A day has passed since the ABC Democratic debate. The hosts have taken their well-deserved knocks, and George Stephanopoulos has lamely tried to defend them. But there are still a few things I haven't heard anybody say, and the right is already cuing up ABC's next line of questioning.
First, though, take a look at these two pictures from recent news stories and consider: What's significant about them? (answer is below)
Here's the gist of the Stephanopoulos defense, especially of that wacky William Ayers question suggested to him by right-wing radicals like Sean Hannity: "What finally tipped the balance on whether to ask it or not was that as far as we could tell, Obama had never answered the question."
But that rationale can be used to justify repeating (and thereby promoting) any vile smear. Extremists on both sides pose "questions" that are nothing more than wild conspiracy theories, innuendos, or outright hate. You could just as easily justify asking President Bush if he really did blow up the Twin Towers, or pressing Sen. Clinton on whether she didn't really murder Vince Foster.
Because, as far as we know, they never have answered the questions ...
Stephanopoulos also argued that people care about "experience, character [and] credibility." These are these issues people care about, we're told. But why do they care about them? Because the press hammers them morning, noon, and night.
Stephanopoulos is like the kid who murders his parents and then asks for mercy because he's an orphan. As veteran pollster Daniel Yankelovich has observed, the press may not be able to decide what people think ... but they can certainly decide what they think about. (Here's a great list of topics that weren't covered by ABC.)
And, with so many questions about Jeremiah Wright and "bitterness," why wasn't Sen. Clinton asked about her remark - now confirmed by three observers, one of whom was taking detailed notes - that she said "screw 'em" of Southern working class voters? And why wasn't she asked whether she "repudiated and denounced" spiritual advisor Billy Graham's anti-Semitism? Doesn't that speak to "experience, character, and credibility"?
That said, Sen. Obama should have known that the questions were coming. It's a rigged game, and the sooner he understands that the better. The gist of his response was the right one, which was to challenge the validity of the questions. But he'll have to do it more forcefully than he did on Wednesday night if he is going to defeat the Republicans and the media - and that's looking more and more like an uphill challenge.
(By the way, did you know that Obama's not a bad bowler? I didn't either. The press told me otherwise, and I believed them.)
For a sneak preview of the radical right's next line of attack against this uppity showboat, read this piece in Human Events. Obama's upbraided for his scandalous rap supporters, his meeting with thugz like Ludacris, and his refusal to return Jay-Z's campaign contributions. You know what that means, don't you? Despite his condemnation of rap's lyrical content, Obama's actually a gangsta. Because they're all, you know ... black.
How long will it be before George Stephanopoulos is asking Barack Obama whether "you stole your flow from the East Coast school or the West Coast school"?
Absent from Human Events was any condemnation of George W. Bush for accepting concert services and campaign support from Kid Rock, who notably advertised himself on MTV on the toilet defecating. Or Lynyrd Skynyrd - a great band - who boasted (in "What's Your Name") of seducing underage girls. But then, those artists aren't ... you know ... black.
Stephanopoulos and Gibson also clearly bought into the Bush/McCain dodge that a President must "defer to his commanders in the field," and therefore bears no responsibility for decisions of war and peace. Neither Democrat pointed to the Cuban missile crisis, where a young President overruled his commanders and all the other "experienced" experts - and by so doing prevented World War III.
Petraeus says he won't run for President. Why should he? Under Bush and McCain he's already President - and without undergoing the humiliating ritual of being upbraided and scolded by mediocre human beings like Charles Gibson, who felt free to mock his distinguished guests with comments like "don't all answer at once."
ABC will consider this debate a success, of course, because ratings were great and controversy sells. They don't care that this kind of course may well result in a Republican victory come November, despite the fact that Americans yearn for Democratic policies.
My spiritual challenge in the upcoming days is to remain compassionate toward Stephanopoulos and Gibson, who don't appear to understand the damage they're causing. But it's tough not to give in to anger. Wrong as it is, I find myself hoping their nights will be haunted by those who will die if they - and others like them - engineer another GOP victory.
And now for the answer to the McCain and Clinton photo question:
Neither of them is wearing a flag pin.