Democratic Hopefuls Score Bush
One of two African Americans now in the Democratic race, Sharpton attacked Bush as hypocritical on racial issues, calling him the ultimate example of someone who has benefited from affirmative action.
"He went to undergraduate school under preferences," Sharpton said to laughter and then applause from the audience. "He went to graduate school under preferences. He's the ultimate recipient of a set-aside program. The Supreme Court set aside a whole election to make him president of the United States."
In the final minutes of his speech, Sharpton sought to confront criticism that his history of racial agitation and exploitation disqualifies him as serious presidential candidate. "Everybody in politics has baggage," he said. "Just some folks have enough money; when they check into a hotel, they get others to carry their bags."
He also tried to rebut charges from Democrats who fear he has no loyalty to the party and could disrupt efforts to energize African American voters. On both days, McAuliffe asked the candidates to pledge that they will support the party's nominee in 2004, a message aimed most directly at Sharpton.
Noting that he has been called "the nightmare of the Democrats," Sharpton said that "sometimes when you're asleep, what you think is a nightmare may be a wake-up call. I want this party that I'm a member of, that my mother's a member of, to wake up and stand up for all Americans."
Kucinich, who jumped into the race last week, used his allotted 10 minutes to show that he is the most relentlessly antiwar candidate in the Democratic field. "I led 126 Democrats, nearly two-thirds of the Democratic caucus [in the House], to oppose the Iraq resolution," he said as he argued that the White House has failed to make a convincing case to attack Iraq.
"Iraq was not responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon," he said. "Iraq has not been credibly linked to al Qaeda's role in 9/11. Iraq was not responsible for the anthrax attack on our nation. Iraq does not have the technology to strike at this nation. Iraq does not have nuclear weapons."
Instead of war, Kucinich said U.S. policy should focus on containing Hussein. "Inspections are necessary, war is not," he said. "This war is wrong. This war will put the lives of millions of . . . innocent people at risk."
On Friday, the Democrats heard from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), former Illinois senator Carol Moseley-Braun and former Vermont governor Howard Dean.
The only announced candidate who did not speak was Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who was scheduled on yesterday's program but had to miss the event because he is recovering from prostate cancer surgery. Kerry spent his weekend courting Democratic officials at his home and was on the phone yesterday afternoon making fundraising calls to Iowa.
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