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    Democrats Face the YouTube Nation

    Last week, the eight Republican candidates vying for their party’s nomination for the 2008 presidential election met in Florida to answer questions posed by users on the popular video website YouTube. The debate was a first for the Republicans, but the Democrats held their version this past summer to much fanfare by YouTube, television distributor CNN, and the general population. So just how similar (or different) were the two debates?

    On July 23rd, the Democratic candidates took the stage in Charleston, South Carolina for the first-ever YouTube debate. Users were urged to submit questions on the website in the weeks preceding the debate.

    The first questioner of the night asked the candidates why they as president would be any different from past leaders who have all sworn to take action and yet failed to do so once they reached the White House. Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut was the first to answer, claiming that his experience of 26 years in the Senate working with both Republicans as well as Democrats will help him unite the country and bring people together.

    Illinois Senator Barack Obama lies at the other end of experience, with just one term in the federal government under his belt. But his supporters claim that his fresh approach to the governmental workings allow him to be a catalyst for the change that so many people are seeking.

    In contrast with the Republican debate, there were more casual questions asked to the Democratic candidates than their counterparts. Questions like ‘Who would you pick as a Republican running mate?’ and one asked by a concerned and melting snowman are just two examples.’

    Regardless, the issues that were addressed were all ones that have divided the country. Topics like gay marriage and the Iraq war highlighted the evening. Dennis Kucinich remains the only major candidate running in either primary to fully support gay marriage, a position he made clear in the debate to huge applause from the crowd at The Citadel military college.

    Both Obama and Senator John Edwards addressed gay marriage, and while both support strong civil unions, neither went so far as to support marriage between same sex couples.

    The other key topic was the Iraq war. The first question of the evening regarding the war asked the candidates ‘how do we pull out now?’ Obama and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware answered the question by informing the audience that an immediate withdrawal of US forces was an impossibility. Biden said it would take a full year to withdraw the 180,000 troops that are currently stationed in Iraq, and Obama criticized the Bush administration for failing to chastise the Iraqi parliament for taking a month long break in August while our troops remained in harms way.

    Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York defended the Democratic party’s attempts to pass legislation to begin withdrawal of our troops, calling on the Republicans in Congress to join them in pressuring President Bush to set timelines for withdrawal. But Rep. Dennis Kucinich from Ohio called the failure of legislative actions ‘a phony excuse, to say you don’t have the votes.’ Instead, Kucinich suggested that the Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, ‘should tell President Bush ‘no more funds for the war, use that money to brings our troops home.”

    One of the more pointed questions of the evening was addressed to Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, who had previously stated that the troops in Vietnam died in vain. Gravel reiterated his comments and asked viewers ‘what are [the troops] dying for right now in Iraq?’ Obama and Edwards both disagreed with Gravel, not saying the troops died in vain, but were poorly directed into Iraq.

    An interesting difference between the Democratic debate and the Republican one was the number of personal questions. Kucinich was asked if America would be better off with him serving as president (‘I would’), Clinton was asked if she considered herself a liberal (‘I consider myself a modern progressive’) and Obama was asked if he was black enough (‘When I’m catching a cab in Manhattan’hellip;I’m given my credentials.’)

    Race was another key topic in the debate. One YouTube user asked the candidates if they thought African-Americans should receive reparations for slavery. Edwards said he is not in favor of reparations, Obama said as reparations we need to focus on the school system, and once again Kucinich was the only candidate on stage in favor of reparations.

    Also, the issue of race as it related to Hurricane Katrina was brought up by a YouTube user. Dodd called the handling of the aftermath of Katrina ‘a mark of shame.’

    Several other questions addressed throughout the evening touched on social security, religion in the US, and healthcare. For the full debate, go to: www.youtube.com/democraticdebate.

    Critics of the debate question CNN’s question-picking. Thousands of videos were submitted, and there was some speculation that a few more pressing topics, like talks of impeachment for President Bush and Vice President Cheney, were left out of the debate despite being the most popular questions on the YouTube community.

    Secondly, Republicans felt the questions that were chosen didn’t challenge the candidates enough. The cries became even louder following the Republican YouTube debate, arguing that the questions asked to the Republicans were more pointed than those asked to the Democrats.

    This was just the first year of this style of debate. As the internet and its uses continue to multiply, the discourse of US politics will appropriately change with it. These debates-featuring user-generated questions-are likely to continue in coming elections. And if they do, we very well may have witnessed history these past few weeks.

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