Friday, June 29, 2007

The PBS Democratic Presidential Debate: The silly season is here.

Last night’s Democratic Presidential Candidate debate, run by Tavis Smiley, was peculiar, at best. Tavis Smiley is no debate moderator, organizer, or what have you. He is the Paris Hilton of politics. However, Tavis has become PBS’ favorite black personality, and he has leveraged that into corporate sponsorships and into being almost a cult hero among media personalities, black leaders and Democratic Party leaders and activists.

Smiley does a half hour interview show every week day night on PBS, with the first fifteen minutes being a political or public policy interview and the last fifteen with a musician, actress, etc. Smiley is unabashedly a lefty, which means he fits in well with PBS management and talent. Like others on PBS, he makes little or no attempt to hide his bias, kissing those pols on the left [Saying at one point last night to Barack, “I love you man,”] and hissing at those on the right.

Smiley squandered almost the entire first half hour of his ninety minute network time last night with dribble, candidate still pictures and embarrassing promos of radio personality Tom Joyner, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, himself and others in the audience.

The whole debate consisted of answers to eight questions from three journalists “of color,” and a civilian who somehow won the right to ask the first question [get it? kind of like throwing out the first ball]. The civilian was black and nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarette, Jr. I imagine is Hispanic. Michel Martin, from NPR, appears black. Nationally syndicated columnist DeWayne Wickham I would guess is black, but I really don’t know. This reporter wouldn’t usually make such a big deal of guessing the journalist’s race or color, but that was the theme of the debate and evening—Color—and I understand that included having only journalists “of color” asking questions.

Somebody who organizes these things decided last night and the September 27 Republican Debate would be all about Tavis Smiley, color and Tavis’ book, “The covenant with Black America. So, in short, if we are going to have ten, or so, Presidential debates before February 5, on which date the Presidential nominees should be selected, one tenth of those debates will have been devoted to a Tavis Smiley view of the world—as I said, color.

If the theme of the debate was issues of concern to minorities, or people of color, it does seem as if Hispanics and Asians were shortchanged, as little of the discussion last night seemed to relate specifically to issues of their color or their ethnicity. For example, nothing about immigration. I don’t know, but maybe Asians are considered to be a minority, but do not count as people of color. You see, this journalist would not have been of much help last night in focusing on color because he is old fashioned and believes in that dream of Dr. King of a time when “we would judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

So, unless this journalist is watching a Tavis Smiley debate, I tend not to focus much on skin color. In a sense, you could say that Tavis does not seem to get King’s message, although Tavis often tells his viewers that King is the person he most admires, from history or otherwise.

Not verbatim, but the eight questions last night were generally as follows:
1. Is race still an issue?
2. Black high school graduates generally have higher unemployment rates than white high school dropouts. Why and what to do about that?
3. Blacks represent only about 17% of all Teens, yet they represent 69% of Teens with HIV Aids. Why and what to do about that?

For the above questions, Tavis asked each candidate to limit his or her answer to one minute. After the candidates had completed their responses to the third question, Tavis realized he was about 50 minutes into the show—and he asked each candidate to keep his or her answer to the following questions to thirty seconds. Tavis appeared to arbitrarily and inconsistently enforce the time limits, apparently ticking off Senator Dodd at one point, who in turn ticked off Tavis. Tavis, of course, declared himself the winner over Dodd. That was one of the show highlights.

4. Is Warren Buffett right that the rich are undertaxed?
5. According to FBI stats from 1996-2005, Blacks made up 29% of the people arrested and Whites made up 70% of the people arrested. Yet, the jail population was about 40% White and 38% black during that time period. Why is that and what should be done? [Ed. Note: Yes, it appears that the second set of numbers don’t add up. However that could be because Tavis and The Covenant with Black America make use of “Radical Math.”]
6. Should all of those New Orleans citizens who left New Orleans during Katrina be guaranteed a Right of Return under the U. N. Refugee Protocol [This was a Michel Martin wacko special].
7. A lot of Americans are concerned. about outsourcing. However, many companies don’t show any concern and say we live in a global economy and we must be competitive. Are you concerned about outsourcing and if so, what to do?
8. Darfur represents the United States’ second chance to prevent a genocide. In 1994, we did nothing to prevent the genocide of a half million people. Should we do something now in Darfur? If so, what?

The answers to the above didn’t vary much among the candidates, especially between the Tier one candidates: Hillary, Obama and Edwards. Generally, the candidates said:

1. Race matters;

2. The Feds need to spend more on everything, including getting everybody tested for AIDS; Black schools and teachers are not as good as those for whites. We should spend a lot more money on schools for everybody and all will be Okay. This being a Democratic Party debate, nobody mentioned charter schools or vouchers. Blacks need to be educated about the dangers of getting and passing on Aids to others. Everybody should be tested for Aids, including apparently little kids and those not at risk. We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Even Senator Biden said he got tested and he has never had sex.

3. Tax the rich. There are two Americas, including two school systems: One for the wealthy and one for everybody else. Seriously, John Edwards said this. We need to change that. Spend more on everything and raise the taxes on the rich. Rebuild New Orleans. Make sure everybody has everything they want. Make sure there is no outsourcing. Re-do all the trade agreements and essentially abolish international trade. Employ force and troops in Sudan. Shoot to Kill—just make sure you shoot the right people, following Dirty Harry’s suggestion.

Hillary won the debate again. She was the best prepared and gave the toughest answers. Most of the candidates talked about establishing a No Fly zone over Darfur, but only Hillary said: “If they violate the No Fly zone, shoot them down.” Seriously, she said that. Obama was, at best, second to Hillary. For example, he said a No Fly zone is important but then he started talking about trade opportunities, investing in Africa. Did he get confused again? Trade is the answer for Darfur? I don’t think so. Even for the Democrats, that doesn’t work.

The rest of the candidates were also-rans. Edwards, as has been remarked, seems to be going through the motions. Nobody takes Biden and Dodd seriously. Richardson continues to try to be farthest to the left, and his poll numbers are moving up, but he has a long way to go.

Dennis Kucinich has the best looking wife. Mike Gravel lectured us several times about ending the War on Drugs. Does that mean he wants to legalize all drugs? Or, just decriminalize all of them? Or, is Gravel just mad. Gravel actually ended the debate by saying, “The President has to have moral judgment and most of the people on the stage do not have moral judgment and have proved it by what they have done.”

It was a silly debate with a silly format, silly questions, silly answers and a silly ending. And, I don’t think Senator Gravel gets invited back.

For a more conventional and charitable review of the debate, go here
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at