Last night’s Democratic debates were done via YouTube – individuals could submit questions which would then be aired via video to the candidates. I thought the format was interesting, but mostcandidates gave their typical answers. Hillary was polished and never answered a question directly, Edwards tried to be charming, Gravel did a lot of finger wagging, Obama spoke how we need to unite as an American people, Richardson spoke to his base, Biden at least was direct and very senatorial, and Kucinich was, well, Kucinich. Anderson Cooper moderated.
Here are some highlights:
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think the Democrats are united, as Davis said, and we are united for change. We cannot take another four or eight years of Republican leadership that has been so disastrous for our country.
The issue is: Which of us is ready to lead on day one? I have 35 years of being an instrument and agent of change, before I was ever a public official. And during the time that I’ve been privileged to serve as first lady and now as senator, I’ve worked to bring people together, to find common ground where we can, and then to stand our ground where we can’t.
COOPER: Senator Obama, you were involved in that question as well.
OBAMA: Look, I don’t think this is just a Republican problem. I think this is a problem that spans the parties. And we don’t just need a change in political parties in Washington. We’ve got to have a change in attitudes of those who are representing the people, America. And part of the reason I don’t take PAC money, I don’t take federal lobbyists’ money is because we’ve got to get the national interests up front as opposed to the special interests.
And that is something that I’ve got a track record doing, and I think that is what the American people are looking for in this election — people of both parties as well as independents.
COOPER: Our next question comes from South Carolina.
QUESTION: Hey, I’m Mike Green from Lexington, South Carolina. And I was wanting to ask all the nominees whether they would send their kids to public school or private school.(APPLAUSE)
COOPER: The question is public school or private school. We know, Senator Clinton, you sent your daughter to private school. Senator Edwards, Obama and Biden also send your kids to private school.
Is that correct?
CLINTON: No, it’s not correct.
EDWARDS: I’ve had four children, and all of them have gone to public school. I’ve got two kids…(APPLAUSE)
… who are actually here with me in Charleston tonight, two kids, Emma Claire and Jack, just finished the third grade in public school in North Carolina, and Jack just finished the first grade in public school in North Carolina.
COOPER: Senator Clinton?
CLINTON: And Chelsea went to public schools, kindergarten through eighth grade, until we moved to Washington. And then I was advised, and it was, unfortunately, good advice, that if she were to go to a public school, the press would never leave her alone, because it’s a public school. So I had to make a very difficult decision.
COOPER: Senator Obama?
CLINTON: But we were very pleased she was in public schools in Little Rock.
COOPER: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: My kids have gone to the University of Chicago Lab School, a private school, because I taught there, and it was five minutes from our house. So it was the best option for our kids.
But the fact is that there are some terrific public schools in Chicago that they could be going to. The problem is, is that we don’t have good schools, public schools, for all kids.
A U.S. senator can get his kid into a terrific public school. That’s not the question. The question is whether or not ordinary parents, who can’t work the system, are able to get their kids into a decent school, and that’s what I need to fight for and will fight for as president of the United States.
COOPER: I want to ask this question of everyone.Senator Biden?
BIDEN: My kids did go to private schools, because right after I got elected, my wife and daughter were killed. I had two sons who survived. My sister was the head of the history department. She was helping me raise my children at Wilmington Friends School.
BIDEN: When it came time to go to high school when they had come through their difficulties — I’m a practicing Catholic — it was very important to me they go to a Catholic school, and they went to a Catholic school.
My kids would not have gone to that school were it not for the fact that my wife and daughter were killed and my two children were under the care of my sister who drove them to school every morning.
COOPER: Congressman Kucinich?
KUCINICH: My daughter, Jackie, went to the Columbus public schools and got a great education. And I want to make sure that that commitment that sent her to public school is a commitment that will cause all American children to be able to go to great public schools.
COOPER: Senator Gravel?
GRAVEL: My children went to public school and private school, and I’m recommend that we need a little bit of competition in our system of education. Right now, we have 30 percent of our children do not graduate from high school. That is abominable, and that is the problem of both parties.
COOPER: Senator Dodd?
DODD: My daughter goes to the public school as a pre-school — kindergarten.
On the Environment:
COOPER: So let me just ask a question to everyone on this stage. And I know we said we wouldn’t do a lot of show of hands. This is probably the only one we’ll do tonight.
COOPER: How many people here a private jet or a chartered jet to get here tonight?You’re not sure?
