Who's Afraid of Dennis Kucinich?
No coherence is exactly the term to describe the aftermath of the scene at Pace University, after the September Democratic debate there. Far underneath the auditorium, in the Pace gymnasium, 200 journalists are racing across the floor, circling candidates and their handlers like sharks after a shipwreck. There is pushing, shoving, shouting, people screaming at one another, and only very occasional fragmented questions about politics. At the edges of the fray you can find numerous foreign journalists shaking their heads in disbelief, stunned by the barbarity of it all. A Dutch journalist named Rik Klinkel is explaining to me how much better things are in the Netherlands.
"Over there, you don't need to do this to get to a candidate," he says. As he speaks, he winds up and makes a violent elbowing gesture. Predictably, his demonstration results in his belting an Ohio newspaper reporter right in the eye. The man falls to the ground.
"Ow, fuck!" he screams.
"Please excuse me," the European says, extending a hand. The other reporter refuses it, collects himself and runs away.
In the center of the crowd, Dennis Kucinich is taking a beating. He has just had to endure two hours of a debate hosted by Brian Williams in which candidates who ran too long were interrupted by a game-show-style bell ("Somewhere at Jeopardy! they're wondering where it went," joked Williams unfunnily about the buzzer). It was intensely painful watching Kucinich try to read off, over the repeated protests of the Jeopardy! buzzer, the list of postlayoff executive payouts at Tyco, Delta and Hewlett-Packard. "Delta laid off 17,400 workers..." Bzzz! "The executive salary of the CEO went from $2.1 million to $4.6 million..." Bzzz! "Tyco went from..." Bzzz! Bzzz! It reminded me of the death of Old Yeller. When I tried to ask Kucinich about the game-show format afterward, he waved me off, clearly pissed.
"It was fine. It was fine. Whatever," he said.
Minutes later, as he tried to escape the hall, he was assaulted by Comedy Central reporter Rob Corddry. Corddry was trying, satirically as it were, to make a joke about the total incoherence of the spin room, and he was doing so by trying to ask Kucinich a question with a mouthful of peanut butter. Kucinich didn't get it. "What are you saying?" he said, annoyed.
But Kucinich deputy Paul Costanzo leaned over to whisper in his ear that this was Comedy Central, a good opportunity, and he should play along, etc. Kucinich clued in, then raced across the room to get Corddry a glass of water, to help him with the peanut butter. By the time he returned, the joke, not that funny to begin with, was many painful minutes old. The two glumly parted soon after, like motorists who had failed to revive a run-over cat.
Soon afterward I joined the scrum around Edwards. He was turning clockwise in a crowd of hacks and expertly batting away one question after another; he looked like Rafael Palmeiro at a home-run derby. When he caught New York Times reporter Rick Lyman standing open-mouthed without a question ready, he cracked: "Hey, buddy? You just gonna stand there?"
Behind me, two female reporters cooed. "Wow," one said. "Just look at his tan!"