By Jeffery McNary for
Edited by Lloyd Hart

Editors Note:

I don't know what I was thinking sending Jeff back into the polluted waters of the so-called mainstream political scene, McNary, having already gone native but I guess I'm just a cruel bastard. Yeah this was "Rock the Vote" a misguided attempt reaching America's youth and eight of the nine Dems scrapping it out for the nod (Most of whom make me "Nod Off") so I thought something interesting would happen if I sent McNary back into the Side Ways World and something did and McNary came back alive. I've got to find a war for him to cover. Why do todays political party activists think that colleges are the place to reach America's youth that aren't voting. Rock the Vote and all vote capitalists have to pull their heads out of heir asses and get down to the street with working class youth Black, White, Native, Asian and Hispanic and find out what is really going on. Filling the Faneuil hall with college kids and A list candidate activists might be good show biz but it dosen't even scratch the surface of what the youth of America are up against with no "real" jobs and have lived through with the drug war which should really be called The Youth Harassment and Incarceration Program.

-Lloyd Hart

They actually let Jeff in.

On Tuesday, November 4, Rock the Vote, the non-profit, non-partisan organization founded to engage young people in the political process, brought it's energy and enthusiasm to Boston. Rock the Vote brought together eight of the nine Democratic candidates for president in a forum, broadcast live and moderated by CNN's Anderson Cooper. The event, unique inasmuch as it's focus was targeted to issues of concern to young voters, emerged to be much larger than it's planners had anticipated. In some opinions, it held the most significant exchanges between the candidates to date. It was to signify a high shift in the tone of the field for all. But for the Howard Dean juggernaut, for these it was not so good a night. Pink Floyd's "Breathe", could have been an appropriate theme.

Five minutes into the forum, former Vermont Governor Dean was asked about his "Confederate flag" statement. "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks", Dean had said in an 11/1/03 telephone interview from New Hampshire. He'd previously used a toned down Confederate flag image at the DNC's February Winter Meeting. Yet no matter how the Governor attempted to explain away his gaff as an attempt to reach out, a pall hung over him the remainder of the evening.

Reverend Al Sharpton, at his best in conflict if not on positions, slowly and deliberately pulled up on Dean. Facing him with a, "you are not a bigot, but you appear to be too arrogant to say I'm wrong, and go on." Sharpton did not hesitate to snatch away Dean's weak reference to Martin Luther King, Jr. with "Martin Luther King said, ˜Come to the table of brotherhood". "You can't bring a Confederate flag to the table of brotherhood." Sharpton needed Dean's faux pax, his own now chaotic campaign appearing to tire from one liners. His chastisement continued to the point of overshadowing much of the forum, and his tart dismissal of Dean's reference to his recent endorsement by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill) did little to ease his own paradox, i.e. the resignation of campaign manager Frank Watkins (a long time Jackson family friend and operative), and Kevin Grey, his South Carolina organizer who openly criticized Al's failure to actively register voters. Jackson, Sr. Recently refereed to Sharpton as "ridiculous".

Then came Edward's turn at bat. Responding to a condescending Dean defense that, "We need to talk to white Southern workers about how they vote", the boyish looking Senator from North Carolina appeared to do his best Forest Gump imitation with, "The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you, coming down and telling us what we need to do."

The remainder of the field took their turns on the Dean derriere with less memorable pontificating.

The forum moved on with thoughtful, and in some cases surprising responses from the candidates. Those who'd smoked marijuana early on in life admitted to having done so, those who hadn't admitted to that, and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, "the black lady running for president", as she was recently referred to by a black college student, simply refused to answer. No, it wasn't an Admiral Stockdale moment kind of thing, she just didn't want to answer. Among the many things said by Congressman Dennis Kucinich that evening was, "No", he hadn't smoked, "but it should be decriminalized". Hummm. Now he's an interesting one, and perhaps a sleeper in this race.

Walking along from Park Street station to Faneuil Hall, the site of the Forum, I spoke with Max Twine, a student at Tufts University and a Kucinich supporter. Max turned 18 in 2000. He voted in that election and as he put is, "unfortunately, my guy lost". Max plans on voting in 2004 as well as working a political campaign upon graduation. "Kucinich is a straight shooter and he knows what he's talking about", says Max, "I've seen him on C-Span raising hell on the floor...he's been in the House of Representatives for a while, he's an honest man and he represents all the liberal and alternative, progressive values that I hold." Max said he discusses politics with many of his friends but at the same time, many are not inclined or are politically aware. He feels that's a shame, but "it takes some people a little bit longer than others. I got involved with a campaign to save the environment a couple of years ago and that acted as a catalyst and was my political introduction." As far as the current administration's adventurous war policies, "I'm sort of thinking Afghanistan was pretty well received and people didn't think much of it, we were caught up in the retaliatory emotion....but Iraq is a different story and I think most people who were ambivalent are out raged at the very least by Bush's policies in Iraq...I think more now than previously but I think it's a good thing that people are starting to pay attention."

