Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

My biggest gripe is that we’re past the point at which so many candidates should be allowed to crowd the stage. While last night’s debate wasn’t nearly the hot mess that the earlier one hosted by CNN was — leaving out Jake Tapper was a huge help — it still only allowed for sound bite responses, not substantive debate. I long for the day that Liz Warren will be allowed time to explain the difference between “cost” and “taxes.” And the better-than-Jake-Tapper moderators still managed to be annoying by asking about Ellen Degeneres but not climate change or our inhumane immigration policies.

Joe Biden is still leading in many national polls, but you wouldn’t have known that from the debate. Clearly, the second-tier candates were focused on knocking down Warren, and they left Biden alone. IMO Joe seemed a tad unfocused, as he usually does, and in his closing remarks he was still blathering about reaching across the aisle. But the worst news for him wasn’t in the debate. His fundraising hasn’t been going well, and he’s been spending more than he’s been taking in. So he has much less cash on hand than many other candidates as we approach the primary elections.

I thought Bernie Sanders had a good night. He was mentally sharp and energetic; the same old Bernie. All of the comments I’ve read put Sanders in the “winner” column.

I feel a bit mixed about Liz Warren. Most commenters praised her performance, but IMO she can’t keep putting off the raising-taxes-to-pay-for-health-care question forever. Here’s how Bernie handled it:

SANDERS: Well, as somebody who wrote the damn bill, as I said, let’s be clear. Under the Medicare for all bill that I wrote, premiums are gone. Co-payments are gone. Deductibles are gone. All out-of-pocket expenses are gone. We’re going to do better than the Canadians do, and that is what they have managed to do.

At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of people will save money on their health care bills. But I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They’re going to go up significantly for the wealthy. And for virtually everybody, the tax increase they pay will be substantially less — substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

Was that so hard?

The criteria will be higher for joining the November debate, but eight candidates already have met them, and four more could possibly meet them. So we may end up with the same gang of 12 in November. This is unacceptable. At the very least, the Dems should seriously consider having the six top polling candidates debate one night and the remainder another night.

Who do I really not want to see any more? Number one in my list is Tulsi Gabbard. She has not yet secured a spot for the November debate, and I don’t think she helped herself last night with voters who weren’t already in the tank for her. Zack Beauchamp wrote at Vox:

First, she described the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, which is controlled by America’s Kurdish allies, thusly: “the slaughter of the Kurds being done by Turkey is yet another negative consequence of the regime change war we’ve been waging in Syria.”

The US is not waging a war of regime change in Syria (as Biden pointed out later in the debate). American troops are in northern Syria assisting Kurdish forces in combating the ISIS presence in the country. The reason Turkey invaded the Kurdish-held territory is that it sees the Kurds as terrorists and doesn’t want them to have a quasi-state on its border. And it was able to launch the invasion because President Donald Trump pulled out US troops.

But Gabbard’s comment wasn’t a one-off error. Again and again, Gabbard called for an end to the “regime war in Syria,” which is simply not what’s happening there. She bizarrely blamed the “regime change war” for the Syrian refugee crisis, instead of the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has indiscriminately attacked populated areas.

When Buttigieg challenged her shaky analysis, saying that “the slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal,” she accused him of supporting “endless war.” His response was succinct and devastating: “You can put an end to endless war without embracing Donald Trump’s policy, as you’re doing.”

She also complained that the impeachment effort is being driven by “hyperpartisan interests” and that news media treat her unfairly:

… the New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war. Just two days ago, the New York Times put out an article saying that I’m a Russian asset and an Assad apologist and all these different smears.

To which the New York Times replied,

The Times article Ms. Gabbard referenced, however, notes that the congresswoman is a frequent topic of Russian state news media; there is no inference that she is a Russian asset. Ms. Gabbard also met with the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad,in January 2017, and has said in the past that the dictator is “not the enemy of the United States.” In August, on CNN, Ms. Gabbard called Mr. Assad a “brutal dictator.”

Last week Gabbard was whining that the completely transparent and IMO too lenient debate inclusion criteria were not transparent enough and that the DNC was rigging the nomination process against her. I’m not fan of the DNC, but seems to me they’ve been bending over backward to avoid an appearance of favoritism this time. Gabbard is nothing but a five-alarm flake.

The other candidate I wish would go away — but who has already qualified for the November debate — is Tom Steyer. He simply brings nothing to the table except a bunch of his own money. For example —

STEYER: As a result of taking away the rights of working people and organized labor, people haven’t had a raise — 90 percent of Americans have not had a raise for 40 years. If you took the minimum wage from 1980 and just adjusted it for inflation, you get $11 bucks. It’s $7.25. If you included the productivity gains of American workers, it would be over $20 bucks.

There’s something wrong here, and that is that the corporations have bought our government. Our government has failed. That’s why I’m running for president, because we’re not going to get any of the policies that everybody on this stage wants — health care, education, Green New Deal, or a living wage…

BURNETT: Thank you, Mr. Steyer.

