Stray Political Thoughts
I watched tonight's Democratic candidates debate with some friends and have some thoughts.
- The moderators from ABC News were gawd-awful. Every question from them seemed to be designed to start a fight. To their credit, the candidates generally refused to take the bait, which seemed to frustrate, especially, moderator David Muir. When Muir didn't get an answer he liked, he followed up with another candidate trying to bring out the claws. It was infuriating. Muir's ridiculously simplistic question to several candidates concerning the killing of Iranian general Soleimani was embarrassingly stupid and his rejection of nuanced answers to it spoke quite poorly of Muir's grasp of reality. Most if not all debates have occurrences when a candidate dodges a question or otherwise manages to avoid a direct answer, but this was the first time I can recall being pleased to see question avoidance. The questions tended to suck.
- Candidates that impressed: Pete, Bernie, Warren, and Steyer. Mayor Pete was exceptionally eloquent, gave brilliant answers to lame questions, and came across as monumentally competent. As I said to my companions here, if Pete were ten years older and had served in Congress, I'd be tempted to vote for him based on this.
- My candidate of choice right now, though, is Senator Warren, and she had one standout moment by articulating an agenda based around fighting corruption, including creating a standing agency to keep tabs on government actions that cross lines of legality. Unfortunately, none of her other answers struck me as enough to move the needle for her; she remains strong, but this debate probably didn't win new voters to her side.
- Bernie Sanders was the only one to give an actual answer to the final question that candidates used for closing remarks, and he hit an upper-deck homer with it. The question was, essentially, child poverty continues to be really bad in the U.S., why is that? Sanders crushed it with a simple truth: Because our priorities are fucked up, rewarding the rich and corporate in a Republican economic disaster that began in the 1980s and has never truly righted itself. Bernie also had good remarks on party unity—his most fervent supporters really need to hear that, we can have no _____ or Bust people this time—and on his evolution on gun control.
- And Tom Steyer, who nobody really considers to be a legit contender, barged his way into the discussion with a frustration that a lot of us watching were also feeling: These nitpicky arguments about Medicare for All vs. Medicare for All Who Want It vs. Obamacare + Public Option and the like are tiresome, we've been over it and over it, and no matter what, every single Democrat running will push for vast improvements with the same ultimate goal; what we really need to be discussing is the existential danger of a President Trump who would be King Trump the Dear Leader. Several candidates made the case for turning out a massive number of voters as necessary for victory, which is true, but none of them noted that part of the reason it's necessary is that we need to overcome the cheating that the Republicans are and will continue to perpetrate.
- Amy Klobuchar and Yang were fine, came across well, but didn't impress me. Yang seemed pretty simplistic by always leaning on his basic income proposal as a panacea.
- Everyone missed the opportunity for a simple, clear, true, and relevant answer to a question on whether or not approving the USMCA was a good idea. Instead of arguing that not making climate-change mitigation part of the agreement was a reason to oppose it or defending that it was more important to have a united bloc among the US, Canada, and Mexico on trade, there was a better response: For the Senators who cast a vote, there were but two options—nothing, or a bit better than nothing. Voting no would not help climate change, but voting yes would help some in other areas. Warren almost got there, but veered off before making the point.
- Joe Biden was better than he was in prior debates, but he still seems like a poor choice. Not that he'd be a poor choice to be President, I mean a poor choice to be a candidate for President in the general. The stakes are so very, very high this time around and Joe has this way of interrupting himself, speaking in terms that lack context, being oddly aggressive at times that don't really call for it, and, at least in a debate format, is remarkably defensive. It's scary to me, given how malleable voters have shown themselves to be in the past.
- Mayor Pete is going to make an excellent Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- I'm more in Warren's camp than ever at this point, but not due to her performance tonight. I started out supporting Kamala Harris, thinking that we need a prosecutor in this election (and she's been a solid public servant). Warren is closer to my thinking in terms of policy, but now, with the field narrowed as it is, she's also the one that gives me the least anxiety as a potential nominee. She's unabashedly and authentically the opposite of Trump in most ways: anti-corruption, pro-labor, full of integrity, whip-smart, and compassionate. And she relates to the general public well. There is still some of that Senator-speak that I cringe at—it's the thing that drove me nuts more than anything else while working for John Kerry's campaign, using the language of the Senate floor on the campaign trail and sounding condescending when it was far from his intent—but in general she connects with the masses.
- Biden and Sanders do the Senator-speak too—the most common offense being to start a sentence with "Look, blah blah," which almost 100% of the time sounds as if there's an unsaid portion that makes it really "Look, you idiot, blah blah"—but Sanders is such a unique character that it just blends into his style and doesn't stand out. Biden is really bad with it, though, especially when he's defensive or amped up.
- Discussing the idiocy of having Iowa and New Hampshire get so much say in who gets nominated, my friend Mark mentioned that at least we in Washington have done away with caucuses. This, weirdly, was news to me! What? When did that happen?! Why didn't I know this?! Just yesterday I blogged about how much I enjoyed them! Turns out Mark is correct—last April the state Democratic party made the change to a primary, and we vote shortly after Super Tuesday. How this escaped my notice I have no idea. Seems like something I would have been plugged into. It was April, so I was likely immersed in baseball, but still. Sigh.
- Little to no commentary in the debate tonight about Trump's truly frightening off-the-rails ego trip yesterday in the East Room. It deserved a mention.
- However, Trump's retaliation against impeachment witnesses Col. Vindman and Ambassador Sondland did get mentions, though not enough. He's going full-on Emperor Palpatine now.
- FactCheck.org has a rundown of things said in the debate that aren't 100% accurate, and it's kind of amusing; none of the items are in spirit incorrect, only in fine details, which is such a giant contrast to any given day of Trump's Twitter feed.
This has been a brutal couple of weeks, politically, and it's necessary to remember not to fall back into normal election season behavior. Watching the debates is interesting and reading analyses of candidate performance is good and all that, but we have to keep in mind that if Trump has his way, this election will not be on the up-and-up and could easily be the last one with any sense of legitimacy at all for a long, long time. Tom Steyer was right: bickering about who has the incrementally better health-care plan means nothing compared to defeating Trump and making it stick. Because we know he won't take losing gracefully, he'll fight it with claims of fraud—because in his mind, everyone does what he does as nothing else makes sense to him—and bogus whining about being a victim and his corrupt and evil henchmen in the Justice Department. That's the priority: Not just beating him, but beating him so soundly and forcefully that he can't cheat his way out of it.