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Political Video Blogger Judges Democrats' Debate

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James Kotecki, a political video blogger on YouTube, says the questions were more emotionally compelling than ever, but the candidates missed an opportunity to be unique. Kotecki talks about the Democratic presidential debate, sponsored by YouTube and CNN, with Steve Inskeep.


Let's hear next from James Kotecki. He's a video blogger who had a view of last night's debate, and he's also an occasional guest on this program.

James, good to talk with you once again.

Mr. JAMES KOTECKI (Political Blogger): Great to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to arrange in advance whether you were going to speak your answers in falsetto or sing. Which would you prefer to do?

Mr. KOTECKI: I'd probably prefer to rap them, actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KOTECKI: I don't think we got quite a rapping question last night. We got close with question about No Child Left Behind, though.

INSKEEP: What was that question?

Mr. KOTECKI: That was the question where a guy was kind of rocking out and showing posters about how No Child Left Behind was a bad law. And he asked the candidates, would they scrap the whole program or just revise it? It was kind of hard to hear in the auditorium but I think it was a very effective question.

INSKEEP: Well, I have to say, the questions seemed to come in a very original form, but listening to Mara's report just now, the answers - I don't want to say it was uninformative, it was interesting to hear them, but the answers sounded like about the same answers they might have given in some other debate.

Mr. KOTECKI: I think that on occasion it is true that the politicians last night missed an opportunity to maybe give a more unique or more nuanced or at least more casual answers than they have in the past. However, I mean, this debate gave us questions that were definitely more interesting than any questions I've ever seen in a debate before, more emotionally compelling. And it's also created a great dialogue where people have been commenting and discussing videos long before the debate, and they'll be discussing them long afterwards. It's no longer just a one off Q&A session. The debate is instead kind of a catalyst for a broader conversation. I think that's what's the most exciting about this whole thing.

INSKEEP: You know, I understand there was some criticism on the Web because even though people were invited to ask anything on YouTube, CNN, the television network and the ultimate analysis, was the filter. They choose the questions that would actually be played to the candidates.

Mr. KOTECKI: That's right. And, you know, I think that it's basically - we're talking about baby steps here because, ultimately, I and a lot of other video bloggers and bloggers on the Internet would like to see a situation where the community, the YouTube community itself, votes up the questions that it wants answered. But I think when you're dealing with a network like CNN, you know, they can't necessarily go right to the ultimate Internet egalitarianism right away. But this is certainly a step in the right direction, and I was really happy to be, you know, just a small part of it in the audience last night.

INSKEEP: You wish there have been kind of a democracy around the questions, that people had voted on which questions they wanted to ask?

Mr. KOTECKI: It would have been fantastic to see the politicians have to answer directly the questions that people had voted on that they wanted because that would be exactly the ultimate democratization of the process. But we still got to see citizens play a huge role and, I think, in a bigger way than they ever have before.

There was a great moment last night where a reverend asked a question to John Edwards about gay marriage and then John Edwards responded. And then the reverend was actually sitting there live in the audience as well. And so they asked him, did he answer your question? Did he give you the answer he wanted? The reverend said, well, no, he didn't actually answer the question that I had. And that was a great moment, I think, because when citizens can ask not only questions via video but also the follow-up questions, I think we own this process, we own this democracy. And that's what was so exciting to be there last night to see that.

INSKEEP: Was there a question you would have liked to see included last night that was not?

Mr. KOTECKI: Well, I think - well, there was my own question about Hurricane Katrina. There was another question about Katrina that got asked instead. But overall, I was very satisfied with the breadth of topics of the questions. Obviously there are kind of issues that politicians are concerned about and are worried about, and everyone else in America is as well. So they couldn't have necessarily do every single issue but I was very happy with the level of the - the breadth of the questions. And also the seriousness of many of the questions as well was very heartening.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, do you feel you know these candidates any better than you did?

Mr. KOTECKI: Not necessarily. I feel like Kucinich and Gravel actually responded directly to people. But actually I was - one surprise was that Clinton actually called people by name that had made videos. And the only other candidates who did that were Kucinich and Gravel.

INSKEEP: James, thanks very much.

Mr. KOTECKI: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: James Kotecki is a recent graduate of Georgetown University and a video blogger on YouTube.

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Democratic Candidates Face Off in YouTube Debate

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Video questions submitted to YouTube shook up the usual campaign debate Monday night.

The questions, most of them coming from young people, were blunt and earnest, and sometimes bizarre.

The revelations that the questions elicited ranged from the ridiculous to the grave. John Edwards didn't like Sen. Hillary Clinton's bright coral jacket. More seriously, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would be willing to meet individually with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea during the first year of his presidency, while Clinton would not.

"I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said.

Her campaign quickly posted video of her answer online, trying to show she has a different understanding of foreign policy than her chief rival.

"He needs help," Delaware Sen. Joe Biden said after watching a video of a man holding an automatic weapon and asking how the candidates would protect his "baby."

"I don't know if he's mentally qualified to own that gun," Biden said.

Two video submissions featured men singing about taxes and the No Child Left Behind education bill. The first question began with a voter named Zach asking, "Wassup?" Another featured two men from Tennessee playing hillbillies and asking if all the talk about Al Gore entering the race hurt their feelings. "I think the people of Tennessee just had their feelings hurt," Biden responded.

Democratic strategist Kiki McLean said the format got the candidates to speak "in real language, not citing legislative bill numbers."

The candidates were asked whether they would take the presidency at minimum wage. Most said yes. "Well, we can afford to work for the minimum wage because most folks on this stage have a lot of money," Obama said. When Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd tried to protest that he wasn't in the same league, Obama said, "You're doing all right, Chris."

Questions about health care came from brothers spoon-feeding dinner to a father suffering with Alzheimer's, a woman sitting with her mother suffering from diabetes, a man in a wheelchair and a 36-year-old woman who pulled off her wig and declared her hope to be a breast cancer survivor.

"We should be outraged by these stories," Edwards said, his voice rising as he pounded his podium.

Their struggles fit in perfectly with Edwards' message of the night - there are too many important issues to focus on the $400 haircuts that he got and are dogging his campaign. Candidates were asked to produce their own YouTube-style videos, and Edwards set his to the theme from the 1968 musical "Hair." It includes serious images including several from Iraq and ends with the text: "What really matters? You Choose."

Dodd's video also was about his hair. "The guy with the white hair for the White House," it said. Clinton's video-ad ended with the kicker, "Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman."

The candidates gathered at the military college The Citadel in South Carolina, site of one of the earliest primaries - Jan. 29. Many questions focused on the Iraq war.

Asked if Democrats are playing politics with the war, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said yes. "The Democrats have failed the people," he said.

Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel said U.S. soldiers are dying in vain. No other candidate would go that far.

Obama took the opportunity to take a slap at his rivals who voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq. "The time to ask how we're going to get out of Iraq was before we got in," he said, without naming Clinton, Edwards and others.

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico said he's the only candidate pledging to remove troops within six months. "Our troops have become targets," he said. Biden of Delaware said Richardson's goal was unrealistic.

Sensing her position was under attack, Clinton bristled as she argued that U.S. troops must be removed from Iraq "safely and orderly and carefully."

From NPR Reports and The Associated Press



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