back to the Black Table
           
  AND THEY'RE OFF! HANDICAPPING THE FIRST GREAT DEMOCRATIC DEBATE.  
   
 

Right before last Thursday's big 10-man Democatic presidential debate political games broke out in the media room. A student in a yellow shirt came and passed out a flier from Howard Dean's campaign.

It was a "Dean for America Pre-buttal" that stated, "The real opponent is George W. Bush and the Republican party." Dean's campaign knew that his fellow candidates had become more comfortable (read: more frantic) and were increasingly taking the opportunity to attack him, so they decided to send out a pre-emptive note that made him look above such tactics. The handouts, which

 
 

continued to come about every three or four minutes, soon emerged as the debate within the debate. These memos were a heated conversation: taunting each other's campaigns and slamming each


 
 

other's policies. The tone was nastier, and the shots cheaper.

I started to make a diagram in my notes of who was bashing whom, and like John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind," I saw the patterns and made sense of things. While it would be hard to say who "won" in a ten-sided fight, there were some clear take-aways. Here's a run-down of the current state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, uncoated and unabashed.

 

 
  JOHN KERRY: ALL HAIR, NO SUBSTANCE.
All right, that's a stretch. He does have some substance, but none of it is very interesting. He is middle of the road on taxes, trade, and healthcare. He thought he'd be able to ride this thing out fairly easily because people knew his name, but from all the press I've seen about him, I could tell you more about his wife than I could about Kerry. He is freaking out about Dean, picking up on his opponent's popularity about two months later than
 
 

everyone else. Plus his hair kills me. I have it from a very reliable source that he has been advised to cut it and refuses. Being a good president is all about having good advisors. If he won't listen to them on the hair thing, what's going to happen with the important decisions presidents have to make?

 

 
  DICK GEPHARDT: ARROGANT MEANIE!
Gephardt acts as if he is constantly on the edge of a heart attack. He needs a vacation; the man has got to unwind. He is fearless when it comes to attacking his opponents, especially Dean, whom he compared to Newt Gingrich at one point during the live debate. See Dick run. See Dick fall behind in the polls. See Dick grasp at straws in a most unattractive way. I guess he fancies himself a reincarnated FDR, trying to convince voters that his all-in-one solution for
 
 

healthcare coverage, a stimulated economy, and millions of new jobs is the answer to our woes. Unfortunately, I don't think he's going to get the chance to prove his theory.

 

 
  AL SHARPTON: I LIKE TO PARTY.
In it for the laughs and we're certainly glad he is. The dude is hilarious! He gives the discussion a light-hearted tone whenever things are getting tense (or at least when he is allowed to speak). His humor also sometimes brings clarity to a political discussion. When the debate turned to a discussion of trade, and other candidates seemed to say bad trade is better than no trade, Al piped in to say that African-Americans are here today because of bad
 
 

trade policy, and we should be careful not to make the same mistake again. He doesn't seem to have a chance in hell of getting the nomination, but I think he knows that. He has to. If not, somebody tell him, and then give him a late night talk show.

 

 
  GEN. WESLEY CLARK: WHY DO WE LIKE THIS GUY AGAIN?
So Clark is in, and his early web supporters are pissed that they didn't all get jobs in his campaign. I personally don't have anything against him, but do I have anything for him? Do we like him just because he's the new guy? Or because we think pictures of him in his Army uniform will hold up against the Bush flight suit photo-op? I know a ton of people who don't care who of the ten candidates wins the
 
 

nomination, as long as they can beat Bush. We've learned that principles are well and good, but not when your Nader vote ensures you a right-wing reign. So is it just that Clark seems to do nicely? It's a little fishy that he voted for Reagan. I'm thinking Clark is the type of guy who just likes to be seen with the popular crowd.

 

 
  CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: BLACK WOMAN RUNNING.
Has anyone given enough attention to the fact that it is historically exciting that a black woman is running for president? And she can really hold her own, as proven at the debate. I remember hearing the name Geraldine Ferraro in my high school government class because it was a big deal that a woman ran for VP. Well, people, this is bigger! Highest office in the land! Woman! Black! Woohoo!
 
 

Props to her. I hope the press begins to give her more attention. She deserves it not just based on her gender and skin color, but because her career has earned her the right to be in this race.

 

 
 

DENNIS KUCINICH: PARTY POOPER.
Sure, he is the most progressive guy. And, yeah, he hasn't flip-flopped on any issue. Plus he has an elfish look about him, which could potentially be endearing. But the man did not smile once while speaking. Politicians aren't supposed to be taken too seriously, but that's the only way this guy comes. Chill out, Dennis! And stop stating your views as if you're tattling on everyone else to the teacher.

 

 
  JOHN EDWARDS: DON'T MESS UP HIS PRETTY FACE!
He has a Southern accent, nice eyes, and good hair (unlike Kerry). He speaks about growing up in a four child, middle-income household, with his arms spread as if to say, "Workers of America, I understand you. Let's have a group hug!" He was the first to say during the televised debate that the in-fighting was harmful, yet meanwhile, his campaign was flinging mud on paper like nobody's
 
 

business. He sent out one memo attacking Dean, two dissing Gephardt, and a whopping three sticking it to Kerry. Other than one retort from Gephardt that merely defended the healthcare plan Edwards had attacked, no one attempted to give Edwards any lip. He's just too dreamy.

 

 
 

 

BOB GRAHAM: HEH. I'M FROM FLORIDA.
The thing is, he's from Florida. He used to be governor there, and from what I understand he has a really good track record from that venture, but the fact is, he left the state with Jeb. And that sucks. I just don't know if I can get beyond that.

 
 

JOE LIEBERMAN: PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT LITTLE MAN IN THE BIG CROWD OF PEOPLE.
Everyone ignores Lieberman. He was doing well in the polls early on purely because Americans will circle any name they've heard before, and Joe was on the ballot in 2000. Now that people are reading the names of other candidates on magazine covers at the grocery store, his numbers are way down. Lieberman sent out memos attacking Dean, Kerry, and Gephardt during the debate, the latter two not

 
 

wasting the energy and printer paper to reply. Only once was Lieberman addressed amid the flier frenzy. It was a retort from Dean to the attack Lieberman had sent out about his stance on the trade issue. However, the flier is merely a duplicate of a handout in which Dean attacked Kerry, save that every instance of "Kerry" was scratched out with magic marker with "Lieberman" scrawled above. Sorry, Joe, no one cares.

 

 
 

HOWARD DEAN WALKS THE TIGHTROPE...
…and there are nine people pelting him with sharp objects. He has climbed and climbed his way out of obscurity, but now that he's at the top he is no longer the underdog. His underdog-edness was why we started liking him in the first place. He plays the outsider card, which is good, referring to the "politicians in Washington" to differentiate himself. And he talks about the American people deserving "the truth," which makes us think whatever he says

 
 

must be just that. I'm also kind of a fan of the rolled-up shirtsleeve look, though I know it's all contrived. He must continue to handle the jibes gracefully--we have a long way to go before the Dems pick a nominee, and anything can happen. Who knows, maybe in a few months Dean will be ignored, Kucinich will be the comedian, and Kerry will have a buzzcut.

 
 

 

*BT*

Ashley Glacel works at the Village Voice, and is half the beauty and brains behind www.anniedandashleyg.com, the website that makes political awareness and progressive sensibilities look good.