We play excerpts of the much-anticipated showdown between Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and get reaction from two vice-presidential candidates excluded from the debate: Matt Gonzalez, running mate of Independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Rosa Clemente, running mate of Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Expectations for the content of last night’s vice-presidential debate might have been low, but it was certainly the most anticipated vice-presidential debate in recent history.
Thursday’s face-off between Senator Joe Biden and Governor Sarah Palin brought few surprises. The two VP picks sparred over the economy, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat posed by Iran and Pakistan, taxes, energy policy, climate change, healthcare, and the voting records of Senators Obama and McCain. Among their points of agreement was their support for Israel and their opposition to gay marriage.
One of the sharpest points of contention between them centered on the role and powers of a vice president. Governor Palin brought up the point and was then questioned about it by moderator Gwen Ifill of PBS.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that’s not only preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I’m thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president also, if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate, and making sure that we are supportive of the president’s policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are.
GWEN IFILL: Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the Constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe, as Vice President Cheney does, that the executive branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that is, it is also a member of the legislative branch?
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing to the Constitution much flexibility there in the Office of the Vice President. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as VP with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.
GWEN IFILL: Vice President Cheney’s interpretation of the vice presidency?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history. He has the idea — he doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States. That’s the executive — he works in the executive branch. He should understand that. Everyone should understand that.
And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America, give that president his or her best judgment when sought, and as vice president, to preside over the Senate only in a time when in fact there’s a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit. The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress.
The idea he’s part of the legislative branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive, and look where it’s gotten us. It has been very dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Joe Biden lambasting Vice President Cheney’s interpretation of the vice presidency.
We’ll play more clips from the debate, but first, we’re joined by two guests who are also running for vice president. They’re third party candidates excluded from the official debates. Matt Gonzalez is the vice-presidential candidate for Ralph Nader’s Independent ticket, San Francisco-based attorney, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 2003, he ran for mayor of San Francisco on the Green Party ticket but lost in a very close race to Democrat Gavin Newsom. Matt Gonzalez joins us now from San Francisco.
We’re also joined on the phone by the Green Party’s vice-presidential nominee, Rosa Clemente, longtime activist and journalist and former director of the Hip-Hop Caucus.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Matt Gonzalez, let’s go right to you on that question of the role of the vice president.
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I would certainly agree with Senator Joe Biden, his interpretation of it. I do think Cheney has been extremely dangerous in the position. And so, I wouldn’t quarrel with that.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente?
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, I would agree with the constitutional mandate. But I also think the role, particularly for me, coming out of my generation, of a vice president, at this time, would be to finally talk about the issues that are affecting particularly black, white, Asian, Native American, and white working-class young people in this country, because neither candidate or most parties in this country have dared to address one of our issues that’s affecting us, particularly in the hip-hop generation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Matt Gonzalez, in terms of what you would do as vice president, what you would see as your role if you were elected?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I think the very first thing a vice president does is he — he or she would preside over the Electoral College count. And I think it’s an important opportunity to have a dialogue that should have happened eight years ago, should have happened sixteen years ago, that we need to move to a popular vote and we need elections won by a majority of the voters to — you know, to improve our democracy.
