The Democratic Party Presidential Debate on MSNBC

I saw all but the first 12 minutes or so of the first Democratic Party presidential candidate “debate” on MSNBC last night.  There were two especially entertaining moments:  

* Joe Biden responding with one word (“yes”) when NBC's Brian Williams asked him (in essence) if he thought he could ever stop being a bloviating windbag.  

*  Former US Senator Mike Gravel looking at the party’s top-tier candidates and saying “these people scare me” when asked why he decided to run for the presidency.   

Dennis Kucinich did a nice job I thought. He did the best he could trying to inject a measure of truth and moral honesty into the proceedings.  As part of that mission he violated core Washington and media taboos by making two basic and accurate observations:  

* The U.S. war on Iraq has killed as many as 650,000 Iraqi civilians as well as 3300 U.S. GIs. 

* U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is “about oil.” 

He also accurately noted that “every time you fund the war you reauthorize it.” Thank you, Rep. Kucinich.  That is a  welcome reflection on last Thursday’s much-ballyhooed   Congressional “timetable” bill, which “sets” what the NationalJournal.com’s CongressDailyPM digest calls “a nonbinding goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq by next March, except for troops protecting infrastructure, training Iraqi forces or conducting counterterrorism operations."    

Geez, that’s one heck of a qualified “antiwar” bill the War-Criminal-in-Chief is about to veto.  

Kudos also to Kucinich for correctly pointing out that Barack Obama is threatening to wage thermonuclear war every time he says that “no military solutions should be off the table in dealing with Iran” and to former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel for accurately telling Obama the following after the Barockstar accused Iran of pursuing nuclear proliferation: “who is the greatest  violator of the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Proliferation Treaty? The United States!"

Another good thing that Kucinich did was to make what he could (in the 30 seconds or whatever he got) of the slam-dunk case for the impeachment of Darth Cheney.  The majority of the American people have known for years that Cheney, Bush and rest of the administration’s foreign policy and public relations  team LIED the U.S. into the monumentally illegal and mass-murderous invasion of Iraq.  

The notion of letting the vicious messianic militarists Cheney and Bush stay in office until January 2009 is highly offensive to me. If we fail to impeach them and remove them from office – as mandated in fact by the U.S. Constitution that Kucinich held up and waved at the NBC cameras – we will never live down the disgrace.   

And we will send a terrible and dangerous message to future presidents: “you are free to break national and international law with shameless impunity without fear of serious punishment. Fee free to lie and kill at will.”     

The “debate” was a corporate media production that naturally privileged sound bites over substance (what a surprise) and gave enormous power to the MSNBC moderators relative to the candidates and the audience. Numerous “debate” questions supposedly drafted for all the candidates ended up being shut down before more than one or two candidates got to answer.   

And the degree of difficulty and “gotchya” was highly uneven in the early “elephant in the room” question that Williams gave to each candidate.  When it John Edwards’ turn, Williams mentioned the $400 haircut thing (ouch) and then hit him with a tough and hard-to-anticipate query about the conflict between Edwards’ declared populist sentiments and his association with a slick big-money Wall Street hedge fund.   

Don’t get me wrong: Edwards deserved the question.  But the gotchya directed his way by apparent media God Brian Williams was quite high compared to the soft-toss thrown at media creation Obama.  Williams noted that Obama has been making a lot of noise about being a clean money and politics “reformer” but received a big check from Tony Rezko – a corrupt Chicago operator known for throwing his money around to politicians.   

I’m sure the question was completely anticipated in the Obama camp.  And all Obama had to do was say, in essence: “yeah, that was a mistake; we found out Rezko was a crook and gave the money back and don’t make money from him anymore.  Sorry, we’re not perfect.”  

Please. Rezko is a tiny and relatively irrelevant part of the rich case in support of the notion that Obama is crassly violating his noble proclamations about rejecting Big Money. I just finished an extensive article that goes into voluminous and ugly detail about the Barockstar’s corporate cash nexus. Forget Tony freaking Rezko. We’re talking about Goldman Sachs; Exelon (a leading Midwestern utility and the world’s leading nuclear plant operator); J.P Morgan Chase & Co.;  a large number of leading corporate law and lobbying firms (including Kirkland & Ellis, Skadden Arps, and Sidley Austin LLP); top Chicago investment interests (including the heavily Pentagon-connected Henry Crown & Co and Aerial Capital Management) and the like. We’re talking about the Carlyle Group and we’re talking about Obama receiving more than two-thirds (68 percent) of his first quarter 2007 fundraising total “from donations of $1000 or more” (Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2007).   

If Brian Williams’ writers are interested, they can look up Lynn Sweet’s blog and columns at the Chicago Sun Times.  She is all over Obama’s campaign finance hypocrisy like white on rice:  

* Lynn Sweet, Obama Touts Small Donor Networks But Also Relies on High End ‘Bundlers’ for Millions,” Chicago Sun Times, 16 April, 2007, available online at http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2007/04/sweet_column_obama_ touts_ small.html 

* Lynn Sweet, “Obama’s Donor Courtship,” Chicago Sun Times, 18 April 2007.   

