There was hardly an inane smear, knock, superficial or unfair attack made against any of these candidates that Williams did not go OUT of his way to highlight or demand that they defend themselves against. We had the price of haircuts, misquotes about positions on Palestine, ties to Walmart, not to mention an entire segment on Giuliani's despicable "die under Democrats" rhetoric from yesterday, instantly elevated to the status of accepted mainstream gospel and framed as such. If most of the questions had been prefaced with the words "Karl Rove says" their slant could not have been more obvious. Even the questions selected from viewer emails seemed to be selected with that criteria in mind.
When Williams was not doing that he left no stone unturned trying to dredge up a virtual laundry list of every possible divisive wedge issue he could work in, positions on abortion, guns, illegal immigration, and even the confederate flag. The few other actual issues touched on were exploited as an opportunity to hurl other accusations, for example on the health care issue one of stealth tax raising intentions. The energy issue he tried to turn into an Al Gore, how dare you own a light bulb witch hunt, and so on.
And in his grandstand play of the night Williams painted a grim scenario of two American cities wiped out by Al Qaeda and demanded to know how each of these candidates would retaliate. The question itself was custom designed to drive fear into the heart of what deserved to be a thoughtful debate on the issues, and to substitute blind ignorant rage for sound policy. It had to be TWO cities of course because we've ALREADY lost one and a half cities under George Bush. The question begged the answer of what kind of revenge would you take, as if revenge were a policy goal. How fitting from the mouthpiece of a company in the nuclear weapons business.
To their credit each of the candidates demonstrated in turn that they are infinitely more qualified to be president of the United States than Bush ever was, and managed for most part to say what they wanted to say, as opposed to what Williams was trying to bait them into saying. We only wish one of them had called him out directly on the slant of the questions, especially the Giuliani smear.
Williams made one huge mistake, trying to embarrass Kucinich about his Cheney impeachment stance, and Kucinich hit it out of the park with some of the best passion we've heard from him yet. Likewise with Gravel, where Williams practically chortled at the chance to pick a fight on stage between the candidates, but instead gave Gravel his own moment to shine as an uncompromising antiwar choice.
What we need to do is take the debates out of the hands of right wing spin kings and get some moderators who aren't so bent on warping the whole affair. It's hard to imagine as long as self-interested corporations are the sponsors. But at least tonight our candidates were able to hold their own.