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GOP Candidates to Add YouTube Event to NAACP Boycott?

July 27, 2007

Like it or hate it, Monday's CNN/YouTube Democratic candidates debate may have represented a sea-change in direct citizen participation in the American presidential selection process. Which is why the GOP White House hopefuls appear to want no part of the September 17 YouTube event co-sponsored by the Florida Republican Party. As their empty podiums at the recent NAACP convention attest, like the current Oval Office occupant these Republicans apparently have no stomach for authentic, unscripted questions from the American people.
On July 20, Florida Governor Charlie Crist enthusiastically announced that the state GOP would co-host a CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate in St. Petersburg in September. And almost immediately, the Republican candidates began to look for excuses to provide cover for their non-participation. Giuliani aide Katie Levinson told the New York Times that "the campaign had a likely scheduling conflict on that date." Thus far, only the idiosyncratic Ron Paul and moribund John McCain have committed to participate in the YouTube event.
The example of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is particularly illustrative of Republican squeamishness when it comes to interactions with the American people. Romney, who just days ago happily displayed a supporter's sign proclaiming "No to Obama Osama and Chelsea's Mom," wants no part of it. The man who compared Hillary Clinton to Karl Marx and pledged to "double Guantanamo" complained of the YouTube debate, "I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman." (That level, as the Huffington Post detailed yesterday, is the new plateau where Romney cash buys the loyalty of Republican activists in Iowa.)
The Republicans' case of YouTube flu is shaping up as a repeat of their boycott of the 2007 NAACP convention in Detroit two weeks ago. As Jeffrey Feldman captured at his Frameshop blog, only Tom Tancredo had the courage to attend an event where the otherwise empty Republicans podiums on stage summarized the GOP's commitment to civil rights and the concerns of African-Americans. (Given then-RNC chairman Ken Mehlman's disastrous outreach to the NAACP and African-Americans in 2005, the Republican White Hous wannabes may have concluded that cowardice is the better part of valor.)
In the end, all of the GOP presidential contenders may yet cave to public pressure and participate in the next CNN/YouTube event. But for the likes of Giuliani, Romney, Brownback, Huckabee at al, it does raise a fundamental question about the Republicans gnawing fear of the very people they claim to serve. What if the American people went to a debate and no Republicans showed up?
UPDATE: As ThinkProgress reports, Romney has dug himself a deeper hole by confusing YouTube with MySpace. Once again, Romney shows he doesn't know what he's for - or against - saying, "YouTube is a website that allows kids to network with one another and make friends and contact each other."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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