Note to Jim Lehrer

If you fail to ask substantive questions about what it will mean to people for each candidate to win, the slightest criticism of you by the candidates can result in thunderous applause, and you can end up looking shame-faced and horribly uncomfortable.

Don’t believe me?

Watch this clip from last December of Ted Koppel and Dennis Kucinich:

Or read this transcript:

KOPPEL: When you hear some of your colleagues here-you know, I get a little bit of a sense of sour grapes here, that if anyone else on this stage had gotten Al Gore’s endorsement, he would have been happy to have it. What do you think?

KUCINICH: Well, I can’t say I was really counting on it.

(LAUGHTER)

But let me say, Ted, let me say-let me say that some of the best talent in American politics is on this stage right now.

(APPLAUSE)

And with all due respect to you, Ted Koppel, who I’ve admired over the years greatly…

KOPPEL: There’s a zinger coming now, isn’t there?

KUCINICH: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

To begin this kind of a forum with a question about an endorsement, no matter by whom, I think actually trivializes the issues that are before us.

(APPLAUSE)

For example, at this moment there are 130,000 troops in Iraq. I mean, I would like to hear you ask during this event what’s the plan for getting out. This war is not over. I have a plan, which is on my Web site at kucinich.us, to get the United States out of Iraq.

KUCINICH: I want to talk about that tonight, and I hope we have a substantive discussion tonight and that we’re not going to spend the night talking about endorsements.

(APPLAUSE)

KOPPEL: Well, we’ve got…

(APPLAUSE)

BREAK-

KOPPEL: This is a question to Ambassador Braun, Reverend Sharpton, Congressman Kucinich. You don’t have any money, or at least not much. Reverend Sharpton has almost none. You don’t have very much, Ambassador Braun.

KUCINICH: We’ve raised $4.5 million. I mean, that’s not nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

KOPPEL: You’ve got about $750,000 in the bank right now, and that’s close to nothing when you’re coming up against this kind of opposition. But let me finish the question. The question is, will there come a point when polls, money and then ultimately the actual votes that will take place here in places like New Hampshire, the caucuses in Iowa, will there come a point when we can expect one or more of the three of you to drop out? Or are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy? Reverend Sharpton, you go first.

BREAK-

KOPPEL: When do you pull out?

KUCINICH: After I-when I take the oath of office, when you’re there to cover it…

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

… and I can tell you, Ted, you know, we started at the beginning of this evening, talking about an endorsement. Well, I want the American people to see where the media takes politics in this country. To start with endorsements…

(APPLAUSE)

We start talking about endorsements, now we’re talking about polls, and then we’re talking about money. Well, you know, when you do that, you don’t have to talk about what’s important to the American people. Ted, I’m the only one up here that actually…

(APPLAUSE)

… I’m the only up here on the stage that actually voted against the PATRIOT Act and voted against the war-the only one on this stage. I’m also…

(APPLAUSE)

… I’m also one of the few candidates up here who’s talking about taking our health-care system from this for-profit system to a not-for-profit, single-payer universal health care for all.

(APPLAUSE)

I’m also the only one who has talked about getting out of NAFTA and the WTO and going back to bilateral trade…

(APPLAUSE)

… conditioned on workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment. Now…

KOPPEL: Congressman?

KUCINICH: … I may be inconvenient for some of those in the media, but, you know, I’m sorry about that.

(APPLAUSE)

(KOPPEL LOOKING LIKE HE SWALLOWED A LIZARD)

Seriously, Jim,
I’d recommend asking about the financial cost of aggressive wars. Do you think people would rather have another war to alienate any remaining allies or, instead of that, free quality education from preschool to college? And do you know which of the two costs more? Which candidate will pursue oil at the cost of the lives of those who cannot afford college? Which will move the U.S. economy away from dependence on oil? We won’t know if you don’t ask.

But if you start in on the endorsements, fundraising, polls, and approval ratings, get ready to be booed. And if you waste so much as a wheeze on a debate over forged evidence countering distracting slander about events over 30 years old, prepare to be Koppeled.