COOPER: Yesterday, OK.
COOPER: Senator Gravel, what was that? You took the train?
GRAVEL: I took the train…
GRAVEL: And maybe one of these will give me a ride someday.
On being a liberal:
Senator Gravel, are you a liberal?
FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: I wouldn’t use either word (OFF-MIKE) Zach asked about change. You’re not going to see any change when these people get elected.We were asked about — that we’re united.
We’re not united. I’m not united on many of their views. And I want to take on Barack Obama for a minute, who said he doesn’t take money from lobbyists. Well, he has 134 bundlers. Now, what does he think that is?
And, besides that, he has received money from a Robert Wolf, the head of the USB (sic) bank in the United States, who raised $195,000 — from this bank — wait a second — who has lobbyists in Washington…
COOPER: Your time is up.
GRAVEL: … and it’s a foreign-owned bank.
COOPER: Senator Obama, I’m going to have to let you respond.
Well, the fact is I don’t take PAC money and I don’t take lobbyists’ money.
And the bundlers — the reason you know who is raising money for me, Mike, is because I have pushed through a law this past session to disclose that.
And that’s the kind of leadership that I’ve shown in the Senate. That’s the kind of leadership that I showed when I was a state legislator. And that’s the kind of leadership that I’ll show as president of the United States.
GRAVEL: Wait a minute… (APPLAUSE)
On gender and race:
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Jordan Williams, and I am a student at K.U., from Coffeyville, Kansas.This question is meant for Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.
Whenever I read an editorial about one of you, the author never fails to mention the issue of race or gender, respectively. Either one is not authentically black enough, or the other is not satisfactorily feminine.
How will you address these critics and their charges if one or both of you should end up on the Democratic ticket in ‘08?
COOPER: Senator Obama, how do you address those who say you’re not authentically black enough?(LAUGHTER)
COOPER: Not my question; Jordan’s question.
OBAMA: You know, when I’m catching a cab in Manhattan — in the past, I think I’ve given my credentials.(LAUGHTER)
But let me go to the broader issue here. And that is that race permeates our society. It is still a critical problem.
But I do believe in the core decency of the American people, and I think they want to get beyond some of our racial divisions.
Unfortunately, we’ve had a White House that hasn’t invested in the kinds of steps that have to be done to overcome the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow in this country.
And as president of the United States, my commitment on issues like education, my commitment on issues like health care is to close the disparities and the gaps, because that’s what’s really going to solve the race problem in this country.
If people feel like they’ve got a fair shake, if children feel as if the fact that they have a different surname or they’ve got a different skin color is not going to impede their dreams, then I am absolutely confident that we’re going to be able to move forward on the challenges that we face as a country.
On religion as a moral guide:
QUESTION: I’m Reverend Reggie Longcrier. I’m the pastor of Exodus Mission and Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina.Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segregation, and denying women the right to vote.
So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay American their full and equal rights?
EDWARDS: I think Reverend Longcrier asks a very important question, which is whether fundamentally — whether it’s right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we’re president of the United States. I do not believe that’s right.I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination. I want to do some of the things that I just heard Bill Richardson talking about — standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, the thing that Chris Dodd just talked about. But I think that’s something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as president of the United States.
But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. As I think a lot of people know, Elizabeth spoke — my wife Elizabeth spoke out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports gay marriage. I do not. But this is a very, very difficult issue for me. And I recognize and have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.
COOPER: I should also point out that the reverend is actually in the audience tonight. Where is he? Right over here.Reverend, do you feel he answered your question?
QUESTION: This question was just a catalyst that promoted some other things that wrapped around that particular question, especially when it comes to fair housing practices. Also…COOPER: Do you think he answered the question, though?
QUESTION: Not like I would like to have heard it…(LAUGHTER)
COOPER: What did you not hear?
QUESTION: I didn’t quite get — some people were moving around, and I didn’t quite get all of his answer. I just heard…
COOPER: All right, there’s 30 seconds more. Why is it OK to quite religious beliefs when talking about why you don’t support something? That’s essentially what’s his question.
EDWARDS: It’s not. I mean, I’ve been asked a personal question which is, I think, what Reverend Longcrier is raising, and that personal question is, do I believe and do I personally support gay marriage?
The honest answer to that is I don’t. But I think it is absolutely wrong, as president of the United States, for me to have used that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights, and I will not do that when I’m president of the United States.
