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LIVE & DIRECT: Presidential Candidates Forum

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PROFILE IN COURAGE: John Edwards works the crowd

amyzquinn.thumbnail.jpgAMY Z. QUINN REPORTS: Today I liveblogged ACORN’s presidential forum at Bright Hope Baptist Church at 12th and Columbia in North Philadelphia. Mayor-apparent Mike Nutter spoke, followed by his political frenemy, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, but the big names were presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards. Here’s a stitched-together version of the day’s events, stinkin’ inverted triangle be damned.

About Bright Hope Baptist Church: It isn’t a terribly fancy church, especially for someone used to the Catholic more-is-more approach to things like marble, paintings and fancy vestments. Bright Hope is is all wood tones, mod early-60s light fixtures and straight-backed pews. (The Reverend Martin Luther King delivered Bright Hope’s innaugural sermon back in the day.) But behind you, from a stained glass window stretching across the back of the church, Black Jesus is watching your back, and it gives the whole place a sense of reverence. Maybe it was the church setting, or perhaps ACORN’s emphasis on issues related to poverty, but about the only Democratic talking points nobody went near were abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

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You can’t say Hillary Clinton didn’t learn a bit about politicking from her Old Man. Fresh from addressing the National Education Association convention downtown, she strode to the lectern at the Bright Hope amid cheers and chants and immediately remarked how much like a revival meeting it seemed. Then, the money quote: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
But she was only a few minutes into her remarks when things almost got ugly inside the house of the Lord: A guy wearing a knitted Muslim skullcap and hoisting what I assume was a copy of the Koran stood up in the long middle aisle and started hollering. It took a minute for people to realize he was screaming “Allah Akbar!”

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With so many Secret Service guys crawling around, you’d think it might have gotten all “24” really quickly. Interestingly, nobody seemed all that phased, except for the black Church Ladies who stood up and tried to shout the guy down. The lady sitting in front of me was bellowing “IN THE NAME OF JESUS, I BIND YOU!”
Finally Pastor Kevin Johnson took the mic and shamed the guy into temporary silence, and a group of Secret Service-looking dudes and ACORN members led the guy out, still waving his Koran and shouting.

After running through the Democrats’ Greatest Hits — Bush’s incompetence, the FEMA incompetence that “turned a natural disaster into a national disgrace,” universal preschool, living wage — Clinton left the stage on a second wave of applause and set off a line of people headed toward the exits.

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Dennis Kucinich was next, accompanied by his Marcia Cross-lookalike wife, who is actually stunning even from all the way across the church. She sat serenely in the front pew, staring at him admiringly while he talked about growing up poor, living in a car, youngest of seven kids, etc etc.
This guy’s a fireball on the stump, let me tell you. He got a huge response from this crowd, hitting on all the right uber-liberal notes: Universal healthcare, voting rights, universal preschool, sensible immigration policy, and anti-privatization. Dropped some Spanish. Proposed a moratorium on home foreclosure. Wants to restructure the Federal Reserve, which he says serves the needs of the private banking industry and not citizens.
Used the Bible story about Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego to talk about bringing people out of the “fiery furnace” of worship of money and capitalism. “At the core of this country’s immigration policy is the exploitation of human beings” and a class of slave laborers. “NAFTA was the lie that was sold to the American people.”
“Whenever I mention universal health care down in Washington the first question is always: How are you going to pay for it?” said Kucinich. “Funny, they ask that about the war.”

Place goes ballistic.

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John Edwards is next, looking tanned and still talking about the “two Americas,” that good rhetorical idea that unfortunately didn’t translate into a good speech at the ‘04 Convention.
He wants to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 and index it so it increases with the rate of inflation and guarantee a free college tuition (with books) to any high school graduate who agrees to work 10 hours a week. Talking about organized labor: “If you can join the Republican party by signing a card, any worker in America ought to be able to join a union just as easily.”
Calls for a national commission to monitor the credit and banking industries, and echoed Fattah’s call for a “National Home Fund” to help people stave off home foreclosure.
Because a panel of ACORN members all each asked the candidates the same questions, and because each espoused a variation of the Democratic agenda, it was difficult at times to tell their responses apart other than the applause lines, like the one Edwards used regarding immigration: “It’s not right to have one class of citizens and to have a second class of laborers.”
Edwards also called for the creation of 1 million new Section 8 housing vouchers, but said that also requires a commitment to “rebuilding and restocking” affordable housing within cities. Edwards calls Bush’s response to Katrina “a complete failure of presidential leadership,” says he’d have a top-level administrator to meet with him daily to deal specificially with Katrina recovery.
“How about instead of having New Orleans rebuilt by huge multinational coprorations like halliburton, we have New Orleans rebuilt by the people of the city of New Orleans?” Proposes the creation of a New Deal WPA-style job corps to do just that. Crowd likes this idea. A lot.

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