Obama, Gravel tangle on campaign donations in 2008 'YouTube' debate
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The Monday night Democratic presidential primary debate started out with a testy exchange between Alaska's Mike Gravel and Senator Barack Obama of Illinois that exemplified an early focus on the identities and broad visions of their candidacies.
"You're not going to see any change when any of these people get elected," Gravel said, before pointing to Senator Obama's promise that he wasn't taking money from political action committees and lobbyists.
"He has 134 bundlers, now what does he think that is?" Gravel added, before pointing to one particular donor.
Obama responded that Gravel was wrong on his facts.
"I don't take money from banks, from lobbyists," he said. "The reason you know about the bundlers is because I passed a law in this session."
The early exchange came in a debate hosted at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina. The state is home to an early southern primary election during next year's presidential campaign. The debate was moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper. All questions were submitted via YouTube by users of the website, and selected by CNN.
The participants, in addition to Gravel and Obama, were Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.
Other points in the debate also turned on questions of the candidate's identity and vision.
Senator Clinton was asked if she considered herself to be a liberal. She said the word had been abused by liberalism's critics.
"I prefer the word progressive," she answered. "I consider myself a modern progressive...who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms."
Clinton was also asked about whether the fact that she was a woman was important to her candidacy.
"I'm not running because I'm a woman," she answered. "I'm running because I"m most ready to hit the ground running in 2009."
A follow-up question was then directed to John Edwards, whose wife Elizabeth said last week that he was a better advocate for women than Clinton. He praised Clinton, but said that he was better on issues of importance to women because of his anti-poverty advocacy.
"More women are affected by the minimum wage than men are affected by the minimum wage....there are more women in poverty than men in poverty," he argued. "On the issues that most affect women, I have the strongest record."
Candidates juggle legalizing gay marriage
CNN later showed two videos with questioners asking about legalizing gay marriage. Rep. Dennis Kucinich gave an unequivocal 'yes' when asked if he would support gay marriage.
Senator Dodd said he supported civil unions, and Senator Edwards stuck to the notion that he would not enforce his personal beliefs that marriage is for a man and a woman via government law. In a sense, Edwards attempted to emote his way through the question.
"I have been an enormous journey on this issue, I feel enormous conflict about it," he remarked. "This is a very, very difficult issue for me."
Senator Obama chose a different path, differentiating between what the government and religious institutions should be allowed to do regarding same-sex marriage.
"The civil unions that I propose would make sure that all rights conferred by the state are equal for same sex couples as well as heterosexual couples," he said. "It's up to the individual denominations...[but] all those critical civil rights should be even."
Clinton prefers Afghanistan to Darfur
As the candidates were asked whether or not US troops should get involved in the genocide in Darfur, Bill Richardson emphasized the need for America to get more engaged in diplomacy.
"It's diplomacy...it's getting China to pressure Sudan, it's getting the European Union to participate in sanctions in Sudan," the New Mexico Governor offered among several steps to stop the killing. "The answer here is caring about Africa...that's how we restore American leadership. "
But Senator Biden offered a more hasty response.
"I'm so tired of this...where we can, America must," he stated strongly. "Those kids will be dead by the time diplomacy is over."
Senator Clinton disagreed, saying that America should focus on UN and African Union troops for Sudan.
"American ground troops I don't think belong in Darfur at this time," she said. "We're stretched thin in Afghanistan."
Richardson on Iraq: Forget Bush's legacy
Senator Biden continued to promote his foreign policy leadership when asked about what America should do in Iraq.
"We can't just pull out now...if we started today, it would take one year, one year to get 160,000 troops out logistically," he said. He went on to discuss his decentralized government proposal for Iraq.
Subsequently, Senator Clinton appeared to question the idea that America could do any good in Irq.
"I happen to agree that there is no military solution and the Iraqis refuse to pursue a political solution," she argued.
But Rep. Kucinich challenged the idea that any of the other candidates were living up to the message they were promoting on ending the war in Iraq.
"The American people didn't expect us to give them a Democratic version of the war," the Ohio Congressman argued.
Governor Richardson appeared to agree.
"The lives of our troops are more important than George Bush's legacy," the New Mexico Democrat stated, arguing for a complete withdrawal of troops within six months.
Senator Clinton faulted the Pentagon's failure to do any planning for ending the war in short order.
"It's time for us to admit that it's going to be complicated," she said regarding withdrawal. "And we need to start planning that now."
Obama hits back at Romney for sex ed remarks
Senator Obama used the debate to rebut former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's suggestion that he was wrong-headed for supporting age-appropriate sexual education for young children.
"Ironically, this is a proposal that he himself supported when he was running for Governor of Massachusetts, and he forgot," the Illinois Democrat said to laughs.
Obama also defended sending his children to a private school in place of a public school, saying that the issue wasn't about him.
"We don't have good schools, public schools, for all kids, "he said. "The question is whether ordinary parents who can't work the system can get their kids into good schools."
Senator Biden also engaged in some self-criticism for his support of the No Child Left Behind program.
"It was a mistake," the Delaware Democrat admitted. "The reason I voted for it, against my better instinct is I had great faith in Ted Kennedy."
Richardson used his direct experience with the program to explain why he was disappointed with the major education reform.
"I would scrap it, it doesn't work, the New Mexico Governor said. "It is not just an unfunded mandate, the one size fits all doesn't work...if a school is not doing well, we help that school."
Obama digs at Clinton's 1993 health care failure
Senator Obama used a question about health care to take a swipe at Senator Clinton's time as First Lady.
"Everybody's going to have a plan...we had plans before under a Democratic administration in the 90s, and a Democratic Congress," he said.
He went on to blame pharmaceutical and insurance companies for crippling earlier health care proposals.
"We have to have a president that makes sure they don't have a veto power," he said.
But Clinton defended her record, which she referred to as her 'scars' as she had in earlier debates.
"We have to have a sense of national commitment that health care is a national value," the New York Democrat said.
Clinton steers around her husband's legacy
Senator Clinton got one of the night's final quips when she was asked if it was appropriate for two families, the Bushes and Clintons, to potentially govern the United States for 28 consecutive years.
"I think it is a problem that Bush was elected in 2000," she quipped to cheers from the audience. "I actually thought someone else was elected in that election."
She went on, "Obviously, I'm running on my own merits, but I'm very proud of my husband's record as President of the United States...any one of us would be a better president than our current president or the future Republican nominee."
Gravel differed with Clinton on her husband's record.
"The Clintons and the [Democratic Leadership Council] sold out the Democratic Party to Wall Street," he argued. "Look at where all the money is being raised right now...it's the hedge funds, it's Wall Street bankers, it's the people who brought you what you have today."
Senator Obama was given the last word on the question
"Every single question we've heard, you see cynicism about the capacity to change this country," he argued. "The question for the American people, who desperately want change, who's got the capacity to bring about change?"