I don’t remember Williams’ “elephant in the room” (gotchya) question for Hillary but whatever it was it wasn’t very tough, which is why it wasn’t very memorable.  

My working hypothesis is that the Democratic Party -investing corporate plutocracy knows that front-runner Hillary probably has fatal flaws that threaten to make her unelectable.  They know that the big money right-wing is salivating at the prospect of her being the candidate and probably has a whole bunch of dirt on the continuing bad behavior of her permanent adolescent husband.  

The next choice after Hill (with Kerry dead in the water and Gore probably out of the picture) would have been the handsome and articulate John Edwards but the corporate community is uncomfortable with Edwards’ actually sort of populist “Two Americas” theme.  The economic royalists don’t like his strong focus on class inequality and poverty and his penchant for saying things like (as I heard him declare in Cedar Rapids a few weeks ago):  

* “I’m a real Democrat, not a ‘New’ Democrat.”  

* “The best anti-poverty program in American history is the labor movement.”    

Unlike Obama, Edwards doesn’t flinch at the mention of single payer (Canadian-style) health insurance; he even says that his proposed health care plan “could switch over to single payer.”  That’s not Dennis Kucinich’s genuinely Left language (Dennis K. has a single payer bill on the floor) but it’s more Left than Goldman Sachs and the like expect to hear from a presidential hopeful.  

At the same time, both Edwards and Clinton have spouse issues (Bill’s probably ongoing adultery and Elizabeth’s illness) that could threaten their candidacies.  

What to do? Embrace (and help create) an Overnight Barockstar – a sharp, sophisticated centrist masquerading as a “progressive”…a perfect vehicle to sow moral and ideological confusion into the bewildering morass of U.S. politics and to repackage imperial agendas behind a supposedly human face. The fact that he’s technically black (though “not all that black” in white eyes) helps deepen the mystery and puzzlement among people hungry for a seriously progressive and populist alternative.   

Speaking of spouses:, that reminds me… Michelle Obama, a Harvard Law graduate like her husband, is a Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals, a position that paid her $273,618 in 2006. That and the nearly $ 1 million Obama has received from the medical-industrial complex between 2001 and 2006 (as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics) may be part of why the Barockstar has tended to distance himself from single payer health insurance and to denounce “government mandates” on health care. See my big article for more details and sources. 

You know some of the managerial salaries atop the U.S. health care system and especially in its hospitals – where nurse turnover is sky-high because of low pay and horrible working conditions – are just ridiculous.  They contribute to the health care crisis Barack Obama is so good at bemoaning though not so good at determining how to fix.  

For what it’s worth, Michelle Obama also received $51,200 in 2006 for attending a few board meetings of TreeHouse Foods, a giant firm where she was made a director after Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate (Sweet 2007a). The granting of high-pay and do-little board posts to the spouses of politicians is a longstanding tool of the “old,” corporate-dominated politics that Senator Obama claims to reject.   

TreeHouse Foods has not responded to the followng query regarding Michelle Obama’s qualifications for her position on the company’s board and the timing of her elevation to that position.

To info@treehousefoods.com:


I am a journalist and author doing researching the 2008 presidential campaign. It has recently come to my attention (from the Chicago Sun Times) that presidential candidate Barack Obama's wife Michelle Obama (a) has been on your company's Board of Directors since June 2005 and (b) received $51,200 from TreeHouse Foods in 2006.

I am writing to ask four questions:

1. What duties are required of members of the Board of Directors?

2. What work did Michelle Obama perform in order to receive compensation at $51,200 in 2006?

3. Why did TreeHouse select Ms. Obama in June of 2005? What relation was there, if any, between her selection and her husband's election to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2004?

4. What special background and qualifications did Michelle Obama possess that recommended her appointment to the Board of Directors at TreeHouse Foods?

Thank you very much for taking my questions. Thank you in advance for answering them to your best ability.

Additional thoughts at 6:15 P.M.:  

On the NBC Evening News tonight corporate media thought coordinators Brian Williams and Tim Russert didn’t even bother to mention the excellent Kucinich when mentioning the “second tier” of candidates who might have picked up a little bit of traction from the debate.

According to New York Times columnist David Brooks on the PBS News Hour about 10 minutes ago, "Obama has the momentum right now.  He's virtually the front runner." Brooks is right in regard to national polls and the media, though it is interesting and relevant to note that Edwards leads in the pivotal early primary state of Iowa. One of the reasons I write on Obama as much as I do (more on that another time) is that he strikes me as having a good chance of being the Democratic candidate. I hope not and it's not about the crystal ball.  And by the way, the centrist Brooks is in centrist love with the centrist Obama. 


Kucinich Site  Send a campaign contribution at http://kucinich.us/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=1 

For people to the left of Obama and the right of Kucinich (I'm personally to the left of Kucinich): http://johnedwards.com/about/issues/iraq/


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