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I’ve been watching Charlie Rose for a long time. He’s a great interviewer given the breadth of topics he attempts to cover, even if I find some conversations less than thorough. His special series, The Candidates, is turning out to be a very revealing look at the candidates. Mike Huckabee, Bill Richardson, John McCain, and John Edwards have already been interviewed.

I always feeling like commenting on the people and topics he covers on his show, but it was really John Edwards’ outstanding conversation with him that aired on November 29, 2007 that inspired me to put this post together (Find his towards the bottom). The Candidates series is truly great. It’s completely unimaginable to find the candidates in a discourse resembling anything similar in any other place. I can’t wait to see Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul on the program and I especially hope he gets Mike Gravel on as well. I think Chris Dodd and Joseph Biden will also present themselves extremely well and be inspiring to hear. I wonder how Barak Obama will come across after listening to John Edwards frame their primary different (the means of change, rather than the goal)? I have a feeling Hillary Clinton will be allusive and vague and college kids nationwide should take the opportunity to take a drink whenever Clinton says, “Well, Charlie” because I can see it being her mantra for the night.

Too bad these interviews are on PBS- or rather, too bad so much of our society seems to be allergic to PBS… Charlie Rose @ 12:00AM EST Mon-Fri. Set your TiVos people, or at least watch the free videos online.

Mike Huckabee showed how and why he marries social conservatism with somewhat populist policies and ideas… which, to me, seems a natural position for anyone who takes the principles of their faith sincerely. I’ll be curious to see how he does in the south, a region that was traditionally a Democratic bloc until the Southern Strategy made racism work for the republicans. Will the mixed message of populist philosophies and two scoops of Jesus under a Republican cape get traction where you might think it should? I was actually quite impressed by Huckabee in this interview, my first real exposure to him. Even though I won’t be voting for him, he scores well on my integrity barometer. watch for yourself

I thought Bill Richardson struggled throughout his interview to give credibility to his candidacy. He told Charlie he’s not running for a VP nomination but the credentials he list scream VP. He also had a tough time putting meat on the skeleton of ideas he’s cobbled together. He has the list of tasks but it didn’t seem like he had a real strategy to take them on. That might not be so different from all the other candidates, but he didn’t reposition his responses either, he just kind of fell flat. watch for yourself

John McCain came across better than I expected. He powered through most of the interview but couldn’t quite sell the notion that he hasn’t changed any of his positions to be more appealing to the Republican ‘base’ – whoever they might be. He also seemed to be caught up on both sides of a few issues, and luckily for him, Charlie Rose isn’t the kind of interviewer to go for the kill. If he were, it may have looked more like that daily show episode. I was split. watch for yourself

Sorry, the Daily Show clip with John McCain just mentioned should be embedded here but WordPress doesn’t seem to like it – try the link instead I guess. If you know how to apply this let me know in a comment, please.

Another telling moment from John McCain – he says his first paying job was delivering papers… the Washington Post… “luckily he didn’t read them or he might have wound up a Democrat.” READ – if he had been exposed to a wider variety of news, views, and opinions he might have found them more compelling and become a Democrat… just what we need, another president who doesn’t read.

Lately, mcCain has been pushing the line that before the ‘surge’ tactic came along last spring, he was the most ardent critic of the the administration’s prosecution of the war. This is a major positioning point he’s taking for his campaign. unfortunately, it’s not really true, as the folks over a Crooks & Liars have pointed out.

Here’s a few quotes they’ve gathered:

    “It’s clear that the end is very much in sight.” [ABC, 4/9/03]

    “This is a mission accomplished. They know how much influence Saddam Hussein had on the Iraqi people, how much more difficult it made to get their cooperation.” [This Week, ABC, 12/14/03]

    “I’m confident we’re on the right course.” [ABC News, 3/7/04]

    “I think the initial phases of it were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.” [CBS, 10/31/04]

read more…

John Edwards was the most recent candidate to be interviewed. I was almost blown away – almost. It almost made me forget he was a trial lawyer! I have always held the position that he was a self-serving Ken doll who knew what it meant to be a politician. That said, he had a fantastic interview. He came across as a true populist. He owned is past mistakes – or what populist voters see as mistakes anyway. He got the message that Americans are thinking they might want to actually hear some truth this time around. He didn’t run from his NAFTA vote or his recent stint with the hedge fund. In fact, he says he was ‘guilty’ of ‘refusing to indite the system that is corrupt’ as the other Democratic senators (4 of them) are now, and that it’s too easy to get caught up in a mentality that ‘this is just the way it is’ and then ‘operate within the system’ for a business as usual Washington.

He stated his intentions to withdraw all ‘combat’ from Iraq, and when questioned at to what combat troops entails made clear that it was basically everyone that wasn’t defending the embassy, should it be able to remain functional. He indicated he’s looking to move the US force in the region back to Kuwait and any carrier groups in the Gulf. He said he’d be looking to take on the big fight, the lobbyists, the revolving door relationship between legislature and the lobbying/corporate world, and campaign reform, insisting that we need to institute mandated, publicly funded campaigns and remove the moneyed influence if we are to fulfill our democracy.

While Hillary Clinton is often portrayed as the double-speaking establishment candidate (crazy, right?), Edwards and Obama are usually lumped together as having similar agendas, and separated based on their status as either being a real-life version of a 60’s era toy icon who’s got an attackable voting record or a charismatic black guy with essentially no voting record to attack. Right here in the interview, he establishes their differences – he plans to ‘reclaim democracy for the majority of americans’ by storming the castle if need be, while Barak Obama has much of the same goal for change, he’s taken the position that he’s going to take a conciliatory approach, and compromise for change – if that’s possible. John Edwards, in his view, is going to fight for change, and Obama is going to compromise for change, and likely get bogged down in that business as usual.

It was refreshing! It was the kind of argument for change I expect to hear from Kucinich, not from an anointed ‘contender.’ He brought the kind of urgent message of change and sense of resolve and commitment to that message that I hear from Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul. watch for yourself

One true consistency about these interviews, Charlie Rose wants to know about the candidates plans for education… he asks about education, and invariably the politicians in each of them say, “I’m for better education!” No shit, I was really worried you were going to be for WORSE education. He actually follows up well-enough though and asks about merit pay and their thoughts on the influence of teachers’ unions and the ability to close poorly performing schools. It’s interesting, mainly because it’s one of those subjects that candidates bring out as point of progress they’ll make but don’t really have defined action plans for – so it’s a good chance to see how well they can think off script, and where their unpolished views lead them. It’s one of the places I thought McCain faltered – he got trapped in a position where he was advocated merit pay but was equivocated on whether he could resolve it with his deep-spending-cuts fiscal conservatism. It highlighted a huge issue Republicans have had for a long time. They want to reduce spending, but they want to get elected, so they rely on the voter to not reconcile the the mutual exclusivity of spending-cuts with the effect on the social programs on which they depend.

Something else to note, these guys are all likable, well intentioned people. I would have loved to see how George Bush’s jock-ish arrogance would have come across in a long pre-presidency interview like this… we all know how he acts in his role as the DECIDER.