QUESTION: I’m Gabriel. And I’m Connie, from a refugee camp near Darfur.Before you answer this question, imagine yourself the parent of one of these children.
What action do you commit to that will get these children back home to a safe Darfur and not letting it be yet another empty promise?
COOPER: Governor Richardson, what are you going to do? Would you commit American troops?
RICHARDSON: I was at that refugee camp. And there was a refugee, a woman who came up to me. She’d been raped, her husband had been killed and she said, “When is America going to start helping?”
This is what I would do: It’s diplomacy. It’s getting U.N. peacekeeping troops and not African Union troops. It’s getting China to pressure Sudan. It’s getting the European Union to be part of economic sanctions in Sudan. It’s called leadership.
A no-fly zone, I believe, would be an option. But we have to be concerned about humanitarian workers being hurt by planes, being shot.
The answer here is caring about Africa. The answer here is not just thinking of our strategic interests as a country, as oil and Europe and the Middle East. It should be Africa, Asia and Latin America, doing something about poverty, about AIDS, about refugees, about those that have been left behind. That’s how we restore American leadership in this country.
COOPER: You say U.N. troops. Does that mean American troops?
RICHARDSON: United Nations peacekeeping troops, and that would primarily be Muslim troops. We need a permanent U.N. peacekeeping force, stationed somewhere.
If we get U.N. peacekeeping troops authorized for Darfur, there’s some already there, it’ll take six months for them to get there. Genocide is continuing there; 200,000 have died; close to 2 million refugees in that region.
America needs to respond with diplomacy, with diplomatic leadership.
COOPER: Senator Biden, in the past, you’ve talked about NATO troops. What about American troops?
BIDEN: Absolutely, positively. Look, I’m so tired of this. Let’s get right to it. I heard the same arguments after I came back from meeting with Milosevic: We can’t act; we can’t send troops there.
Where we can, America must. Why Darfur? Because we can.
We should now. Those kids will be dead by the time the diplomacy is over.
I’m not joking. I’ve been to that camp. I walked through that camp.
You know what happened when I landed?
When I landed and the dust settled, a young African aid worker came up to me and he looked at me and he said, “Thank you. Thank you, America, for coming.”
You don’t understand — they don’t understand. They think we can save them.
And guess what? We can. Twenty-five hundred American troops — if we do not get the 21,000 U.N. troops in there — can stop the genocide now. I have called for a no-fly zone. Everybody agreed, but you need troops on the ground.
COOPER: Senator Biden, how do we pull out now? That was the question.
BIDEN: Anderson, you’ve been there. You know we can’t just pull out now. Let’s get something straight. It’s time to start to tell the truth. The truth of the matter is: If we started today, it would take one year, one year to get 160,000 troops physically out of Iraq, logistically.
That’s number one.
Number two, you cannot pull out of Iraq without the follow-on that’s been projected here, unless you have a political solution. I’m the only one that’s offered a political solution.
And it literally means separate the parties; give them jurisdiction in their own areas; have a decentralized government, a federal system. No central government will work.
And, thirdly, the fact of the matter is, the very thing everybody’s quoting is the very legislation I wrote in January. It said: Begin to draw down combat troops now; get the majority of the combat troops out by March of ‘08.
There’s not one person in here that can say we’re going to eliminate all troops…
COOPER: OK, time.
BIDEN: … unless you’re going to eliminate every physical person who’s an American in Iraq.
BIDEN: Tell the truth for a change.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. The 2006 election gave the Democrats in office a mandate to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Since that time, 800 of our military service members have died there.As the mother of an American soldier deploying to Iraq for a second time, I would like to know if the perception is true that the Democrats are putting politics before conscience.
How many more soldiers must die while these political games continue in our government?
Is the reason why we are still in Iraq and seemingly will be for some time due to the Democrats’ fear that blame for the loss of the war will be placed on them by the Republican spin machine?
COOPER: Senator Clinton?
CLINTON: Well, I want to thank her and her son for their service and their sacrifice. When we send a soldier or Marine to combat in Iraq, we really are sending a family.
And since the election of 2006, the Democrats have tried repeatedly to win Republican support with a simple proposition that we need to set a timeline to begin bringing our troops home now.
I happen to agree that there is no military solution, and the Iraqis refuse to pursue the political solutions. In fact, I asked the Pentagon a simple question: Have you prepared for withdrawing our troops? In response, I got a letter accusing me of being unpatriotic; that I shouldn’t be asking questions.
