Overall, the “All-American Presidential Forum” was a success. The success of the debate was really in its concept. It was great to see an entire debate devoted to the issues that are high priorities in the African-American community, especially since our community is one of the most important voting blocs for the Democratic party. Also, holding the debate at Howard University was a terrific opportunity for the national spotlight to shine on a historically black university. The Howard facilities, student workers, and audience provided the truly enjoyable aspects of this event.
What did not emerge from the debate were any real surprises from the candidates. Clinton exuded competence and professionalism, Obama displayed vision and talked mostly about a change in American values and purpose, and Edwards never missed an opportunity to tell us about his lifelong commitment to fighting poverty. The audience was respectful to all the candidates, but Clinton and Obama received the most enthusiastic applause and support.
Here are some of the highlghts and lowlights of the debate:
1. Hillary Clinton. On almost every question–from the disparity in the HIV/AIDS infection rates for African-American women, ending the genocide in Darfur, and tax rates she had clear and specific answers. She was able to provide detailed policy recommendations on each issue in the extremely limited time.
2. The Al Sharpton reaction shot. In discussing how to curb the HIV/AIDS crisis in the African-American community Sen. Biden held forth on how he personally visited black communities to educate black men and black women on the importance of wearing condoms. Rev. Al was not amused. Neither was the press room. Prof. Sherilynn Ifill from blackprof has some of the best commentary on this shudder inducing moment.
3. Obama on NOLA. The senator made the important point that part of the problem in Katrina was the federal government’s general disregard for the lives of America’s poor, including the assumption that the people of New Orleans could just jump in their SUV’s with sparkling water and head for the closest hotel.
4. Sen. Gravel. He was just great general comic relief. He answered every question (including questions on taxes and HIV) by talking about ending the War on Drugs.
1. None of the candidates were particularly eloquent or outraged about the Supreme Court decisions today. Sen. Clinton managed the best catchphrase by saying that the decisions “turned the clock back on the promise of Brown.” Maybe the subject is still to fresh for the candidates or their advisors to craft appropriate responses. Biden and Dodd also gave good answers, and Biden talked about how his colleagues in the Senate should have followed his lead when he aggressively opposed the Alito and Roberts nominations.
2. Even in this forum we were subjected to a Paris Hilton reference. Tavis chastised Gov. Richardson for going over time by saying that if Richardson were Paris he would get an hour to answer.
3. In the same disastrous Biden HIV answer that I talked abut above, Biden talked about having an HIV test and then pointed to Obama and said “Barack had an HIV test too.” Something about the way Biden put together his phrases implied that he and Obama took their HIV tests together. Some really uncomfortable banter ensued.
The post-debate press room was a bit of a madhouse. Several of the candidates showed up in person to answer our questions (Kucinich, Richardson, Dodd, Gravel) and the others sent their emissaries. It was really interesting to see that almost all of the African-American federal elected officials were there to support Sen. Clinton (e.g., Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Gregory Meeks) while Obama’s corner was covered with the high profile academic elites (e.g., Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson).
I really enjoyed the experience. There will be another “All-American Presidential Forum” in September with the Republican presidential candidates. I hope to cover that debate for the blog. I have to thank Ann Bartow for recommending me for the media credential, and my husband John for taking a last minute road trip with me to D.C. Please post your comments below.