Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Stars, bars, and Howard Dean. I taped last night's "Rock the Vote" debate while I was out. Naturally, I screwed up somehow, and missed the first half-hour, when all the fireworks took place over Howard Dean's earlier comment that he "want[s] to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

But I caught the exchange between him and Al Sharpton in the post-debate wrap-up. In any case, that particular dust-up now appears to have been chewed over sufficiently.

Here is the Boston Globe report, by Patrick Healy and Joanna Weiss. Chris Suellentrop has a good analysis in Slate this morning on how Dean boneheadedly turned this into a bigger deal than it should have been. And the Boston Herald's David Guarino caught up with Sekou Dilday, who initially popped the question, and who now says he's decided not to support Dean.

So here's what I'm mad about. At one point, a 20-year-old student asked the candidates to describe who they were when they were 20. It was a good question, the sort that I'd have liked to hear all eight candidates answer.

But moderator Anderson Cooper, who must have been told to keep things moving no matter what, cut it off after only Dennis Kucinich, Wesley Clark, Dean, and Joe Lieberman had answered. (John Kerry must have been eating his heart out, but he managed to work in the Vietnam stuff later.)

Good move, Coop! The next question was from a Tufts kid, who asked Carol Moseley Braun about -- AmeriCorps. "I think AmeriCorps is important. I think public service is important," Moseley Braun began, sucking all semblance of life out of my TV set.

And so it went. There were moments when the debate veered toward being the best Democratic forum yet. But it was too disjointed, and Cooper -- a white-haired 36-year-old whom CNN has designated as its youth magnet -- was all too eager to contribute to the disjointedness.

For instance, Kerry -- criticized for that photo of him hunting pheasants the other day -- joked, "It's a tough economy now, and it's amazing what you have to do to put food on the table." He then turned it around, blasting Dean for wooing and winning the support of the National Rifle Association. "You want an assault weapon? Join the Army," Kerry said.

Dean responded by saying he supports the assault-weapons ban. But when Kerry tried to challenge him, Cooper wouldn't let him.

Kerry's most idiotic moment came when he was asked about polls that show Hillary Clinton would lead the entire pack of Democrats by a wide margin if she were to jump into the race. "I saw a poll the other day that showed me 15 points ahead of her," Kerry replied. Citation, Senator?

The weirdest performance of the evening came from Kucinich, but that was no surprise. He and Clark looked like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in their black ensembles; perhaps they're auditioning for MiB III. Kucinich was wearing orange make-up, and toward the end -- waving his arms and shouting out a five-point plan for something or other -- he looked positively bug-eyed and unhinged. Kucinich's video did have the best music, though.

Clark seemed sharper and more assertive than he has since his shaky start, but he still can't answer a simple question. Asked about lesbian and gay rights, he seemed to support letting homosexuals serve openly in the military, but then backed away. Afterwards, CNN's Paula Zahn asked him to clarify his "blurred line" on don't ask/don't tell.

"I don't think there are any lines blurred there, Paula," he replied, and then blurred things even more: "We have a policy that may be working or may not be working." The rest of his answer continued in a similar vein.

The funniest line of the evening (also no surprise) came from the Reverend Al Sharpton. When asked what his first thought would be upon moving into the White House, he replied, "Well, I think the first thing going through my head will be to make sure that Bush has all his stuff out."

But maybe the most effective line -- to get back to the Confederate-flag flap -- was from John Edwards, the Southerner who's trying to appeal to the Bubba vote. "I drive a pickup truck," he told Zahn, "but I've got an American flag in the back."

Presidential pix online. NPR's All Things Considered yesterday had a nice piece on Diana Walker, a former Time magazine photographer who photographed presidents and their families for more than two decades.

If, like me, you heard the piece and wanted to see the photos, click here.

You say "art," I say, "So what?" Q: What do you call a docu-drama that gets canceled? A: A step in the right direction.

I simply cannot get excited over the fact that CBS has decide to yank its controversial, fictitious treatment of the Reagans. Yes, it's disturbing -- as the New York Times reports today -- that CBS knuckled under to a concerted campaign by top-level Republicans. I have no doubt that Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin were, uh, gently reminded of regulatory and legislative issues that could have a serious effect on their immensely profitable enterprise.

But then I saw this quote from Barbra Streisand, wife of faux-Reagan James Brolin: "Indeed, today marks a sad day for artistic freedom -- one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society."

Good grief. As Madonna once explained to Ted Koppel, "It's like my art, ya know?"

Come on down. I'll be reading from Little People today at noon in The Studio, in Northeastern University's Curry Student Center. If you're in the neighborhood, stop on by.

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