Besides straightforward questions on Iraq, healthcare, and education on the Democratic Candidate Mashup, the presidential hopefuls also faced more offbeat queries from political satirist Bill Maher. Here are excerpts of their answers:
Maher: Senator Biden, forgetting about the upcoming Iowa caucus for just a moment, which would you honestly say is more likely to contribute to the death of your average American: a terrorist strike or high-fructose corn syrup and air that has too much coal in it?
Joe Biden: Air that has too much coal in it. Corn syrup next, and then a terrorist attack. But that does not in any way diminish the fact that a terrorist attack is real. It's not an existential threat to bring down the country, but does have the capacity still it can kill thousands of people. But hundreds of thousands of people die and their lives are shortened because of coal plants, coal-fired plants, and because of corn syrup.
Maher: Senator Clinton, all the senators here, except Senator Obama, voted for the Iraq resolution in 2002, saying that their decision was based on intelligence that they believed to be accurate at the time. In other words, George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?
Hillary Clinton: (Laughter) Well, Bill, it was a little more complicated than that. I sought out expert opinions from a wide variety of sources, people inside and outside the government, people in my husband's administration. And I think it is fair to say that, at the time, I made it very clear I was against a pre-emptive war. And I believed that giving the president authority to go back to the United Nations and put in inspectors was an appropriate designation of authority. That is not what we have seen him do, and I've said that had I known then what I know now, obviously, I would never have voted to give him the authority.
Maher: Senator Dodd, between illnesses, accidents, homicides, and suicides, it's been estimated that America suffers roughly 100,000 alcohol-related deaths per year. Marijuana kills virtually no one, and yet, it is such a third rail in American politics to suggest we stop persecuting the people who wish to use this more-benign but no-less-mood-altering and no-more-of-a-gateway drug. Can you give me a good reason why, in a free and fair society, marijuana should be illegal?
Chris Dodd: Well, Bill, I've taken the position, certainly with medical use of marijuana, that it ought to be allowed..... I would decriminalize, or certainly advocate as president, the decriminalization of statutes that would incarcerate or severely penalize people for using marijuana. But I want to be careful, and I know there are a lot of people across the political spectrum who would just totally legalize it. I don't go that far.
Maher: Senator Edwards, you've suggested that Americans should give up their SUVs for the sake of the environment, but a recent UN study found that deforestation for the purpose of creating grazing land for cattle and methane emissions from cattle generated more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and planes in the world, so it's not just the SUVs, it's the c-o-w-s. Taking a shot at SUVs was gutsy. Do you want to take a shot at meat?
John Edwards: I love listening to Bill Maher. I think he's correct about some of that. He's such a funny guy. The deforestation is a huge issue. He's absolutely correct about that.... But I would add, this goes to the SUV part of Bill's question. I do think we need a president who actually says to America, you have to be willing to sacrifice, who calls on Americans to sacrifice. Instead of making a bunch of promises about what the president is going to do, who says to America if you love your country, you need to be patriotic about something other than war. You need to say I'm willing to drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle and I'm willing to conserve in my home and workplace, because all of us have to do this together.
Maher: Senator Gravel, since 1980, the percentage of Americans who are obese has risen steadily to an all-time high, and a recent report by Trust for America's Health said things were getting worse. In addition, SAT scores have declined and 38 percent of fourth-graders aren't able to read at a basic level. If the definition of a friend is someone who tells you the truth, would you be willing to tell Americans that they're getting fatter and dumber, and if not, why aren't you my friend?
Mike Gravel: Well, first off, I am prepared to tell you that Americans are getting fatter and dumber. I have no problem saying that. I've said that essentially on your program, and I've also said that the Americans are going to get the government they deserve....[T]he American people have to step forward and solve the problem. Don't wait on your leaders, because they'll never get the job done.
Maher: Congressman Kucinich, you said on my show you would not give the order to assassinate Osama bin Laden. How can you expect even liberals such as myself to support you when you don't even want the head of the man who, in the name of writing Muslim persecution, murdered 3,000 fellow citizens whose immediate complicity in the plight of Muslims is nonexistent?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, Bill, it's nice to see you on Charlie Rose's show. And I know that you'll both help each other's ratings. I want to say that our Constitution has been trashed by this administration. Former President Gerald Ford understood there are dangers when you use assassination as a tool. Assassination is really what's called an extrajudicial killing. Look at the entire way this administration has changed our Constitution and what America's values are. Extrajudicial killings are now licensed.... I want Osama bin Laden brought to justice. Now, if he resists in an attempt to arrest him, you know, whatever happens happens. But I think that we as a country need to reinstate this Constitution.
Maher: Senator Obama, we've heard a lot of talk about Democrats courting the Christian evangelical vote. You yourself are running as a candidate of faith, and you've said many times that progressives must take the views of religious right seriously. If the Ten Commandments constitute our greatest source of morality, why is it there no commandments saying do not rape, do not torture, or do not commit incest, yet there are commandments against swearing, working on Sunday, and making statues to other gods?
Barack Obama: Well, you know, I love Bill Maher, and he -- I think rightly he points out some of the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of people who mix religion and politics sometimes. I have said it's important for Democrats to reach out to the faith community, and the reason is because 90 percent of Americans believe in God. It's a source of values. It's a source of their moral compass. And I know it's a source of strength for me and my family. And the way to do it, though, is to understand that, No. 1, people who are religious don't have a monopoly on morality, so they've got to be careful about being sanctimonious. No. 2 is that whatever values may be religiously motivated, if you're in the public square, if you're involved in politics, I think you have to translate those moral precepts into something universal that people of different faiths or no faith at all can debate and argue and hopefully at some point come to a consensus.
Maher: Governor Richardson, what criticism would you apply to the voters? Do you think they're fair with you guys? Are they fickle? Are they shallow? Do they make informed choices? Do they pay attention to the right things? Do you ever, on the real now, feel like we're spoiled brats who can't take the truth and have to be lied to?
Bill Richardson: My answer to that is, thank God for the voters. Thank God especially in the small living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire that know how to scrutinize a president and know how to ask the right questions. My big concern is that 48 percent of the American people of our voters turn out when they elect a president, and it should be 90-plus percent. I have a lot of faith in the voters. What I worry about is our institutions.
SOURCE: Slate.com transcript