Evaluating the Democratic Presidential Debates (Part Three)
Okay, I want to try to scribble this out as quickly as I can. This is not because there isn’t a great deal to talk about, but because I am very late. I had to DVR the whole two hours and forty minutes of chatter and blather because, you know, children and wife and family and other obligations (and my wife was insistent about watching the finale of The Bachelorette, so my concerns came second and I played with my kids instead).
Anyway, let’s talk about the winners and losers. I had a plan on how I intended to present this discussion, but let’s simply go stream-of-consciousness and begin with those I am now dismissing from the primary race, regardless of whether they leave or not.
Marianne Williamson did a much better job this time around, but something about her just annoys me. Perhaps it is simply her voice, or maybe her utterly pretentious manner, or her scolding, or I imagine it more than any of those other issues to be her incoherent policy suggestions that are basically dire calls for hope in a world where practical consideration must rule the day. Her message was decidedly narco-religious in tone, like her revolutionary ideology was less about attacking the corporate interests that everybody else came after in varying degrees, but like she was devising a whole new faith to go along with her examples. She made a few valid points, although her solutions were mostly absurd. Her preparation for this debate was genuinely solid, complete with a number of effective preplanned slogans to bolster her movement. She even managed to get some genuine applause as the night went on (after the near silence that greeted her introduction), but her solutions seemed to entirely disregard the legitimate cost of her proposals. She is a fantasist, someone utterly unequipped for the larger violence of politics. Goodbye, Marianne.
Tim Ryan‘s only message seemed to be that the whole system of government is broken, that the nation and our values have dissolved, and that somehow we need to restore ourselves into the dream of once upon a time. And yet the man came across like a run-of-the-mill politician, complete with dense lawyerly comments on how to solve issues. I found myself tuning out nearly every time he spoke. He tried his damnedest to play the true moderate, and maybe he really is. He’ll stay in congress, perhaps eventually reach the senate as a result of his limited candidacy, but he should be done after tonight.
Beto O’Rourke is remarkably underwhelming. He plays the role of a half-populist without very much to say. In fact, he seemed already defeated from his very opening statement, after his applause meter was way down from the first debate. He hesitated to add that everyone on the stage was qualified; seeming to give up before he stumbled through his predictable mid-range answers to questions he apparently has no passion for. His chief complaint seemed to be going after Political Action Committees, surely a valid critique, but I noticed in the background some laughter from others on stage to his flaccid explanation of why this is wrong. I am sure Beto has a fine future still ahead of him, no doubt on the news as a commentator, but politics is a dead end for the man. Give up, please. Hell, he even allowed first-timer Steve Bullock to embarrass him when Beto clearly lost steam or fell off the script others prepared for him on the initial issue of health-care.
Steve Bullock. I feel a little sorry for poor Steve Bullock. Sure, he was probably the most boring person on stage, but he is also a pro, someone who knew how to handle the questions without having to bother with something like a personality. A smart guy, Steve Bullock, who was doomed by the endless repetition of a few prepared phrases: “Wish list economics,” (which he said twice), and other liberal buzz terms on the other side like “Dark Money,” “playing into Donald Trump’s hands,” (regarding Elizabeth Warren), and the powerful claim that “the real problem with immigration is Donald Trump.” Unfortunately for the charmless man, making his lone appearance on the Presidential debate stage I suspect, is that anyone who followed up his comments did it either better than him, or made his point for him, or effectively undermined his bland moderation with applause line statements.
John Hickenlooper actually did pretty well in the debate. But let me ask you: do you remember a single thing he had to say? He was far more gentle in his criticism of the farthest left Sanders/Warren wing of the party than John Delany (coming up next), and as a result his stance on everything seemed pretty limp. Sure, he was the initial champion for environmental protection, but others took the issue from him with bolder and possibly far less likely plans. There were two stand out moments for the man, in what should be the end of his campaign, one pretty minor and the other quite possibly very significant. He referred to President Trump as “guilty of malpractice.” I suspect this line will either be repeated on the news or outright stolen by other candidates. It does effectively summarize a viewpoint among Democrats or anti-Trump Independents (and even the handful of Republicans of a like mind). His other success came when he exposed Bernie Sanders after Sanders angrily boasted that all polls showed him defeating Trump in the election. Hickenlooper managed to show the nakedness of Sanders’ irrational rage (more on this later) and caused him to stammer with bafflement for a moment before Sanders returned to his self-designed party line. This was probably the high point of John Hickenlooper’s political career. I will frankly miss him, and you should too.
John Delany completely broke down in this debate. I sort of liked Delany, his previously rational proposals ideologically plausible. But the man . . . the man . . . He made a fool of himself. He is done. From his opening, when he attacked Bernie Sanders, referring to him as a similar loser to George McGovern and Walter Mondale, as the sort of pathetic liberal voice no one could really get behind, he seemed not to realize that this is not then and that the crowd he was performing for did not agree with him. From the very beginning, when Jake Tapper asked Sanders and Delany for their counterpoints on their health care proposals, it devolved into a silly argument that literally went like this: Sanders: “He’s wrong!” Delany: “I’m right!” The explanations both used to follow this up to make their points are irrelevant in our tabloid media culture (which I am now feeding into to make my own point) because all that will be remembered will be this childishness. Sanders further painted Delany as a greedy corporate shill, countering Delany’s oft repeated statement about his being the only former health care professional, and his suggestion that nobody else seems to understand the realities of the complicated issue with, “Maybe you did that (with the bureaucracy) to make money . . .” There even came a moment, near the end, when Sanders was boasting about his free college for all plans, undermining yet another fiscally conservative suggestion Delany made, when you could actually watch his face and see his campaign ending. His eyes kept shifting, he appeared to be sweating, he was angry and had no idea how to respond. I suspect Delany will also wind up on the news commentating, but he will never hold public office again.
