Evaluating the Democratic Presidential Debates (Part Four)
Before I get into this I’d like to make a few outside comments on the way in which the aftermath of these shouting matches are reported. Media outlets snark at the results as so-called “experts” (and I will admit that with the experience most of the talking heads have, it is difficult to dispute such a claim) smugly state their claims. But the ways in which these people evaluate such an event is all about polling and political data that ultimately has no meaning to reality. These experts discuss the results based on straw polls that emerge immediately after a debate, mostly answered by rank partisans who will promote or attack whomever they see fit to discuss. This is not my personal approach. Sure, I have personal interests and biases, and there are definitely candidates that I support over others, but I wish to present this as a fluid discourse, the results of a debate having a deeper influence on my personal preference. If you look back at any of my prefaces to the debates, I can justify my changing views of each candidate based upon whatever I or they have had to say subsequently (and yes, as with all of you, in that order.)
Some commentators managed to present their views within twenty minutes after the end of the debates, which to me presents either a rush job based upon maybe the first hour of arguments, or simply closed-minded partisanship on the part of the author. Again, that is not what I wish to be. I watched the two and a half plus hours of the debate on 7/31/2019, and rewound it several times to get the full picture of what several different candidates had to say. My results will not correspond, perhaps, with many of the other commentaries (I haven’t yet watched the news on who the talking heads believe won, nor read their screeds about the Vegas odds). But I wish to represent the world of as it is (without the arrogance such a proclamation might imply, hopefully). I want to shift the results outside of the heightened political bubble and talk to those of you who might not have bothered watching the debates at all. I hope to assure you that I do not have any specific partisan bias. No, my biases are personal, as the following commentary should provide.
So let’s talk about the losers first, those candidates who continue to do nothing to support their claims to be viable candidates for the President of the United States of America. The first loser I wish to emphasize–and I want to double down on this and make it clear–is former Senator and Vice-President Joe Biden. Yes, some people will claim that he regained some of his lost ground from the first debate, and there is no question that he did better this time around. But this still does not make him a winner. Biden even began the night by trying to brush off just how badly he was humiliated in the first round of debates. He essentially told the others, with his usual good-natured temper, to bring it on. And so they did. Biden spent most of the debate trying to defend himself in the past tense, talking about how much he has done for the nation, and then trying to go after Kamala Harris (offended as he is by the fact that she destroyed him the first time around), and the easy target of a Donald Trump who was not there to respond in his brutally cynical manner. Biden’s claims were exaggerations of other candidate’s expenses (he accused Harris of having a health care plan that would cost at first $3,000,000,000, and later repeated the claim at $30,000,000,000. Harris’ nimble response was that health care was already costing Americans $3,000,000,000.) Biden found himself having to defend both his past and his present against nearly every candidate, him falling most significantly under the gentle yet poignant suggestions of Cory Booker. One particular moment–and the exact moment I believe that Biden lost the nomination–was when in response to Harris talking about how Biden’s health care plans do not cover anyone responded “What plan will cover everyone?” Regardless of the reality of what he said, that comment will be the death of his campaign. Biden even said stupid things like, “The Biden Plan, which is Obamacare,” had to deal with Bill de Blasio demanding answers to questions he had no response to, and even continued to drop names of the people he still thinks support him. Most of his attempts to shine had to do with his aligning himself with President Obama, and this too was called out by Cory Booker. Some of the most devastating and memorable lines destroying Biden came from Booker. Here is a sample: “You can’t have it both ways. You evoke President Obama more than anyone. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and evade it when it’s not.” Booker also picked up on yet another malapropism by the former Vice President when it seemed like he was already calling Booker President. Biden stammered, laughed, touched Booker’s arm and then said “I mean future President.” Booker replied, “I am glad you’re supporting my campaign,” but then continued what was becoming a very easy attack. “Mr. Vice President, I’m glad you want to compare records and, frankly, I’m surprised that you do.” This lead to great laughter and applause from the audience. Booker even followed up to Biden’s weak justification on the issue of criminal reform and his frankly schizophrenic record in the past, “You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor.” The old man is done. Done. Done done done.
Michael Bennet will shortly be leaving the race, not because he did anything wrong, but because no one is presently able to quote him. Here. Let me try. Uhh . . . “Fix education.” Uhh . . . “Trump is a nativist racist destroying America.” Ummm, “88% of our people in prisons dropped out of high school!” and Uhhh, I have nothing else to say on those issues outside my purview. Good night, sir. Please stay in politics to help out on the the improvement of public education. A promotion? Secretary of Education? Drop out tomorrow.
Kirsten Gillibrand continues to annoy me. This time around she attempted to be a cheerful populist. “I am fighting for you” said every same song reply to every different issue she came across, like the words of a losing high school coach trying to inspire the failures they are responsible for championing a few months out of the school year. Everything she said was trying to claw herself up as some sort of civil rights champion, trashing her personal background (possibly insulting her parents) by trying desperately to reach the on-the-fence minorities out there who can accept her trashing of her own white privilege. She repeated a number of the same tired cliches: “Lose the forest for the trees” (this was said more than once), and an endless array of staged PC rants that sounded far more like a helicopter mom guarding her children than anything outside of the home and seeking the betterment of a nation. Leave–please leave the race, Kirsten. I am sure you can remain in the Senate for as long as you want.
