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Democratic Debate: When Did the Party of the People Become the Party of Hollywood?

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET
  • Robert Guttman Director, Center on Politics and Foreign Relations (CPFR), Johns Hopkins University

Am I missing something or did the Democratic debate last night look more like the Academy Awards ceremony than a discussion on the issues?

When did the Democrats feel it was better to hold a debate in the opulent Kodak Theatre rather than in a labor union hall?

Was UCLA or USC or a junior college in the Los Angeles area not available last night?

Why wasn't the debate held somewhere in Watts or some other minority neighborhood to show concern for poverty in America? Where was Johns Edwards when we needed him to ask why the debate was being held in the Kodak Theatre?

The symbolism could not have been worse for the Democrats. Supposedly the party of the people, the Democratic Party keeps moving away from its base while trying to appeal more and more to the rich and famous and the celebrities among us.

When the camera tired of looking at Obama and Hillary they panned the audience of well- heeled and well-dressed guests. Everyone looked as if they were going to the Academy Awards or an expensive evening out rather than to a serious debate helping to decide the next Democratic presidential candidate.

Director Steven Spielberg, actress Diane Keaton, singer Stevie Wonder and political activist and actor Rob Reiner were seen among the crowd of celebrities.

Seeing some of the cast members of the former television hit West Wing also added to the surreal quality of the evening.

Democrats need to be reaching out to newer constituencies in order to win in November. Reaching out to the Hollywood celebrities may help the candidates in their fundraising but it certainly does nothing for the party of the people image of the Democratic party.

Then to top off the surreal evening Obama and Hillary spent quite a bit of time on the edge of the stage after the debate signing autographs as if the were rock stars who had just finished a concert or actors who had just finished a play.

I was expecting to see people in the audience throw flowers and yell bravo as if they were at an opera performance.

This is not the image the Democrats need to project going into what will be a close and hard fought general election this fall.

Adding to the image problem was Senator Clinton's non-answer on why she supported the Iraq War. Wolf Blitzer asked her if she were just naïve and the president got the better of her. The New York senator said "nice try" to Blitzer and then went into a long-winded answer that did nothing to disprove the CNN anchors' original question to her. She had the chance to disavow her vote on the Iraq war and did not take it.

Once again , the senator from New York talked about her "extensive" foreign policy experience as First Lady. This was nonsense. I am teaching a course now on the history of foreign policy from JFK to George W. Bush and have not seen in my research any other First Lady ever touting her days in the White House as foreign policy experience on her resume.

Democrats, get back to your roots and go back to having debates in union halls rather than in places better suited for the Academy Awards.

It is all well and good that the candidates can mingle with the wealthy Hollywood crowd but I would rather see them with average citizens talking about the serious economic and foreign policy issues of the day.

Last night sent the wrong image and message to the Democratic voters. Hopefully, the party will try and change the debate venues in the near future to be in places more in tune with the average American voter.