On Monday, November 19, Chris Matthews hosted Democratic Presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun on the fifth edition of ‘Hardball: Battle for the White House.’ The series, co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG), airs live on MSNBC and gives members of the Harvard community an opportunity to ask Democratic Presidential candidates direct questions about their qualifications and their campaigns.
As in prior weeks, the JFK Forum at the KSG was filled to capacity with students and faculty eager to hear from Braun, one of the more well-known candidates, if not a front runner for the Democratic nomination. A lawyer with a strong record of public service, Carol Moseley Braun made history in 1992 when she became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate and the first female senator elected by the state of Illinois. Most recently, Braun has served as the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand (1999-2001) and has taught law and political science at Morris Brown College in Atlanta and DePaul University in Chicago.
In the minutes before the show, Matthews broke from his traditional crowd warm-up technique and set the stage for a dialectical evening. Rather than quizzing members of the Harvard audience on political history, Matthews asked participants to state a belief with which no one, or few present, would agree. While one student’s assertion that “Yale will win the football game,” was met with laughter, the more contentious statements elicited a mix of hisses and cheers. Ranging from beliefs such as “all abortions should be banned” and “firearms should be banned” to “castration should be the mandatory punishment for rape,” the warm-up exercise sparked debate within the crowd and set a more feisty tone for the evening.
True to form, Chris Matthews wasted no time with formalities. As soon as the crowd began to settle, Matthews fired his first question to Carol Braun at breakneck speed, “Tomorrow morning you wake up, you’re the president of the United States. What would you do in Iraq?”
Braun replied, “What would I do in Iraq? I would call the United Nations and I would call our allies around the world and offer them all Krispy Kreme’s and make up and engage them in…helping us to come out with honor.”
Donuts aside, Braun acknowledged that resolving tensions with the U.N. would not be an easy task. When asked why the President has failed in this regard, she offered, “I think because they started off with a flawed concept, they didn’t have an exit strategy. They didn’t have a plan. They just went in there like desperadoes and…thumbed their nose at the international community.”
Matthew then spent several moments pressing a reluctant Braun on why the U.S. went to war with Iraq, who claimed that it was not her place to speculate. Braun eventually offered, “because they have a view of the world that doesn’t comport with any reality I understand.” Braun continued, “They thought that they could fight a mechanized, computerized war, push some buttons, blow stuff up, and then be welcomed as liberators…and the problem is that they went in without thinking through what they were doing, what relationship it had toward the domestic security of the American people.”
Switching to Braun’s campaign, Matthews focused on the fundraising challenges facing Braun, questioning her ability to remain in the race through the primaries. “How do you compete against guys like Dean who can raise $25 million?” Matthews asked. Braun’s response: “You just keep going. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep going.” Braun also continued to insist that “We’re in it to win it,” in response to fundraising questions, the possibility of Hilary Clinton entering the race, and when asked whether or not she would accept the vice presidential ticket. However, despite Braun’s insistence, her “in it to win it” claim rang hollow, and elicited further questions from Matthews and the audience.
Braun also used several questions as opportunities to speak out on education and education reform. When a participant asked for her views on the “No Child Left Behind” Act signed by President George W. Bush, Braun remarked, “Also known as no child left untested or no behind left…the national government ought to be supporting teachers and parents and communities to provide quality education …instead of just punishing them for their inability to make the grade on some set of facts. ” Braun continued “It’s an unfunded mandate that is going to give rise to property tax increases, and essentially destroy the abilities of many communities that are trying to create good public schools.”
As usual, Matthews finished on a lighter note with a series of personal questions for the candidate. Braun declared The Wizard of Oz her favorite movie and Descartes her favorite philosopher. Her favorite musician? “A tie. Keith Jarrett and John Coltrane.”
Reactions from the HBS members in the audience were less than positive. Aarti Dhupelia (NB), who questioned Braun on her human rights record in the live show, commented “I don’t think Carol Moseley Braun has even a remote chance of winning. Given her track record of morally reproachable behavior, and given that there was immense public backlash even when she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, I don’t see how Braun can believe she has a shot at winning the presidential race.
I personally think she knows she is going to lose, and that she is running just to bring her name back into the limelight.”
A fellow section-mate, Sean Klimczak (NB) shared these sentiments. “The Hardball event didn’t change my mind on her candidacy as she failed to address many of the issues raised. Specifically, her responses to questions about her dedication to human rights causes were disappointing and often appeared to misstate her often-criticized track record.”
The Battle for the White House series will continue next Monday, November 24 with Howard Dean, one of the two remaining Democratic candidates yet to play Hardball.
Editor’s Note: Students interested in attending future Hardball tapings can enter the ticket lottery located on the IOP/KSG website: www.iop.harvard.edu/lottery.php. In addition, the Harbus is actively seeking students who are interested in covering this year’s political campaign – from both the left, the right, and in-between. If you are interested in covering politics for the Harbus, please email email@example.com.