Bill de Blasio. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Those are his chances. All he did was attack Biden (with a trifle of smug animus reserved for Trump). He had nothing really to say other than what is wrong with America, and he wasn’t necessarily incorrect. It was just that his natural assholishness came across as a the most purely honest characteristic of the night. By the end de Blasio seemed to be calling it a day, ending by offering suggestions on how a future president might deal with prosecuting Donald Trump once he is out of office. Say goodbye to the mayor.
I do not want to claim that Jay Inslee failed, because what he had to say was very important. Beyond focusing on the dire threat of climate change, and our desperate need to improve public education, Inslee managed to call Biden’s responses to environmental issues “middling.” He was fully aware of how to answer questions on topics like health care, and the threat of growing racial hatred (he said “We can no longer allow a white nationalist in the white house,” which is surely a catchy line). Other than that all we heard about is how Inslee managed to make a number of proposals work in Washington State, and that based upon this limited record, he could easily accomplish the same things nationwide. I like Jay Inslee. I admire his passion. I do not expect to see him in the next debate.
As for the winners of the night there are truly only three, although I will admit Kamala Harris into this group because, regardless of being under attack much of the night by the wannabes and Joe Biden, she still handled herself well, and threw a great deal of nasty spit back in Biden’s face. She tried to focus on the dangers of Donald Trump and the sincerity of her record, but was attacked from all sides on her hypocrisy over marijuana convictions in California while ,so said Tulsi Gabbard, “She put 1,500 marijuana offenders in prison and then laughed about if she ever smoked marijuana.” Gabbard also accused Harris of “blocking evidence” in death penalty cases, to which Harris came as close as I’ve yet to seen to cracking, exploding, and shouting out in rage. She spent far too much time telling other people they were wrong, and yet I still believe she came out ahead, her demolition of the mostly helpless Joe Biden keeping her at center stage.
Speaking of Tulsi Gabbard, she did a mostly great job. Sure, there are a number of issues where she toed a pretty bland party line, but no one was as effective on issues of national security, or how ordinary politicians sit in their “ivory tower” not understanding the ground level realities of the danger of the endless wars that our nation is engaged in. When on the offense Gabbard was marvelous. It is only her lack of understanding on some of the more base and boring issues that impact our everyday life that will keep this noble woman from rising near the top.
Julian Castro did fine, painting himself as the moralist on the stage. He is a very smart man, with social justice warrior credentials that will keep him from ever being anything more than an influential Congressman. He did well, and will get a few more face shots on TV with his charming wit and decimation of Biden, but this is mostly the end of the road for a man who will linger around a bit too long to keep him popular.
Andrew Yang. I thought that Yang was done after the first debate, but perhaps it was the format of this one that helped him to the significant accomplishment he achieved tonight. Out of nearly nowhere (although his rise in polling has a great deal to do with this poison you and I are presently engaged with called ‘social media’), Yang arrived with quite a bit to say. He was, unlike the first debate, given ample opportunity to make his case (even though his oft repeated campaign slogan of “The Opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian Man Who Likes Math”–surely the title of a bestselling t-shirt–is already getting tired). Yang showed off his intelligence, having valid ideas on nearly every issue, while remaining true to himself and warning us about the threat of Amazon.com, and the rise of robot workers. Yang displayed a genuine self-deprecating sense of humor and emphasized the value of humane business ideology as a counterpoint to Donald Trump’s merciless junk bond salesmanship. Yang, a zillionaire, will stay in the race for as long as he wants. He will not win the nomination, but the increase in his profile will make him more powerful, perhaps, than even the next President of the United States.
To my great surprise the unquestionable winner of the debate was Cory Booker. Ready for everything, strategically agreeing with everyone at one time or another, while taking it to his closer competitors when needed, Cory Booker emerged tonight as a very serious candidate. Destroying Joe Biden, undermining Kamala Harris, and even taking on, aloofly, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Booker maintained the tone of a worried uncle, seeking to fix the broken world that the United States has become. The pure decency of the man shined, causing anyone watching him to like him (and if you didn’t, think about what your rejection of his form of hope says about you.) He was a sharp moralist, someone who clearly understands the social, economic, and political problems in which we are currently mired, offering gentle yet firm solutions to pull us back from our drowning state. Booker will get a large bump, before undoubtedly falling back a little more, behind the same old Biden, Sanders, Warren contingent. I suspect that, at least briefly, he will overtake Harris in the polls. The race continues to get more and more interesting.
I hope that you will consider these amateur observations from a commentator who has watched this sort of shit for as far back as I can remember. When I was seven years old I remember seeing Ronald Reagan laughingly trash Jimmy Carter, and I have been watching this bloodsport with fascination ever since. In our brutal age, with a knockout artist in the white house, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the election results were offered only on Pay-per-View. I hope you will pay attention to this chaos and see for yourself who or what it is that the United States of America will become. At present there are a great many choices. Make one–