Keith Olbermann a "fair and balanced" journalist for a day? Did the sweltering Chicago temperatures somehow get to him? The MSNBC host who is notorious for anti-Bush, anti-conservative rants employed a more balanced approach when he moderated Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate, hosted by the AFL-CIO. While audience members posed numerous left-leaning questions to the candidates, Olbermann asked a number of challenging questions, a few even posed from the right. Olbermann not only asked "what should we not be funding" to find the money for repairs to infrastructure, without even suggesting a tax increase, but the MSNBC host also asked about the possibility of an al-Qaeda takeover in Iraq. Olbermann: "If you get us out of Iraq and somehow al-Qaeda takes over anyway, what will you do then?" (Transcripts follow)
On Friday's Countdown show, Olbermann had blamed the Minneapolis bridge collapse on Iraq war spending and the unwillingness of conservatives to raise taxes to repair infrastructure. But, as Olbermann began Tuesday's debate with a series of questions about repairing the nation's infrastructure, his very first question, posed to Senator Chris Dodd, seemed to come from the right: "What should we not build? What should we not be funding to see to it that our highways and our bridges and our tunnels and our mines are all properly maintained?"
Noting that every candidate had spent time as a member of Congress, the MSNBC host further queried whether they had "dropped the ball" on the issue of infrastructure funding during their time in Congress.
At the beginning of the second half hour, Olbermann turned to the subject of Iraq, and posed his first question from the right, directed to all the candidates. Olbermann: "Here is something that an Iowa voter has asked answered: If you get us out of Iraq and somehow al-Qaeda takes over anyway, what will you do then?" Olbermann later rephrased the question by referring to the possibility of an al-Qaeda takeover as being "against all prediction." Olbermann: "Senator Dodd, how do you handle this situation where we get out, you get us out of Iraq, and al-Qaeda does, against all prediction, take over?"
Near the end of the debate, Olbermann asked questions to Senators Clinton and Obama regarding their views on and relationships with lobbyists, and to Senator Edwards about the trial lawyers who have contributed to his campaign.
The only questions Olbermann asked that came close to inviting attacks on President Bush were his question to Governor Richardson about what kind of person he would choose for Vice President, and his question to Senator Biden about whether he would stop no-bid contracts. He also asked about NAFTA and China, which gave the candidates the chance to sound off on the trade issue.
Below is a transcript of some of the more notable questions Olbermann asked that challenged the candidates during the Tuesday August 7 Democratic debate on MSNBC:
KEITH OLBERMANN, first question, to Senator Chris Dodd: Obviously, in the light of what happened in Minnesota last week, maintaining infrastructure requires spending. And how tax dollars are spent is a matter of priorities. What should we not build? What should we not be funding to see to it that our highways and our bridges and our tunnels and our mines are all properly maintained?
OLBERMANN, to Senator Joe Biden: This is not to direct this personally to you, but the case could be made that the nation's bridges, perhaps particularly that one in Minnesota, have been deteriorating for more or less the period of time you've spent in the Senate and all of your colleagues have spent with you there. Every member of this panel is either a current or former member of our legislative branch. You have personally voted on hundreds of funding bills. Did you guys drop the ball on infrastructure?
OLBERMANN, to all the candidates: Here is something that an Iowa voter has asked answered: If you get us out of Iraq and somehow al-Qaeda takes over anyway, what will you do then?
OLBERMANN, rephrased to Dodd: Senator Dodd, how do you handle this situation where we get out, you get us out of Iraq, and al-Qaeda does, against all prediction, take over?
OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton, this past Saturday, you defended taking money from lobbyists, and the quote was this: "A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do." Why, though, do these lobbyists make more money, by and large, than average Americans?
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama, I know you and Senator Edwards have taken a firm stand against accepting money from lobbyists, yet you allow them to raise money for you and, as the phrase goes, bundle it. What's the difference between those things?
OLBERMANN: Senator Edwards, I have a question for you. You made your substantial fortune as a trial lawyer. Trial lawyers are now contributing significantly to your campaign. How is that any better than lobbyists?