MTV's Gideon Yago, excited about the turn out, was looking for a candidate to "say something off the do something to establish themselves among young Democrats, young independents in some sort of dialogue that they can really build on." Yago, who leans toward Dean, responded to an inquiry on the numbers of young supporters of George Bush by saying it was , "not so surprising that young voters in this country typically mimic the country at large...the issues that they care about are different but in terms of you support the President vs. you don't support the President, is pretty much the, you know, the very similar cross section that you're gonna see for the general voting public." Wha? Gideon, please.

While Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, facing his own fledgling campaign, and Wes "I ain't in this mess" Clark, went about militarizing the discourse, Joseph Lieberman, the DLC's man in the Senate from Connecticut, whined his way through the forum, and appeared to have rather been elsewhere, as though having made a bad turn down a corridor in Columbine High. Perhaps he'd hoped his controversial anti-rave bill wouldn't the queries on sexual behavior, which sent him further into Flintstone like, ooohhhhhs.

Emmy Lou Taylor, a 22 year old Masters candidate at Boston University thought the overall debate was "excellent...the candidates stepped out of their traditional roles...stepped out of their traditional 'catch phrases' to really answer questions that people had..and that the young people asked questions that hadn't been asked before...that were pertinent to them". When queried about a debate "winner", Ms. Taylor responded, "...even though he's not my candidate of choice, Dennis Kucinich is always the winner, because I think he's the most articulate and systematic of all the candidates up there, and he always answers the question correctly, he nails it, every time".

This brings, and drags some of us, to explore just why legitimate and qualified candidates like Congressman Kucinich are not receiving fair and equitable coverage by the so-called "mainstream media", even at a rudimentary level. Rep. Kucinich, some would have it, swings from the far-left of the American political spectrum. Articulate and practical, he whispers to future generations with an energy rare in the contact sport campaigns have become. Kucinich, surrounded by a diverse group of activists, is quietly electric. He is most please with the "grass roots organization" of his campaign. "We built an organization in fifty states without any attention from the media", the congressman said. "We've raised over $4 million without any media attention. So this campaign keeps growing despite the fact that we haven't got much coverage, and that's the sign of the staying power of a campaign, because when we get a little bit of coverage, we're gonna start to move very quickly."

Present at the debate was Time Magazine columnist Joe Kline, of "Primary Colors" fame...and it's good he at least wrote that book, though denying it's authorship and going by anonymous until he could just no longer resist the attention. Early on in this campaign cycle, Kline wrote off the Rev. Sharpton, pledging neither to cover nor quote him. "Serious candidates are forced to share the stage with the likes of Al Sharpton", he'd spewed. Sharpton is "not a civil rights leader, but an offensive racial show-off who has no place on the stage." So it was not surprising to see the Rev's and Kline's avoidance of one another in the post-debate "spin room". Yet Kline had interviewed both Lieberman and Dean for CNN following the forum and sparks flew when a Kucinich press aide sought equal treatment. Stepping away and unconsciously into the Kucinich scrum, Klein spoke to the candidate, "I had some guests on the air, I have absolutely no say about who goes on the air." "That's not what he told us", came an aide's response. As the Congressman attempted to smooth things over, a heated Klein responded, "Cut the crap, cut the crap... I'm insulted. Why would you confront me? What I said was I have no say as to who gets a microphone and who goes on the air". "You know what ", said Kucinich, "you're afraid to hear what I have to say. I wish we could open up the perspective on this." "What do you have, two more debates", said Kline, "I made the right decision". Once again the aide piped in, "Maybe you'll reach the young people", to Klein's, "I think I do all right with the young people." "I respect you as a writer...I'm not confronting you", said candidate Kucinich, only to be cut off by Kline's, "I don't want any shit from your're wrong on the're irresponsible...I interview everybody, but I don't agree with most of your policies. The only one of the Democrats that I think is really strange is you." "Well", Kucinich retorted, "everybody else is taking a position of convenience, a popular position . And when I think of what is at stake is a 40 year, 50 year religious war that is being prosecuted in the worst possible way...and they're trying to figure out a way to do it saying U.N. in U.S. out...cause the U.N. ain't comin, so interview me sometime." Kline just walked away.

Jehmu Green of Rock the Vote couldn't have been happier with the event. "Today was the beginning of an amazing conversation", she said.. "The candidates were really addressing young people concerns." But from where I stood, the view was different. There were those who said they were pleased with the status of their efforts, even though the clock was ticking against them. There were "main-stream" media types attempting to play the magus and anoint candidates. There was the dowager wife of a candidate calling the debates, and ergo the process "silly". It was not all that healthy for the youngin's....except for showing them what ought not be.

The nation's youth, with their idealism have an opportunity to peal back the cynicism prevalent in American politics. So I encourage the youth to really rock the vote, and when they see these candidates to show some courtesy, show some sympathy and restraint. ...and on election day...simply shock the crap out of the old school by finding viable alternatives to just muddling through.