the cost of the war in Iraq and cuts in health care, education, job creation, veterans’ benefits, housing programs. See, this debate ought to be about substantive differences which we do have.
And I have the greatest respect for Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, but we have substantive differences along these lines that I think it would help to explicate here tonight.
He hit this one just right:
Well, I’m glad to point out something that all those people who don’t have health insurance and all those people who have seen their premiums go up 50 percent in the last three years already understand. And that is that Washington right now is controlled by the insurance interests and by the pharmaceutical companies. And our party, our Democratic Party four years ago, John and John, I went to our Democratic platform committee with a proposal for universal single-payer health care. And it was quickly shot down because it offended some of the contributors to our party.
I just want to state something: We must be ready to take up this challenge of bringing health care to all the American people. And that’s what I’m asking everyone here to make a commitment to. Single payer…