Well, one of the problems is that there are a lot of questions that we’re asking but we’re not getting answers from the Bush administration.
CLINTON: And it’s time for the Republicans to join us in standing up to the president to bring our troops home.
COOPER: Congressman Kucinich, the Democrats have been in power for seven months. Nothing has changed in Iraq.
KUCINICH: If you’re not going to answer the question, I’m going to answer the mother that troop — question.
The answer to your question, ma’am, is: Yes, it is politics. The Democrats have failed the American people. When we took over in January, the American people didn’t expect us to give them a Democratic version of the war. They expected us to act quickly to end the war.
And here’s how we can do it. It doesn’t take legislation. That’s a phony excuse to say that you don’t have the votes. We appropriated $97 billion a month ago. We should tell President Bush, no more funds for the war, use that money to bring the troops home, use it to bring the troops home.
And, Anderson, right, now if people want to send that message to Congress…
COOPER: OK. Senator…
KUCINICH: … they can text “Peace,” 73223.
On registration for the draft:
QUESTION: My name is Tony Fuller from Wilson, Ohio, and I was wondering if the candidates feel women should register for the draft when they turn 18. Why or why not?
COOPER: Should women register for selective service when they turn 18 like men do currently?
DODD: Well, yes, I think they should, in a sense. I’m opposed to a draft, but I think if you’re going to have registration, it ought to be across lines so you don’t just ask one gender to do the — have the responsibility. So in my view that would be the fair thing to do.I happen to believe, by the way, Anderson, and taking the question here a bit further, and it’s a good question that Tony has raised, I’m an advocate of universal nation service, not by mandating it, but one of the things I’m missing in our country is the shared experience.
I served in the National Guard, I served in the reserves, I served in the Peace Corps in Latin America back in the ’60s here. I want to see every American given the opportunity to serve their country in some way.
I think we need to do more of that in the United States today. Elections ought to be more than just about a series of issues, but the shared experiences of service.
It’s so important that every American have that opportunity. It’s something I strongly advocate and would advocate as president.
COOPER: Senator Clinton, do you think women should register for Selective Service?
CLINTON: I do. I don’t support a draft. I think our all- volunteer military has performed superbly. But we’ve had women die in Iraq. We’ve had combat deaths of women in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I do think that women should register. I doubt very much that we’ll ever have to go back to a draft. But I think it is fair to call upon every young American.
And I agree completely with Chris. We’ve got to look for more ways for universal national service. I’ve introduced legislation for a public service academy that would be patterned on great institutions like The Citadel and our military academies. Because we’ve got to get young people back into public service.
And the other night we had a provision in our bill that we passed to have people who go into public service have their student loans deferred and even forgiven.
We need to do more to support public service.
COOPER: Senator Obama, should women register for Selective Service?
OBAMA: You know, a while back we had a celebration in the Capitol for the Tuskegee Airmen, and it was extraordinarily powerful because it reminded us, there was a time when African-Americans weren’t allowed to serve in combat.
And yet, when they did, not only did they perform brilliantly, but what also happened is they helped to change America, and they helped to underscore that we’re equal.
And I think that if women are registered for service — not necessarily in combat roles, and I don’t agree with the draft — I think it will help to send a message to my two daughters that they’ve got obligations to this great country as well as boys do.
COOPER: Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: Anyone who has any question about whether women can serve this country honorably in the military should meet Sally Bardon (ph), who’s sitting with my wife Elizabeth down there. She flew fighter jets, F-16s, into the first 15 minutes of the war in Iraq. Flew over Baghdad.
She put her life at risk, at the very beginning of the war. Anybody who has any questions about whether women can serve courageously and honorably, need to meet women like Sally Bardon (ph).
COOPER: Senator Gravel?
GRAVEL: Well, of course I want to take credit and admit that I’m the guy that filibustered for five months, all by myself, in the Senate to end the draft in the United States of America.
And I’m very proud of that because George Bush does not have the boots on the ground to invade Iran.
COOPER: Thank you. Do you think — should women register?
GRAVEL: Of course women should be going — go into the draft if we’re going to have a draft. They should register also. What’s the difference?
COOPER: OK. Thank you for your answer.(LAUGHTER)
On nuclear powers:
QUESTION: In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since.In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
COOPER: I should also point out that Stephen is in the crowd tonight.Senator Obama?
