Friday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
February 27, 2004 8:07PM (UTC)

The composite candidate
You hear Howard Dean supporters snidely remark that John Kerry co-opted their candidate's anti-Bush tone once Kerry saw how popular it was with Democratic voters. At the candidates debate in Los Angeles Thursday night, according to one newspaper account, a Dean fan ripped a Kerry sign off a rail, saying: "You stole our message. We can steal your sign." Now, the New York Times says, Kerry's channeling that son-of-a-mill-worker John Edwards, too, borrowing heavily from his populist message and engaging manner.

"Mr. Kerry is talking nonstop about job losses, about the 'haves and have-nots,' about hardship and heartache in the industrial heartland. He is even surrounding himself with mill workers to prove his point -- and retelling their stories about as often as Mr. Edwards mentions that he grew up in a textile town and saw the broken spirits of those whom global trade left behind.

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"Mr. Kerry's transformation into an empathetic candidate with a decidedly blue collar on his navy pinstriped suit began months ago as he struggled to connect with audiences put off by his patrician manner and emotional distance. It has taken on new significance, however, since the Democratic race narrowed to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards, whose affability, speaking style and up-from-the-bootstraps biography stand in contrast to Mr. Kerry's Boston Brahmin image and background. And it will be even more vital, Democratic strategists say, should Mr. Kerry win the nomination and take on a president whose popularity is based largely on his regular-guy, emotionally direct appeal."

Gay marriage dominates
John Kerry complains that President Bush is making gay marriage a central campaign issue because he wants to distract voters from his record on the economy, health care and the war in Iraq. But the Boston Globe reports that gay marriage dominated last night's debate anyway -- something Kerry said was playing right into Bush's hands. "This discussion we've just had is exactly where the Republicans want us to spend our time," Kerry said.

"The marriage debate, coming a few hours after the actress Rosie O'Donnell wed her longtime partner in San Francisco, inspired a range of passions from the candidates. Kerry, who opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions, accused Bush of proposing a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage to win Republican votes, and said that Americans should allow the states to decide how to create arrangements for gay couples."

"Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, said that Bush's proposal was an affront to American history. 'We have amended the United States Constitution to end slavery, to give women the right to vote -- this is clearly nothing but politics,' Edwards said. Sharpton, meanwhile, said the president was exploiting the marriage issue to woo Republicans, and accused him of doing the same in the last election by pitting white voters' interests against those of minorities."

"Bush is trying to go from race baiting with quotas in 2000 to gay baiting in 2004," Sharpton said. "The issue in 2004 is not if gays marry. The issue is not who you go to bed with. The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning." Dennis Kucinich supports gay marriage.

Kerry: I'd like to strangle him
The TalkLeft blog looks at where Kerry and Edwards stand on the death penalty and medicinal marijuana -- and finds that these candidates, who so often choose to distinguish themselves from Bush more than each other, have differing views.

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In a question that raised the specter of Michael Dukakis in 1988 being asked whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife were murdered, Kerry was asked what he thought should happen to a child killer. In response, "Kerry said his instinct 'is to want to strangle that person with my own hands.' But the Massachusetts senator, a former prosecutor, quickly added that he favors the death penalty only for cases of terrorism. Edwards, a Southern-bred politician, differed, saying there are other crimes that 'deserve the ultimate punishment.' He cited as an example the killers of James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death from a pickup truck in 1998 in Texas."

On medicinal marijuana, Kerry would stop the Drug Enforcement Administration raids on seriously ill medical marijuana patients as president. Edwards has publicly stated that he thinks it would be "irresponsible" to end the Justice Department's policy of arresting patients and caregivers who defy federal law, TalkLeft says.

Dean, Trippi woo Deaniacs
The battle for the hearts and minds of the legions of passionate Howard Dean supporters started even before the former Vermont governor stopped campaigning. Now, the Los Angeles Times says Howard Dean and his former campaign manager Joe Trippi are heading separate efforts to harness the grass-roots Dean support. "Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who has kept a low profile since pulling out of the presidential race last week, said that he will lay out his plans for a new grass-roots organization focused on issues such as universal healthcare and campaign finance reform March 18. Meanwhile, Dean's former campaign manager, Joe Trippi, has proceeded with his own organization Change ForAmerica.com to promote the principles of Dean's insurgent candidacy."

"It remains unclear whether Trippi's nascent group will eventually merge with the group that the former governor is putting together. 'We're committed to Gov. Dean and helping him,' Trippi said in an interview. 'Whether that turns out to be an official thing, I don't know.'"

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Scalia's other hunting trip
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has faced pressure to recuse himself from a high court case involving his friend and duck-hunting partner Dick Cheney. The Los Angeles Times was out in front in reporting on the questionable Cheney duck-hunting excursion, and now the paper shows that this behavior seems to be a pattern with Scalia. "Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was the guest of a Kansas law school two years ago and went pheasant hunting on a trip arranged by the school's dean, all within weeks of hearing two cases in which the dean was a lead attorney," the Times says.

"The cases involved issues of public policy important to Kansas officials. Accompanying Scalia on the November 2001 hunting trip were the Kansas governor and the recently retired state Senate president, who flew with Scalia to the hunting camp aboard a state plane. Two weeks before the trip, University of Kansas School of Law Dean Stephen R. McAllister, along with the state's attorney general, had appeared before the Supreme Court to defend a Kansas law to confine sex offenders after they complete their prison terms. Two weeks after the trip, the dean was before the high court to lead the state's defense of a Kansas prison program for treating sex criminals."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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