But I think the role of vice president has been disparaged many times in history by those who have held the position, because it’s often seen as a position of someone lying in wait for a larger office. It’s not very clearly defined, notwithstanding what Senator Biden said. But I would caution against what Governor Palin was suggesting, which is that the role somehow has separate authority and somehow makes that position a member of that legislative branch. I think that that’s gone a little too far.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, let’s turn to the financial crisis embroiling Wall Street and the national economy. I want to play excerpts of both nominees’ comments on the current financial situation and how Senators McCain and Obama have responded so far.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Now, John McCain, thankfully, has been one representing reform. Two years ago, remember, it was John McCain who pushed so hard with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac reform measures. He sounded that warning bell. People in the Senate with him, his colleagues, didn’t want to listen to him and wouldn’t go towards that reform that was needed then. I think that the alarm has been heard, though, and there will be that greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain’s bipartisan efforts that he was so instrumental in bringing folks together over this past week, even suspending his own campaign to make sure he was putting obsessive politics aside and putting the country first.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Yeah, well, you know, until two weeks ago — it was two Mondays ago, John McCain said at 9:00 in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George — we’ve made great economic progress under George Bush’s policies. 9:00, the economy was strong; 11:00 that same day, two Mondays ago, John McCain said that we have an economic crisis.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: John McCain, in referring to the fundamental of our economy being strong, he was talking to and he was talking about the American workforce. And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Two years ago, Barack Obama warned about the subprime mortgage crisis. John McCain said shortly after that, in December, he was surprised there was a subprime mortgage problem. John McCain, while Barack Obama was warning about what we had to do, was literally giving an interview to the Wall Street Journal saying that “I’m always for cutting regulations.” We let Wall Street run wild. John McCain — and he’s a good man, but John McCain thought that the answer is that tried and true Republican response: deregulate, deregulate.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Senator Biden and Governor Palin debating the economy. Independent vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez, your view of the bailout?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I think, first of all, it was one of the things about the debate that I thought was awkward. I think the Democrats successfully, during the debate, really placed the blame at the feet of the Republicans, but it’s not historically correct. The Glass-Steagall Act of the — you know, that came out of the first stock market crash of the twentieth century, has been slowly eroded, and that culminated, really, in 1999 under President Clinton’s administration with a law that essentially had, at the end, bipartisan support, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, that allowed, you know, mortgage companies to buy up brokerage firms, to buy up insurance companies. And that’s how we have the problem that we have: the mortgages repackaged into financial instruments that were quite risky.
I also find it ironic — I didn’t hear Joe Biden ever respond to Governor Palin’s remark at one point in the debate, where she pointed out that, look, Biden himself had urged or spoken about possibly running with McCain and had urged, I think, John Kerry to select McCain as a vice-presidential — you know, as a running mate. So, I thought that that was ironic, and we never heard a response to that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Rosa Clemente, your response to the economic portion of the debate and the issue of the bailout?
ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, I mean, I think both people up there last night were clear that they don’t have the majority of the American people’s interests at heart, including the majority of American people that have called, into the last week, telling the Democrats and the Republicans no bailout.
You know, I think we need to talk about the fact that six years ago, groups like Central Brooklyn Partnership or NEDAP or financial literacy groups in this country were right in front of this, talking about predatory lending, the idea that these lenders could come in, confuse people with mass amounts of paperwork and literally put them into debt for life.
But while we’re talking about the financial crisis, and particularly the subprime mortgage mess, I’m also thinking about affordable housing and how, in the same time period, there has been a major rent destabilization loss all through this country, rampant gentrification, and many people who don’t own houses, who don’t have mortgages, are literally being evicted every day from their homes, because they can no longer afford the rent.
So, in a recent essay called “Seize the Time” that Cynthia McKinney put out, she says we have to now seize the time. If they’re going to pay this $700 billion or maybe potentially $800 billion bailout with the tax people’s money, with our money, then we have every right to step into that space and create the policies that come from the people, that the government adheres to.
