Dean whoops his heart out, before said whooping did him in
Dean and Reed debate for raucous college crowd
Just as Ronald Reagan asked in 1980, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean asked Thursday night, "Are you're better off now than you were four years ago?"
He also asked, "Do you feel safer?"
Dean posed these questions toward the end of a debate with Bush-Cheney campaign adviser Ralph Reed. The event, billed as the "Great Debate," was held in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room and began as a heated affair before Dean and Reed took the stage, with both making their cases to the press.
"We will talk about credibility of this president," said Dean, the former governor of Vermont. He later added, "Arguing with Republicans on issues such as Iraq is like arguing with a two-year-old."
Reed, former head of the College Republican National Committee and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, charged that it was "beyond the pale" for someone wanting to be commander-in-chief to "insult our allies in Iraq." He said John Kerry had been on the "wrong side of history on every national security issue of the last 30 years."
In his initial statement to the crowd of about 500 people, Reed made clear that terrorism and the war in Iraq were the key concerns facing the electorate in November.
"Make no mistake," he said. "[The terrorists] want to strike the United States of America. They are working with laptops in caves, with cell phones. They want to kill innocent civilians."
Dean made the case that the election could not be about Iraq alone, but also about domestic issues.
"It's about jobs," he argued, pointing out that "the [United States] is the last country in the civilized world to not give healthcare to its citizens."
After their introductory remarks, Dean and Reed faced unscripted questions from the audience.
Debate moderator Gordon Mitchell, an associate professor of communication at Pitt, contrasted this loose format with the "strict rules" of the presidential debate in St. Louis Friday night, in which audience members had to submit questions beforehand.
"People accused me of being an angry candidate," said Dean, blaming his perceived anger on Republican maneuvers in recent campaigns. Dean cited the defeat of Vietnam veteran Sen. Max Cleland in 2002, a Democrat from Georgia who lost to Saxby Chambliss after being accused of being soft on terror, according to Dean.
Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam, and his Republican opponent questioned his patriotism, Dean said, explaining that Cleland's opponent ran commercials using images of Cleland with images of Osama bin Laden.
"I am nauseated by the Right talking about patriotism," Dean said, "when neither George Bush, Dick Cheney, nor [Donald] Rumsfeld, [Paul] Wolfowitz, or [Richard] Pearl served in uniform. John Kerry did."
"I honor everyone who has served in uniform," Reed retorted, "but it is not questioning someone's patriotism to question their voting record."
Many issues were addressed in the almost two hours of debate. While questions ranged from the USA PATRIOT Act to the Kyoto Treaty, the debaters mostly concentrated on the Iraq war and terrorism.
Dean quickly brought questions about the environment back to the issue's implications in foreign policy.
"We need a president who understands the importance of renewable energy, who understands that a thirst for oil is directly related to our national security," he said.
Regarding Bush's refusal to sign the environmental Kyoto treaty, Reed told the audience, "the policy to not sign Kyoto is not just President Bush's; there was a 98-0 decision in the Senate not to sign. If China, India and Brazil will not agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, why should we?"
Reed, in closing, again made the case that the war on terror was the "transcendent issue of our time."
"The question we face," he said, "is what strategy, and what leadership, do we need for the civilized world to triumph over terror."
Dean argued that although neither candidate is perfect, "one has led us for four years in the wrong direction." He added that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Mitchell commented afterward that the "vocal audience" did a "good job of staying engaged" and asking thoughtful, intelligent questions.
Both Democrats and Republicans have reiterated the importance of the first-time voters as Election Day approaches.
In their separate press briefings, Dean and Reed credited Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for its impact on young voters; both men have recently appeared as guests on the program. Reed commented that "half of 18- to 24-year-olds get their news of the campaigns from the show."
Reed, referring to the reasons for staging debates in university cities like Pittsburgh, said "Any chance to get young people, we will take."
Concurrently, Dean stated, to applause: "If the youth vote turns out, we win."