If you want to know what the Democratic presidential candidates and the Democratic Party believe, the debates, often derided as intellectually inconsequential, reveal a great deal. The problem is that news media almost never report the most important statements the candidates make. Here then are some of those statements from the most recent debate, followed by a comment on their significance.
Joseph Biden on how he'd handle Russia: "Who among us is going to pick up the phone and immediately interface with Putin and tell him to lay off Georgia because [Georgian President] Saakashvili is in real trouble?"
Sen. Biden says he would pick up the phone and tell Russian President Putin "to lay off" a neighboring country. Hasn't one of the Democrats' primary criticisms of the Bush administration been that it engages in "cowboy diplomacy"? And what exactly does Sen. Biden think President Putin's response would be? "Yes, President Biden, whatever you say." Yet they say that President Bush is disengaged from reality.
John Edwards on Americans going hungry: "Thirty-five million Americans last year went hungry. . . .This [election] is about those 35 million people who are hungry every single year."
There is no truth to this charge against America. The only basis for it is a U.S. Department of Agriculture Report saying that about 35 million Americans experienced "household food insecurity" in 2006. That term does not, the USDA emphasized, mean hunger, but being forced to reduce "variety in their diets" or eat a "few basic foods" at various times of the year. If a country could sue for libel, America would have cause to sue Mr. Edwards.
Barack Obama on giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants: "When I was a state senator in Illinois, I voted to require that illegal aliens get trained, get a license, get insurance to protect public safety. That was my intention."
Obama on not giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants: "I am not proposing that that's what we do. What I'm saying is that we can't -- [interrupted by laughter]. No, no, no, no, look, I have already said I support the notion that we have to deal with public safety and that driver's licenses at the state level can make that happen. But what I also know, Wolf [Blitzer], is that if we keep on getting distracted by this problem, then we are not solving it."
What exactly is Sen. Obama's position on giving licenses to illegal immigrants? Clearly, he is for it and against it. But most importantly, he opposes being distracted by it.
Dennis Kucinich on giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants: "I take issue with your description of people being illegal immigrants. There aren't any illegal human beings, that's number one."
Who ever said anything about "illegal human beings"? "Illegal immigrant" describes one's immigration status, not one's humanity. Such a statement embarrasses public discourse.
Hillary Clinton (discussing Pakistan) on the link between democracy in an Islamic country and American security: "There's absolutely a connection between a democratic regime and heightened security for the United States."
Isn't that precisely what President Bush has been saying for years about Iraq? And isn't that idea exactly what Democrats have held in contempt?
Bill Richardson on why the surge is not working: "We shouldn't be talking about body counts. One American death is too much."
In assessing whether a change in military tactics is working, a man who seeks to be commander-in-chief says that "we shouldn't be talking body counts." And why? Because "one American death is too much." If someone had asked Gov. Richardson if a new traffic policy that greatly reduced traffic fatalities were working, would Gov. Richardson have responded, "We shouldn't be talking body counts . . . one American death is too much"?
Obama on the surge (Blitzer: "I'll put the same question to you: Is General Petraeus' strategy working?): "There is no doubt that because we put American troops in Iraq -- more American troops in Iraq, that they are doing a magnificent job, and they are making a difference in certain neighborhoods. But the overall strategy is failed, because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders. And that is the essence of what we should be trying to do in Iraq."
The "essence" of what troops do in war is vanquish the enemy. What does a "change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders" have to do with the question of whether the troop increase is working?
Clinton on whether she exploits her gender for votes: (Campbell Brown: "Senator Clinton, you went to your alma mater recently, Wellesley College, and you said there that your tenure had prepared you to compete in the all boys club of presidential politics. At the same time, your campaign has accused this all boys club surrounding you on stage of piling on with their attacks against you. And then your husband recently came to your defense by saying that these, quote, 'boys,' had been getting rough with you and some have suggested that you, that your campaign, that your husband are exploiting gender as a political issue during this campaign. What's really going on here?"): "Well, I'm not exploiting anything at all. I'm not playing, as some people say, the gender card . . . . "
In light of the question, I will leave it to the reader to determine the credibility of the denial.
Richardson on whether he would pull out all contractors from Iraq ("You know that Senator Obama has said he would pull out all of the private contractors if in fact he was president. But in light of how stretched our military is, do you think that's a practical solution?"): "Yes. I would pull out all the contractors."
Who then would Sen. Obama and Gov. Richardson have do the work of reconstructing Iraq?
Obama on raising the taxable salary on Americans paying social security taxes: "What we can do is adjust the cap on the payroll tax. . . . Understand that only 6 percent of Americans make more than $97,000, so 6 percent is not the middle class -- it's the upper class."
According to Sen. Obama, a family of four whose gross income in $96,000 is in the upper class. All Americans should understand who Democrats consider "rich" when they speak about increasing taxes on "the rich."
Clinton, Obama and Edwards on abortion as a matter of privacy ("Senator Clinton, would this be a sine qua non for you, that any nominee you name to the Supreme Court would have to share your view on abortion?"):
Clinton: "Well, they'd have to share my view about privacy, and I think that goes hand in hand [with abortion]. Privacy, in my opinion, is embedded in our Constitution."
Obama: "I would not appoint somebody who doesn't believe in the right to privacy."
Edwards: I would insist that they recognize the right to privacy and recognize Roe v. Wade as settled law."
It is worth noting that many pro-choice liberal scholars, such as Harvard Law School's Laurence Tribe, have spoken of Roe v. Wade's using the right to privacy to legalize abortion as poor law. There are rational arguments to be made on behalf of not criminalizing every woman who has an abortion, but arguing that killing a nascent human being is only a privacy matter is not one of them.
Obama on America teaching Muslims to love or to hate America: "We're not just going to lead militarily; we're going to lead by building schools in the Middle East that teach math and science instead of hatred of Americans."
Another Democrat who believes that anti-American hatred in the Islamic world is America's fault, and that it therefore can be undone by building schools there. And President Bush is alleged to be "disengaged from reality."
Clinton on how Americans should begin to act: "Let's enlist the best that we have in America and start acting like Americans again to solve our problems and make a difference."
Sen. Clinton uses this phrase -- "Let's start acting like Americans again" -- repeatedly. If this is some code phrase on the Left, fine. But the rest of us do not know what it means. When did Americans stop acting like Americans? And what does "acting like an American" even mean?
These are the some of the words and thoughts in just one debate of those seeking the Democratic Party's nomination as its candidate for president of the United States.
It is also important to note that as in every previous Democratic debate, not one candidate mentioned "jihadist" or "Islamic" or "Islamist" terror.
And one of them may well be the next president of the United States.