(Photos: The story-filing room and me and Rep. Clyburn)
I was still in South Carolina, hanging out at the CNN filing room, waiting for the Democratic primary debate to begin. Oh, and last night the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce representative recommended that I eat dinner at The Sea Captain's House seafood restaurant. Crab soft as butter! Scallops, flounder, oysters, shrimp salad. And did I mention the incredible key lime pie? But I digress.
Back to the debate.
I was still looking for a story that had a good hook. So I called the Kucinich headquarters in Columbia. They were planning a show of support for Dennis outside the Palace Theatre right before the debate. Good. I'm glad that Kucinich hasn't given up and bowed to media pressure to abandon the race. Chuck Norris should be supporting Kucinich instead of Huckabee because Kucinich is definitely a "Force of One". But Kucinich wasn't in town at this time and I needed a story hook NOW. Hillary was nowhere to be found and Obama was in Georgia or something. Maybe John Edwards was around?
"Take me over to the Edwards headquarters," I begged a CNN driver. She did. At the Edwards headquarters, however, I still couldn't find a good story. Edwards' parents were in town and they were amazing. Maybe I could interview them. Maybe I could write something from the senior citizen angle. Hey, I'm old!
But as I got to talking with the campaign volunteers, another idea for a hook started to form in my head as we talked. "You know that the European stock market went negative on us this morning?" I asked. "And things are starting to get violent again in Iraq...." And then it hit me. I've found my hook. The way to determine who to vote for during Campaign 2008 was simply to ask yourself the following question: "If things fall apart in America in 2009 as a result of us having to endure eight long hard years of total Bush-Cheney neo-con mismanagement and the entire Middle East finally explodes and the economy finally tanks, who would you like to see in the White House?" Assuming of course that GWB is safely off in Leavenworth, Diebold keeps their hands off the ballot boxes and we have an actual President once again?
The first person I came across to ask this question to was a reporter in the CNN spin room. "I think Hillary could handle a major crisis," he said. "Obama? Not enough experience. McCain? Not flexible enough. He's got a one-track mind -- supporting the weapons industry. Manufacturing weapons just isn't a solution to any real problem. Not in the long run. And Huckabee may be a nice guy but you know what they say about nice guys. Edwards could do it. Hillary and Edwards. I'd say either of those two."
Then I asked another reporter -- hey, there are 412 reporters in the filing room. I do what I can with what I've got -- about that and got another answer altogether. "I disagree with the question because who I want in the worst of times would be the same person I would want in the best of times. The question still is who do I think would be the best person. And who would that be? To quote the bartender at the Stony Creek bar in Iowa, "I'll wait until the final election comes and then I'll only have to chose between two of them.' All the candidates have significant drawbacks. I haven't the foggiest idea. Ask me again after the debate is over and I've been at the open bar for a few hours."
Another reporter said, "I'd want McCain." Why? "He's older. He's seen it all. But I'm voting for Obama. He doesn't have as much experience but he has the good sense to hire good advisers and to listen to them. Hillary doesn't have all that much experience but she's got Bill -- and he's actually been there and done that and done a good job at it too. Huckabee scares the hell out of me."
But then Rep. James Clyburn, the House's majority whip, walked by my desk and I asked the same question of him. "Who would I want in the White House during a time of great crisis?" he replied. "Me!"
PS: After a while I got bored with hanging around the story-filing room, crossed the expressway, passed the NASCAR Bar and Grill and walked over to watch the debate in the flesh. And what I saw was inspiring -- not the candidates themselves, we all know what they look like and what they have to say. No, the inspiration came from the audience. 45 years ago, the South was a segregated place where Jim Crow ruled supreme. In the spring of 1964, eight months pregnant with my daughter Lorraine, I marched in Montgomery with Martin Luther King and we all dreamed of a time and place where there would be no segregation.
Today, Dr. King, on a day honoring you, I want you to know that your dream has finally come true. Today, the audience at the Palace Theatre was completely and totally integrated. And I found myself standing in that audience with tears in my eyes.
But then someone noticed that I didn't have a ticket and the Secret Service threw me out of the venue and I was totally humiliated and slunk back to the story-filing room with my tail between my legs. But there, for just one brief moment, I STOOD ON THE MOUNTAINTOP with the spirit of Martin Luther King! We all stood on the mountaintop.
May the non-violent spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King watch out after all of us -- because if we are to live up to the full potential of America's history of democratic idealism, we are going to need all the help we can get.
And then the debate actually started. Fireworks! Wow! Better than a reality show. And then the debate actually started. Fireworks! Wow! Better than a reality show. And then CNN announced that Hillary and Obama "dominated" the debate. Maybe. But Edwards won it.