Larry King Live with John Edwards And Al Sharpton

And our special guest: a thinking head from Massachusetts

American public life is anti-intellectual, which explains the success of Larry King, Mel Gibson and – listen up, John Kerry – John Edwards.

King, who says he would rather interview Michael Jackson than Saddam Hussein, kept the CNN Democratic presidential debate from getting intellectual. That’s his job. And so the consensus of press coverage was that the “Larry King Live” debate was about same-sex marriage and the death penalty, not jobs and health care.

Sen. Kerry made his move to introduce “real” issues and take control even before the first commercial break in the 90-minute show from the USC campus in Los Angeles. It failed.

“We’re doing just what the Republicans want us to do,” Kerry said. Namely, under Larry King’s skilled direction they were mired in self-destructive debate over symbolic issues created by the White House to divert attention from substantive issues like, as Kerry put it, 43 million Americans without health care.

“You know,” he said of George W. Bush, “this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can’t come to America and talk about jobs.”

Not so fast there, gentleman from Massachusetts.

This was celebrity cable, and the show was just getting started. The Rev. Al Sharpton had not yet delivered his one-liner, which became the quote of the day: “The issue is not who you go to bed with. The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning.” Dennis Kucinich, waving his hand like a school kid in the back of the room, wanted recognition.

And Sen. Edwards was not through dramatizing his biography as the son of a southern mill worker (as opposed to Eastern rich kid). He joined with King in keeping the psycho-sexual issues on the table. “People are going to consider these other things. And for us to assume that that’s not true is just a fantasy. It’s not true. We need a candidate at the top of this ticket who can connect with voters everywhere in America. And if we don’t have that, we’re going to be in trouble,” Edwards said.
The discussion eventually did come around to the issue of jobs, and it did demonstrate the substantial difference between Kerry and Edwards, although the defining exchange did not appear in the news coverage I read.

Kerry presented a characteristically complex, self-protective, series of arguments – on the relationship of employee health care benefits to outsourcing, on the balance between free trade and protectionism, on the economic reality that some jobs can’t be kept home, on the effect of tax policy on off-shore production, and so forth.

Edwards pounced. See, in case you hadn’t heard, he grew up in a mill town. He didn’t see factory closings as some big intellectual problem to be discussed in Washington. He knew the heartbreak. He would do something about it.

Exactly what was not clear, but Edwards ticked off the free trade agreements including NAFTA that he opposed and Kerry voted for in the Senate. Edwards, once a trial lawyer, took the same emotion-evoking line in a previous debate: imagining the mill worker trudging home and having to tell his small daughter that his job is gone. Kerry, on the other hand, evokes responsible economics.

At the end of the CNN debate came the ultimate California trivia question: should the Constitution be amended to allow foreign-born Americans (Arnold Shwarzenegger) to be president? “I haven’t thought about it,” said Kerry.

“Think about it,” ordered King.

Advice to Kerry: don’t. Just say no. Don’t let them get you thinking in public. Also, lay off the hair spray, delete “notwithstanding” from your vocabulary.

Oh, and concerning Mad Max and the ultimate anti-intellectual death penalty movie:

The political execution of Jesus is only the first half of the story, the easy half. The hard part, which anti-intellectual American materialists would rather not deal with, is the resurrection. You cannot be a Christian and deny the resurrection. Without it, Christianity is politics, not religion.