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Campaigns argue on who's more negative

It quickly became obvious on today’s “Meet the Press” that the tone and intensity of this year’s presidential race have taken a sharp turn toward the negative when 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman, a McCain supporter, accused 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry of being insensitive to military sacrifice. 

While discussion topic of the “surge” plan in Iraq, Kerry, echoing Obama, refused to credit the military strategy alone for curtailing violence in Iraq.  Lieberman then evoked the painful episode in Kerry’s political trajectory that essentially undermined his presidential bid— when a small group of fellow swiftboat soldiers from the Vietnam War publicly questioned his integrity and actions in the war. “I know you don’t intend this,” Lieberman prefaced, continuing, “but it seems as if you are showing disrespect for the contributions, service and sacrifice of the American soldier” in Iraq.  “You cut me off,” Kerry shot back, “I was going to say that our soldiers were doing an extraordinary job.”

It was just one of multiple “Did he just say what I think he said?” moments peppered throughout the half hour interview with moderator Tom Brokaw Sunday morning.

"The line, of course, is that 'politics makes strange bedfellows,'" said Brokaw on the pairing of his guests. "In this case, bedfellows make strange politics."

The first heated topic the dueling senators took on was one that has riveted campaign watchers for the past week: a new ad run by McCain’s campaign that compares Obama’s celebrity status to that of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Brokaw reminded Lieberman of comments made both by himself and McCain about running respectful campaigns. Brokaw then asked Lieberman if he thought this ad was respectful.  “I do,” Lieberman replied.  “I think it’s cute.”  He added, “I think everyone needs to relax a little bit. It’s a bit of humor.” 

Kerry disagreed that the underlying message was harmless. “They are trying to scare Americans [by engaging in] character assassination,” he claimed.  “I am an expert on how they do that,” he added, again referring to the actions of the dissident Swiftboat veterans group in 2004.  “What’s the idea here, Joe?”  Kerry asked, incredulously.

Lieberman broke away from Brokaw’s line of questioning at one point to interject an emotional testimonial on the subject of McCain’s impugned integrity, saying, “I need to speak personally about McCain raising the question of whether Obama is a risky guy. It has nothing to do with his name or skin color.  It has to do with his lack of experience and bad judgment, with his unreadiness (sic) to be president.  [He made] a personal insult to John McCain.  I know John McCain… This man doesn’t have a bigoted bone in his body.  It was just wrong for Senator Obama to have done that and it was right for the campaign to call him out in it.”

He continued as Brokaw and Kerry looked on: "In 2000 Al Gore gave me the extraordinary honor of being the first Jewish American to run for national office. Al Gore said he had confidence in the American people that they would judge me based on my record, not on my religion.  I urge Barack Obama to have some faith in the American people that they will judge him on his record — or lack of record — certainly not on his name or race.”

The senators continued to battle on the controversial topic of offshore drilling.  Brokaw reviewed comments that Senator Obama had made this week suggesting that he would consider supporting drilling if it meant being able to compromise on a comprehensive reform energy bill.  Lieberman shrugged off the interpretation of nuance, and insisted that the comment was non-committal and weak.  Lieberman also claimed that drilling was a necessity in the face of the current energy crisis, in concert with creating more nuclear energy and developing alternative energy technologies, something he said that only McCain stood for.  Kerry, on the other hand, not only disputed the need for drilling, but he also said that he stood apart from Obama on his willingness to compromise on the issue, calling it an “absolutely fraudulent offering to America.”

On the topic of the upcoming Democratic convention this month, Brokaw asked Lieberman if he planned to attend, or speak.  “[I wouldn’t go] to attack Barack Obama,” he said.  Instead he would plan “to talk about why I support John McCain.” 

“It sounds like you’re going to go,” said Brokaw.  Lieberman smiled but wouldn’t comment.