OBAMA: I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.(APPLAUSE)
Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.
And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.
They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.
COOPER: I just want to check in with Stephen if he believes he got an answer to his question.
QUESTION: I seem to have a microphone in my hand. Well, I’d be interested in knowing what Hillary has to say to that question.
COOPER: Senator Clinton?
CLINTON: Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.
I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don’t want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.
And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.
And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we’re not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.
On gun control:
QUESTION: Good evening, America. My name is Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan.To all the candidates, tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe.
This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Please tell me your views.
BIDEN: I’ll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help.
I think he just made an admission against self-interest. I don’t know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun. I’m being serious. Look, just like me, we go around talking about people who own guns. I am the guy who originally wrote the assault weapons ban, that became law, and then we got defeated and then Dianne Feinstein went to town on it and did a great job.
BIDEN: Look, we should be working with law enforcement, right now, to make sure that we protect people against people who don’t — are not capable of knowing what to do with a gun because they’re either mentally imbalanced and/or because they have a criminal record, and…
COOPER: We got one more question. Before…
BIDEN: … I hope he doesn’t come looking for me.
On each other:
QUESTION: My name is Jason Koop, and I am from Colorado Springs, Colorado. And my question is for all of the candidates, and it is intended to lighten up the mood a little bit.
I would like for each of you to look at the candidate to your left and tell the audience one thing you like and one thing you dislike about that particular candidate. And remember, be honest.
COOPER: Senator Gravel?
GRAVEL: I turn to my left and I like Chris Dodd. I knew his dad, I served with his dad.
I do have a difference of opinion with respect to where the money’s coming from.
GRAVEL: I’ve advocated, people, follow the money if you want to find out what’s going to happen after any one of these individuals are elected. Follow the money, because it’s politics as usual is what you’re seeing.
COOPER: Senator Dodd?
DODD: I like John Edwards. I love his wife Elizabeth and his family, and I think we’ve had enough of negative in politics. I have nothing negative to say about the gentleman.
COOPER: You’re not going to answer the question. All right. Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: I admire what Senator Clinton has done for America, what her husband did for America.
I’m not sure about that coat.
COOPER: Senator Clinton?
CLINTON: Yes, John, it’s a good thing we’re ending soon.
You know, I think that Chris Dodd has it absolutely right. I mean, I admire and like very much Barack, as I do with all of the candidates here. And I think that what you’ve seen tonight is how ready the Democrats are to lead.
CLINTON: We are ready to lead the change that America so desperately needs.
COOPER: All right. I’ll take that as you’re not going to answer.
OBAMA: I actually like Hillary’s jacket. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. And I like the fact that Bill Richardson has devoted his life to public service, because that, I think, is the highest of callings.
I don’t like the fact that he either likes the Yankees or the Red Sox, but doesn’t apparently like the White Sox. And we’re having a tough time this year.
COOPER: Governor Richardson?
RICHARDSON: You know, let me just say, I love all of the candidates here.
RICHARDSON: In fact, I think they would all do great in the White House as my vice president.
Let me say something about Joe Biden.
Joe Biden — you know, the only negative thing about Joe. We disagree on Iraq very strongly, on Darfur. But this man has devoted his whole life to public service. He’s been a distinguished chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He’s had great contributions in civil rights, in issues relating to gun control, in Supreme Court nominees. He will make an excellent secretary of state for me.
COOPER: Senator Biden?
BIDEN: I don’t like a damn thing about him. I — no, I’m only kidding. Only kidding.
Dennis and I have been friends for 25 years. I think this is a ridiculous exercise.
Dennis, the thing I like best about you is your wife.
COOPER: Congressman Kucinich, talk about Senator Gravel.
KUCINICH: Wait a minute. He talked about my wife.
KUCINICH: You notice what CNN did. They didn’t put anybody to the left of me. Think about it.
COOPER: I’m not sure it would be possible to find anybody.
KUCINICH: And you know what? And you know — and I’m glad I get a chance to debate you to my left, because there’s no one more mainstream on the war and on health care and on trade than I am, Anderson.
Now, about Senator Gravel: Didn’t he show great courage during the Vietnam War, when he exposed what was going on with the Pentagon Papers. Really courageous American. I’m proud that he’s up here.
Thank you, Senator Gravel.
COOPER: All right. We’ll leave it at that.