And one of the things that is not being talked about also is ending the war right now, not ending the war in sixteen months, not in twelve months. We’re spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. We need to stop the war immediately. And for me and for young people, that also includes the over-reliance of the war here at home, the drug war, and the continuing prison-building. We need to get a grip, and we need to —- we need to force and hold these people accountable to put in programs that will keep people not only in their homes, will keep people in their rental apartments and will stop the war. I think everything is interconnected, and we can’t let one go -—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to the issue — we’re going to go to the issue of Iraq after break. Rosa Clemente, Green Party vice-presidential candidate, and Matt Gonzalez, Independent vice-presidential running mate of Ralph Nader. Rosa Clemente, on the ticket of Cynthia McKinney. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Iraq, Israel and more. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we break the sound barrier, bringing the third party candidates into this debate — the candidates last night in St. Louis, the main vice-presidential candidates of the main parties, Democrat and Republican, Senator Joe Biden, Governor Sarah Palin, sparred on Iraq and the question of when to withdraw and how to end the war.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: We do have a plan for withdrawal. We don’t need early withdrawal out of Iraq. We cannot afford to lose there, or we’re going to be no better off in the war in Afghanistan either. We have got to win in Iraq.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: You’ve got to have a timeline to draw down the troops and shift responsibility to the Iraqis. We’re spending $10 billion a month, while the Iraqis have an $80 billion surplus. Barack says it’s time for them to spend their own money, have the 400,000 military we’ve trained for them begin to take their own responsibility, and gradually, over six months — sixteen months, withdraw. John McCain — this is a fundamental difference between us: we will end this war. For John McCain, there is no end in sight to end this war. Fundamental difference. We will end this war.
GWEN IFILL: Governor?
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq, and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Biden, talking about the war in last night’s debate. Rosa Clemente, Green Party vice-presidential nominee, what’s your viewpoint on the war?
ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, the Green Party’s viewpoint — and Cynthia has been very clear, and the party has been very clear — an immediate end to the war, an immediate withdrawal of troops in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.
And, you know, one thing Cynthia agrees with a former colleague of hers, Dennis Kucinich, is that we now have to talk about creating departments of peace. And we have to also talk about withdrawing troops wherever they reside in other people’s homelands. I always found it interesting — or, you know, the fact that we, as the United States government, and we, as the people in this country, allow our military to be placed in other people’s homelands. And being from Puerto Rico, I’m very clear on why the military does what it does. But we would never allow another country to have a military base there.
And that might be a little simplistic kind of thing to throw out there, but I also think it speaks to the way we want to move forward in the future. And I don’t think that either party is planning on ending the war. I think that the Democrats are more about transferring troops to Afghanistan and potentially preparing for a war in Pakistan. And even yesterday, Joe Biden talked about the possibility of putting troops in in Darfur. And I think that’s something that we have to say immediately is unacceptable and that the majority of young people in this country have been clear for the last five years that we want an end to the war right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Independent vice-presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I certainly — and Ralph Nader supports getting our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. I think the problem with a lot of the rhetoric that we’re hearing is that if you concede that the surge is working, which we do not concede — but the moment you do that, you are going to run into a problem with the so-called timetable. Are the Democrats going to stick to a timetable if, as they start to draw down troops, there’s increased sectarian violence? And I think the answer to that is really unclear, and probably no. I think the only way that we can successfully get out of this country is if, at the outset, we make it clear we’re going to — we’re going to work quickly to get our troops out of the region, that we’re part of the reason why the region remains unstable.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, on the question of US support of Israel, both candidates were in agreement.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust, despite, again, warnings from Iran and any other country that would seek to destroy Israel that that is what they would like to see.
We will support Israel. A two-state solution, building our embassy also in Jerusalem, those things that we look forward to being able to accomplish with this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden. I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure Barack Obama shared my passion.
But you asked a question about whether or not this administration’s policy had made sense, or something to that effect. It has been an abject failure, this administration’s policy. [...] Here’s what the President said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said and others said and Barack Obama said, "Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them." What happened? Hamas won.
When we kicked — along with France — we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, "Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it." Now, what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.
The fact of the matter is, the policy of this administration has been an abject failure.
And speaking of freedom being on the march, the only thing on the march is Iran. It’s closer to a bomb. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: I’m so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Matt Gonzalez, Independent vice-presidential candidate, speaking to us from San Francisco, your response?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I think, you know, both of these candidates pay lip service to the notion that we need a two-state solution. They don’t tell you any specifics around that. Do they support 1967 borders, for instance? Joe Biden did not repudiate Barack Obama’s earlier remark about Jerusalem belonging to Israel.
And I think their sort of over-the-top repeating of how much they love Israel — I think, in that, they lose an opportunity to support peace movements in and outside of Israel, joined by many Jews, both in this country and in Israel, that want to see an end to the violence in the region, that don’t believe, for instance, the way Palestinians are being treated is fair.