This leaves four people, as I see it, from this first group that should remain in the race. Before discussing them, however, I would like to acknowledge the three moderators from CNN: Jake Tapper, Dana Bash and Don Lemon, who did a wonderful job trying to keep the candidates honest. All of them asked some pretty difficult questions and managed to put most of the candidates on the spot. They even asked questions putting them at one another’s throats. It began as a shitshow, but became some pretty compelling television and political discourse.
On to the winners:
Amy Klobucher will not be our next President, but she remains a voice that should continue to be heard as this race narrows down. She might be a bit too arrogant, boasting repeatedly about how “tough” other people keep telling her she is (and no doubt this is mostly true), and about how important it is that she is “from the heartland of America,” (which might make her a wonderful VP candidate), but what Klobucher has to say on the more important issues is worth listening to. She is a take-no-shit sort of candidate and no doubt she could hold her own with anyone daring to come at her. She is a very good politician and seems to offer the correct partisan answers, even blaming both the NRA and Mitch McConnell (almost exclusively) for the rise in gun violence. She dismissed Trump as merely a symptomatic bigot whom we need to be inoculated from in order to restore the nation. I like Amy Klobucher as a candidate every bit as much as I am sure I would loathe her were I ever to meet her in person. She probably ended her campaign by promising “one trillion dollars” to help Flint, Michigan back on its feet. The fact that this was said in Detroit might have been a local applause line, but should otherwise doom her.
Bernie Sanders I only place here in the winner’s circle because of his lingering popularity, and the handful of sharp answers he offered. But for the first time I actually noticed something I found very troubling (perhaps I’d never paid as much attention to him before). It was disturbing just how angry Sanders seems to be. He offered dire, nearly apocalyptic warnings, blaming the rich for every problem we face, and seeking to impose a system where their benefits are nearly eliminated. His extremism on many issues seems to justify the exaggerated fears being spread by Donald Trump and his minions about the dangers of Socialism. Sanders even cut off Jake Tapper questioning him and accused him of asking a “Republican talking point.” What truly struck me, the more closely I watched, are the barren similarities Sanders has to Trump. They both run on fear, on anger and outrage over the “raw deal” the government has given them, and both talk about tearing the system asunder in order to create a new way of living. Both share their fanatical loyalists, some willing to commit violence in the name of progress, and each man is an old crank that seems to have lost a few steps and no longer has as much interest in understanding the changes constantly taking place in the world. I do not trust this man, really. And while he would, in my opinion, be a better choice than Trump, the dangers of his administration would not really lessen.
Elizabeth Warren is the far more preferable left-wing candidate, and this is because her ideas are less emotional than Bernie Sanders’. She actually seems to know what she is talking about and clearly understands economics better than anyone on the stage. She has an optimistic populism, condemning Trump as “disgrac(ing) the Presidency,” and that the present “broken system kicks dirt on all of us.” She essentially is calling for a structural revolution, eliminating all corporate corruption and its influence on government. Her phrasing of these declarations, less doom and gloom than Sanders, should be very appealing to the left. When necessary Warren does play to the emotions, manipulating the tragedies of family separations at the border and the separation of children into cages, and she is capable enough to evade the question on whether she believes in “open borders.” She also managed to deliver the line that ended John Delany’s candidacy, responding to his moderation banter with “Why does someone run for President just to talk about what we can’t do?” This was the best line of the night and will be oft repeated, at least until someone on night two offers a better one.
Pete Buttigieg, for all it matters, certainly won the debate. He was the most cogent–certainly the most impressive–and he had solid to strong to wonderful answers for everything. He somehow managed to get everyone responding to him to agree with his statements (other than O’Rourke, who should any longer be considered a non-entity). He displayed wit, courage, understanding and empathy. He also was the only candidate on the stage looking at the flag during the National Anthem (everyone else stared into and sized up the crowd with their hands over their hearts–except for Ryan, who didn’t both with either). He was equally able to identify problems in the nation on climate, intolerance, the cost of services, wages, health care, immigration, and even provided hopeful solutions that may or may not be plausible. But coming from this man, displaying a naturalness that was unsurpassed by everybody else, and a sincerity that may or may not be real (if it is not real then yet another one of his talents is being a terrific actor), one can easily see how people can get behind him. I remain convinced that sometime in the near future Pete Buttigieg will be the President of the United States. I just don’t think it’s his time yet, not next year. He displayed bravery, mentioned his service to the nation just enough to not come across like a guy running exclusively on this, and he looked great on stage next to the fading candidacies of those others beside him. Keep your eyes on Mayor Pete. He will be around for a long time.
In a few hours I will compose the preview for day two, followed by yet another evaluation. Thank you for your consideration.