STEYER: … unless we break the power of these corporations.

I agree with that, but he says this while standing on the same stage with Bernie Sanders and Liz Warren, both of whom have been fighting that fight for years now. This is like Süssmayr talking over Mozart. Why do we need Steyer? Among those not yet qualified for November, along with Gabbard, are Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, and Julián Castro. While I’m not personally a supporter of any of those three, I’d rather see any of them in the November debate instead of Steyer.

Andrew Yang, on the other hand, may not have a prayer at the nomination but he brings something to the conversation. At the very least, he’s gotten some Very Serious People to talk about universal basic income. He’s qualified for the November debate, and I’m okay with that.

Many commenters are putting Pete Buttigieg in the “winners” column today, but he annoyed me with his comments about Medicare for All. He’s clearly decided to invade Biden’s space and go for the “moderate” vote.

Kamala Harris annoyed me when she needled Warren for not supporting her proposal to get Trump’s twitter account closed. This seemed a picayune thing to argue about. And, anyway, Trump’s twitter account can be revealing, in a bleak sort of way. It’s the only nearly transparent thing about his administration; it’s where the blackness of his id and the blankness of his head are openly on display.

Klobuchar seemed to me to be having a good night, although I don’t remember what she said. The remainder of the field, IMO, neither helped nor hurt themselves.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Last Night’s Debate

  1. Yang irritates me. He's smart enough to know that a VAT at every stage of production is inflationary. The inflation will be passed on as a hidden tax that every consumer pays at a rate proportionate to consumption. What could be more fair???

    It's fundamentally regressive even if it benefits the ultra-poor. A tax on consumption hits the consumer and the big consumer is the middle class. The ultra-rich will largely be spared. Why? VERY rich people don't SPEND even half of what they earn. The richer you are the greater portion of your income goes to investment which is exempt from the VAT. 

    Yang has a proposal which transfers wealth from the middle class to the poor and leaves the ultra-rich relatively unscathed. I have to wonder if that's been the intent from day one. Like I said, Yang's a smart guy. 

  2. Warren is not going to say her Medicare For All plan will raise one's taxes. That's a trap aimed at becoming a GOP soundbite. As long as she stays on message letting people know that they will be getting more out of the plan than what they have now,  that's the message she should put out there. Taxes are the frame created by the media to be used as a cudgel, costs is the frame she is putting forth as a benefit for the average American.

    • I agree Warren is trying to prevent the soudbite, 'Yes I will raise taxes." That's what the GOP wants. A reasonably intelligent person should be able to get past the higher taxes and see they will have lower overall costs.

      The strategic decision was to only release the "lower overall costs" phrase. This guarantees endless questions on higher taxes. How it will play out, we will find out.

  3. Sad that Steyer could be spending his $$$$$$ in much better ways, including getting off the stage. At least his org is signing up younger people to vote.

    It took me awhile to figure out Kamala Harris – she's good, if overdramatic when it comes to needling/asking hard questions (as you'd expect of a prosecutor), but she lacks the vision thing – hence the changing positions and back-tracking. She's just not at the same level as some of the others. Kamala has a flair for the dramatic, and is skilled at/enjoys being the center of attention in a courtroom. She'd make a great TV prosecutor. Contrast her with Adam Schiff who's all business, has a razor intellect and doesn't care about getting attention. While Harris is basking in the limelight, Schiff is working the surgical tools, big time.

    Glad to hear that Biden's money is drying up. The longer these debates drag on, the more evident it will become that he needs to retire.

  4. Joe did better than he has in the past, but it's too late. The answer he gave here is pretty much the definition of late stage cognitive decline. Telling Trump to "shut up" on camera doesn't exactly raise the level of discourse either,  and seems like an old man shoving match in the works. Hunter hasn't helped either.

    One nit to pick: We are nearly the same age, Maha, and I would remind you of Walter Mondale, who promised to raise taxes during his campaign only to be destroyed by Reagan. Making the same mistake would qualify Warren for a Darwin Award nomination. The competition embarrassed themselves by repeatedly trying to make her step into the trap.


  5. maha,

    I agree with you on Tulsi and Steyer:  Just go already.

    But I still like Castro, who I think is one of the primary candidates for the VP slot.

    Yang has some interesting views, and should continue for another debate.  But after that, bye-bye!

    Beto seems like he's past his "Use by" date.

    Bernie has medical issues – real, and perceived.

    Biden is slipping.

    Klobucher is hanging on until Biden drops out:  She wants to be the "Centrist" option.

    Harris is still viable.

    To me, my ideal candidates are Warren, Castro, Corey, Harris, and Mayor Pete.

    We need to start narrowing the field down to the 5 candidates I mentioned.  Not t hat I'm right about them, but that reality seems to show that those 5 are the realistic candidates.


    To me, the real finalists I want to see, are

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