And I think when Joe Biden starts repudiating elections in the West Bank and elsewhere, you see that these guys are pretty much in step with the current administration. You know, they either — you either have to be a supporter of democracy and deal with the right of people to self-determine, or you repudiate that. And if you repudiate it, you’re going to go down a path that can be very dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente?
ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, I mean, I think it’s not even a question of fairness. The Israeli government, every day, kills Palestinian people in their own homeland. I think it is about the right to self-determination, but it’s also — I think it’s more than a two-state solution. Many Palestinian groups are calling for a one-state solution, and that’s how it should be.
And the United States, we need to stop sending any type of military aid to Israel. I think what’s going on in — what’s been happening in Palestine, you know, is an indication of forty years of complete terror amongst another group of people, aided by American tax dollars, you know.
And I think younger people, particularly through hip-hop, it’s been interesting that we can have cultural exchanges and actually have people in Palestine, like the hip-hop group DAM, that let us know what’s happening every day right there on the ground and that the issue for a lot of Palestinian people would be that they deserve their homeland back and that the right of return is fundamental to them as a people.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Governor Palin last night refused to attribute global warming — as a major cause, human activity causing global warming. Let’s listen to this.
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, as the nation’s only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state. And we know that it’s real. I’m not one to attribute every man — activity of man to the changes in the climate. There is something to be said also for man’s activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Well, I think it is manmade. I think it’s clearly manmade. And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden — Governor Palin and Joe Biden. If you don’t understand what the cause is, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a solution. We know what the cause is. The cause is manmade. That’s the cause. That’s why the polar icecap is melting.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente, you have thirty seconds.
ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, I would just encourage people to understand one of the major principles of the Green Party, and I would also encourage young people to take up Van Jones’s call for green jobs for oil and the recent call by former Vice President Al Gore about civil disobedience, because that’s what we need to stop the madness around the environment that these oil companies and this government keeps pushing down our throats.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Matt Gonzalez?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I would just say that to hear both these candidates talk about clean coal, this is just totally a mythology that we need to repudiate among the progressive community.
Also, you have to look at Barack Obama’s voting for this Energy Policy Act in 2005. This is a ticket that, in effect, in 2005 was giving money for fossil fuel production, tax breaks and subsidies. Nader-Gonzalez does not support that, and we’ve been arguing for a promotion of solar energy and other alternatives that I think, you know, we’ve got to move forward on.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You know, there seems to be less disagreement between the two of you than there was between the two candidates last night. Matt Gonzalez, why are, then, you running against Rosa Clemente, as well?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, I think Cynthia McKinney sought the Green Party nomination. Ralph Nader has never been a member of a political party and is running as an Independent. I think, in today’s difficult times, having four candidates out there arguing about and trying to raise progressive issues is a positive thing.
And I think under — you know, really under this whole debate, to see Joe Biden be included in vice-presidential debates, when he never had even the poll numbers that Ralph Nader has, when he was running in the Democratic primary, is really an insult to other candidates that have lengthy careers doing good work for this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader ran on the Green Party ticket in the last presidential race, but, Rosa Clemente, your main difference with Matt Gonzalez and the Independent candidacy of Nader-Gonzalez?
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, I think one of my main differences, I feel that a lot of the issues coming from some of the other third parties are more reformist issues, and I feel we don’t need reform anymore. We need to really look at a lot of these systems in this country and talk about fully dismantling them. And I think that’s one of the reasons that Cynthia picked me.
I think, coming from my generation, coming from the South Bronx, still seeing my family there suffering in the poorest congressional district to this day, understanding the history of Puerto Rico and what the United States of America has done, particularly to my people and that country and my island, that we can’t afford to be talking about reform, we can’t afford to be talking about the lesser of two evils, although I don’t see Matt Gonzalez or Ralph Nader as an evil. I’m talking about the fact that —-
MATT GONZALEZ: But, Rosa, I’m just wondering, though, could you just give one example where we’re reformists and you’re something else?
