Just when it appeared that Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain might both self-destruct in a demolition derby of character assassination, along came the Al Gore-Bill Bradley debate. The high decibel, raucous, celebrity-dotted one at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem sponsored by CNN, Time and the WWF. Call it “Pandermania I.”
This exercise in recrimination, revisionism and rank rejoinders was enough to get Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale and George McGovern looking for their running shoes again. Gore and Bradley forensically flogged each other and tripped over the truth in blatantly pandering to America’s black voters — especially when it came to who was more opposed to racial profiling and more in favor of affirmative action. Neither, however, thought much of Bob Jones University, which doesn’t even have a basketball team.
Bradley won on points if extra credit is given for “white skin privilege” references (4) and sheer persistence of stagecraft. The former New Jersey senator tried repeatedly to reacquaint Gore with the documentation of his five senate votes between 1979 and 1981 to preserve tax-exempt status for colleges that racially discriminate.
It was somehow fitting that the Rev. Al Sharpton was accorded the evening’s leadoff question. It was on racial profiling and police brutality and was framed in the perception that “Many in our community have to live in fear of both the cops and the robbers.”
Too bad that neither candidate had the guts — and indifference to Democratic Party sacrilege and political suicide — to frame the first answer this way: “Many in your community also have to live in fear of professional race baiters who feed off and foment fears, stereotypes and rumors to advance their own agendas.”
Little Richard, where were you when we needed you?