Senator Mary Landrieu and State Treasurer John Kennedy met for the second of four debates tonight in Baton Rouge, an event that was televised statewide by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and sponsored by the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL).
I have to admit: I found Treasurer Kennedy to be a skilled debater, not necessarily in substance but in style. He displayed his ability to sound like a folksy government watchdog, which, of course, belies his high-fallutin’ education at Vanderbilt, UVA, and Oxford as well as his years in the high levels of state government, both as a Democrat and a Republican.
Which is why Mr. Kennedy’s angle seemed particularly disingenuous and bizarre. He began and ended the debate by reminding Louisianans that he is the “only candidate” in the race who is supporting Senator McCain and not Senator Obama, and he seemed, throughout the night, more focused on the dynamics of the national political landscape (which, ironically, currently favor Mr. Obama; it’d seem like a better strategy if Mr. McCain was the out-and-out front-runner) than on the issues that face the Great State of Louisiana.
In other words, it appears as if Kennedy is amping up his upticket alliances, which is, again, bizarre, because Mr. Kennedy only recently switched to the Republican Party and had opposed Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Now, suddenly, he is a conservative Republican who seeks to exploit his newly-developed alliances in order to gain an election victory. Only two years after he was elected as a Democrat, he now embraces “conservative change.”
When addressing the trillion dollar market collapse and the government response, Kennedy suggested, with some degree of specificity, that the government would have been better off creating a “quasi-governmental” corporation with a nest egg of only $50 or so million to begin buying off “mortgage-backed securities from the banks.” With all due respect to our Treasurer, his plan, which sounds to be equally as “socialistic” as anyone else’s, appears to woefully misunderstand and underestimate the severity and the extent of this current financial crisis. And after suggesting a taxpayer investment of at least $50 million, Kennedy then says his plan would not call for any taxpayer dollars, a curious claim that was directly contradicted by his previous statement. How can anything be “quasi-governmental” and not involve the expenditure of taxpayer dollars? Now is not the time to be cute or to suggest that you alone know the panacea. I know I am not the only one who believes it is foolish and sophomoric to suggest that a $50 million project could solve a $1 trillion problem.
Landrieu, on the other hand, argues for taxpayer protection by suggesting government shares in the banks in which we all invest, which can ensure that we all receive a return on our investment, and by guaranteeing loans between banks, solid ideas that have bipartisan support.
Kennedy, in an attempt to attack Landrieu on FEMA, of all things, made the brazenly audacious claim that she alone was responsible for FEMA. With all due respect to Treasurer Kennedy, if he believes that the head of a Senate Subcommittee for Disaster Relief controls FEMA (a position we should be thankful to have represented by someone from our Great State), he should be immediately considered disqualified for the office. Such an expression fundamentally misunderstands the checks and balances of government and the nature of FEMA. He attempted to suggest that Landrieu “controls FEMA,” which is simply and patently absurd. President Bush controls FEMA. Period.
Landrieu took responsibility for her vote to authorize force in Iraq, recognizing that it was a mistake and expressing her belief that the money spent in Iraq could have been better spent here in the United States and on fighting the war on bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, while Mr. Kennedy preferred speaking about the “success” of the surge, when, in fact, he had supported timetables only three years ago.
Mr. Kennedy also rehearsed a litany of examples on the evils of earmarks, lambasting federal appropriations for scientific research and music education for children. Yet, when questioned on how he would address appropriations for university research here in Louisiana, Kennedy seemed to struggle, arguing, for the first time that I have heard in this election, that there were good “earmarks,” and, ironically, echoing Senator Landrieu’s call for transparency in the process. In doing so, Treasurer Kennedy undermined his entire argument against the “evils” of earmarks, while, at the same time, obviously and blatantly misrepresenting Landrieu’s beliefs on the subject.
Kennedy couldn’t offer an adequate answer about how to attract young people to government work, offering only a bland explanation about his infrequent joys of serving the public; whereas Senator Landrieu referenced specific examples of programs that work and the importance of groups like Teach for America.
Unfortunately, throughout the debate, Treasurer Kennedy consistently and overtly lied and misrepresented Senator Landrieu’s record as well as the implications of her policy positions, at several points falsely suggesting that her health care plans would strip Louisianans of their Medicaid coverage and would leave millions without insurance. This is not accurate, and it fundamentally misrepresents the bipartisan plan that Senator Landrieu and her “Gang of Fourteen” are promoting. Instead of debating specifics, Mr. Kennedy filled in his criticism with the standard tropes of “socialized healthcare.” He flat-out lied about the contents and the intentions of her proposals, and as the Senator noted, “he’s very confused about a lot of things in this race.” Kennedy also promoted the supremacy of the private sector in responding to health care problems, which the Senator strongly disputed and, in light of the recent market disaster, resonates.
Landrieu was strong, articulate, and effective in this debate, and by the end, she had pierced through Kennedy’s central claim to this election: An incredibly weak attempt to link himself to John McCain.
At the conclusion of the debate, after Landrieu had successfully confronted Kennedy for his opposition to a farmer’s relief bill for the farmers of Louisiana (which will prove to be permanently embarassing to Mr. Kennedy), he attempted to turn the conversation back to the national election, repeatedly asking Landrieu why she supported Mr. Obama.
Which led to the quote of this election:
“John, I know you’re trying very hard, but Senator McCain’s coattails are not long enough for you.”
– Mary Landrieu