ROSA CLEMENTE: One example of reform, where we’re different?
MATT GONZALEZ: Yeah, where you think we’re -— where we’re advocating reform, and somehow you’re advocating system change, because we’ve not supported this bailout.
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, I think the prison-industrial complex — I think — I mean, look, I applaud Ralph Nader for coming out finally against the prison-industrial complex, but part of that still keeps the prison-industrial complex alive. Part of that still says that there’s people that should be subjected to prisons. And I have a very different view on that. I don’t think we need prisons. I think we need the abolition of prisons.
I think we have to fully understand that particularly my generation, African American and Latino young people — no one is speaking to that issue. No one is speaking to that issue, you know, and I think the Green Party has been forced to speak about that issue, because Cynthia specifically picked me. I come from that generation. I see what’s going on. So that’s what I talk about. I think it’s more about truly radical progressive change.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the last clip we’re going to play from last night’s debate and get your comment, the two VP nominees also discussing benefits for same-sex couples and the overall question of gay marriage.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely, positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction, from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint, between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.
GWEN IFILL: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?
GOV. SARAH PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. And unfortunately, that’s sometimes where those steps lead.
I will tell Americans straight up that I don’t support defining marriage as anything but between one man and one woman, and I think, through nuances, we can go round and round about what that actually means, but I’m being as straight up with Americans as I can in my non-support for anything but a traditional definition of marriage.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s try to avoid nuance, Senator. Do you support gay marriage?
SEN. JOE BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining, from a civil side, what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths, the determination what you call it.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Gonzalez, I know you have to leave, so I’m going to give you the first stab at this, as you catch a plane.
And also, a correction: in 2004, yes, Ralph Nader was an Independent candidate, as well. He was, 2000, the Green Party candidate.
Your comment on same-sex marriage?
MATT GONZALEZ: Well, obviously, Nader and I support marriage rights for all. I think it’s insulting to hear these candidates want it both ways. They’re essentially trying to appeal to both conservative voters who are opposed to gay marriage and somehow also appeal to progressive voters who want to see equality.
You know, I think Ralph Nader, you know, when you step back and look at his history, he is somebody who is an enormously important voice against the growing corporate greed in this society and what concentrated capital does when it’s left alone. And I think he’s not somebody who has decided to fight against the two parties. You know, he has, his entire life, been fighting against these parties — it’s not a recent conversion — on a host of issues.
And I think he should have been in this debate. I think he has a legislative record that’s stronger than the candidates that we saw in that debate. I mean, Joe Biden should have been asked about his support of credit card companies in Delaware, of the federal sentencing guidelines that he helped pass in the 1980s that, you know, has disproportionately hurt people of color. These were things that were absent. And I think if Rosa and I had been in that debate, it would have been a better debate.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Rosa Clemente, your perspective on gay marriage?
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, full 100 percent equal rights for everybody. I also take it a step further for it being about human rights. LGBT people are human beings, and they have a right, like anyone else, to get married, to get divorced, to not get married.
But if I could just quickly just say, yes, Cynthia did leave the Democratic Party after twelve years, but while she was in there, it was Cynthia McKinney that had a hearing on the issue of political prisoners, the first-ever congressional hearing on that. It was Cynthia that pushed the envelope about what happened on 9/11. It was Cynthia that wrote the articles of impeachment.
And I think that speaks highly to someone who will leave a party, finally, based on principles and values and then pick someone that truly represents what the majority of this country is going to look like. I think if me and Matt were on there, and if Cynthia, Bob Barr, Baldwin, Ron Paul and Ralph Nader were allowed to debate, the presidency on November 4th would look radically different and would represent the majority of American people.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente, I want to thank you for being with us, Green Party vice-presidential candidate —-
ROSA CLEMENTE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: —- on the ticket of the former Democratic Congress member from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney, who’s the Green Party presidential nominee; and Matt Gonzalez, running on Ralph Nader’s Independent party ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.