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Presidential Candidates Diverge

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There are now two types of Democratic presidential candidates, the ones who promise to end the occupation of Iraq, and the ones who say they may very well keep it going for another four years.

MSNBC hosted another Democratic presidential debate Wednesday evening. Due to a technical error, the cable network failed to identify itself as a subsidiary of General Electric, a major weapons maker. Due to another technical shortcoming, viewing the debate streaming live on the MSNBC website was slow and choppy, and no recorded file was made available after the fact, just little segments selected by GE.

I tried my best to watch the opening questions, and could see enough to be glad I couldn't see more. GE spokesman Tim Russert was asking each Democratic candidate whether he or she would get all US troops out of Iraq by 2013. And they were saying no. I swear: no matter how low you set the bar, these people still can't clear it. But setting the bar low was the whole point. Even Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who said he'd have everyone out of Iraq by April 2009, did not have time to mention the key buried fact that he alone in Congress has been willing to mention: Americans elected a new Congress in 2006 to end the occupation in 2007, and Congress has the power to do that. The whole discussion of ending the occupation of Iraq THIS year did not exist. The radical position has now become ending the killing in 2009.

Speaking of killing, Russert also pushed hard on the "we make war for peace" myth, going so far as to ask one of the candidates "Would you send troops back in if there was genocide?" Um, Tim, what do you call what we've got now? Is there any moral distinction between any definition of genocide and what has been done to Iraq for the past four and a half years?

What people told me about the rest of the debate was even more depressing: dumb questions and fluff questions. If there were any good moments, they won't of course show up in the newspaper stories. We'll have to watch for them on Youtube over the next few days. But it's always possible to get a twisted glimpse of a debate, as if reflected in a greasy mud puddle, by reading a news article. Here's Associated Press reporter Beth Fouhy's report:

HANOVER, N.H. (AP) - The leading Democratic White House hopefuls conceded Wednesday night they cannot guarantee to pull all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of the next presidential term in 2013.

Who are they? Are they "leading" in primaries that have not yet occurred, or in money, or in polls, or, tautologically, in taking positions that Bring Good Things to Light [tm]? We don't know, but we do know that anyone who thinks that the way to end the occupation of Iraq is to elect a different president has now got to either make sure they are supporting the right candidate or rethink the whole proposition.

"I think it's hard to project four years from now,'' said Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in the opening moments of a campaign debate in the nation's first primary state. "It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting,'' added Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. "I cannot make that commitment,'' said former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Aha, those must be the "leading candidates," although they are clearly pushing a position held by a dwindling minority of Americans. What about the other five candidates? Well…

Sensing an opening, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson provided the assurances the others would not. "I'll get the job done,'' said Dodd, while Richardson said he would make sure the troops were home by the end of his first year in office.

Remarkable. What about the other three candidates? What about Kucinich, who leads Richardson, Dodd, Biden, and Gravel in the polls, and who is guaranteed to have the strongest position? For that matter, what about Gravel? And what about Biden? Keep wondering. Or do what readers of the Associated Press have to do to educate themselves, go to the candidates' websites.

Foreign policy blended with domestic issues at the debate on a Dartmouth College stage, and several of the contenders endorsed payroll tax increases to assure a stable Social Security system….

Has GE been drinking the water downstream from one of its plants? Why would anyone need to raise taxes to save the most successful program we've got? And what are the chances that any of these candidates would agree to raise taxes and not indicate that they meant exclusively taxes on the very wealthiest Americans? I'm going to delete the AP's account of their answers.

Health care, and the drive for universal coverage, also figured in the debate. "I intend to be the health care president,'' said Clinton, adding she can now succeed at an undertaking that defeated her in 1993 when she was first lady. But Biden said that unnamed special interests were no more willing to work with Clinton now than they were more than a decade ago. "I'm not suggesting it's Hillary's fault...It's reality,'' he said, carefully avoiding a personal attack on the Democrat who leads in the polls. Biden said a "lot of old stuff comes back'' from past battles, adding, "when I say old stuff I mean policy. Policy.'' Across the stage, Clinton smiled at that.

I'm sure that's very important, but for godsake, did the candidates other than Kucinich and Gravel explain that they take lots of money from health insurance companies and have no intention of creating universal coverage? Did Kucinich even get asked this question, or was it one that only went to "leading candidates"? Unless you can watch late night Telemundo, you may never know. The important thing about the health care debate, to GE, of course, is that Hillary Clinton was on the stage for it.

The moment was not the only one in which attention turned to the former first lady, a campaign front-runner bidding to become the first woman president. Asked whether presidential libraries and foundations should disclose their donors, she said she had sponsored legislation requiring it. Asked whether her husband's foundation should voluntary [sic] disclose, absent a requirement, she said, "you'll have to ask them.'' "I don't think about my private conversations with my husband,'' she added. She seemed to suggest differently at another point, after being asked whether she would ever approve torturing a suspected terrorist to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb. She said no, and Russert said former President Clinton, her husband, once suggested it might be appropriate. "Well, he's not standing here right now,'' she said, an edge in her voice. There is a disagreement, Russert rejoined. "Well, I'll talk to him later,'' she said with a smile.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at and and works for the online (more...)
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