Tuesday night’s debate on NBC, the sixth of the race, was easily the strangest one so far. There were twelve people on stage, which might have made it the biggest crowd of any primary debate in recent history. Tulsi Gabbard managed to make the cut, though she initially threatened to boycott the event after claiming the DNC and corporate media outlets were mistreating her. Also present was billionaire Tom Steyer, who donated tens of millions of dollars to his own campaign for the privilege of having everyone watching at home ask each other who the hell he is. Neither of them had much speaking time and it’s unlikely we’ll see them in November at the next debate.
The audience also felt odd. The debate was held in Ohio, and the crowd seemed much different than typical debate crowds — the kind of glib lines that would usually get hoots and claps drew nothing but coughs from those in attendance, creating awkward silences as candidates paused for applause that never came. When Yang tried to get some audience interaction by way of raised hands, a quick cut to the floor showed a crowd of people sitting still with their hands in their laps. I think it threw some candidates off their rhythms and with the moderators unwilling to let anyone, even frontrunners, to go over their time limits, the pace of the debate felt unmoored. The fact that it was the scrappiest debate thus far only added to the surreality of it all.
It’s Time to Thin the Primary Herd
Given the crowded stage, the moderators wisely decided to skip opening statements. Unfortunately, they instead asked “is impeaching Trump a good idea”, which is a great way to get fifteen minutes of candidates saying the exact same thing twelve different ways. It was a ridiculous waste of time and another clear example of why these things don’t need to be three hours long. I feel sorry for everyone who had to watch this mess, myself most of all.
This event reminded me of the 2015 GOP debates that were happening at roughly the same time of year. The group was being narrowed rapidly and the single-digit losers were desperately trying to generate some cheap heat by attacking anyone they could. I distinctly remember Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul, desperate for attention, taking swings at top candidates and being completely ignored as the weakling shithead nobodies that they were. Likewise, Kamala Harris, whose campaign recently suffered the dual embarrassments of fellow California Senator Diane Feinstein sponsoring Joe Biden and being outpolled in her own state by Andrew Yang, tried to bait Senator Elizabeth Warren in one of the dumbest ploys I’ve seen in this entire election cycle and didn’t even get a response. It was a sad and desperate maneuver, painful to watch, and another sign that neither Harris nor her campaign really knows what they’re doing.
Biden Beaten Down Post-Ukraine
But Harris wasn’t the only floundering candidate trying to get attention by attacking Warren, and the sheer amount of flak Warren was forced to fend off is a pretty good indicator that she truly has overtaken Joe Biden as the frontrunner. Biden’s poll numbers have continued their slow but steady decline, his fundraising is in the toilet, and all the noise being made by Trump about Hunter Biden and his seat on the board of a Ukranian bank has undoubtedly taken a toll.
Now, let’s be clear about this: Hunter Biden being on the board of that bank is a clear example of blatant influence peddling. There is no way that Hunter Biden, a man who joined the US Navy at age forty and was kicked out on his first day after testing positive for cocaine (which is absolutely stunning if you know anything about cocaine and drug tests), a man who would occasionally bail on his responsibilities in lieu of crashing in a California motel and smoking crack for a week, a man who got caught and promptly arrested for smoking crack because he accidentally left crack, a crack pipe, and his brother’s wallet in a rental car when he returned it, a man who will freely and unabashedly admit to all of this if you ask him, was given that board seat because he’s some kind of business leader.
But it’s not illegal; it’s just the jobs program that rich and powerful people have set up for their dipshit loser offspring. It’s why a talentless dunce like Meghan McCain gets to be the dumbest person on The View and why Chuck Schumer’s daughter gets to be a Facebook executive. It sucks, but it’s legal.
Nevertheless, it feels shady, and as we saw in 2016 the general electorate doesn’t have a good track record of accurately weighing a candidate’s transgressions. But hey, so far all the noise about it has spurred House Democrats into beginning impeachment inquiries and is currently helping to destroy Joe Biden’s dreams of keeping marijuana illegal along with his presidential aspirations, so to me it’s a win-win.
Biden really needed a win to stay in the lead, and watching him fail repeatedly was a genuine joy for me. During the mandatory gun control portion of the debate, Biden confidently stated that he’s taken on the NRA more times than anyone else on stage, inadvertently revealing his stunning impotence and inconsequence given that each candidate had just finished describing the out-of-control gun problem in America by spitting out one horrifying statistic after another. Great work, Joe! Thank god you were there!
Later when he bragged about being the only person to “get big things done” and even went so far as to take credit for Warren’s creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by claiming he did the work to get the votes, Warren responded by saying “I am deeply thankful … to President Obama”, a nice little dig at the former Vice President. Even better, though, was Bernie Sanders’ reminder to Biden that most of his big accomplishments were monumental failures and foreign policy disasters.
The Difference Between Sanders and Warren
Sanders is being hailed as a winner of the debate and it’s not hard to see why. After his heart attack and emergency surgery his opponents — either in media, liberal think tanks, or in the Democratic party itself — were keen to suggest it was a sign of his inadequacy for the job of President of the United States. But he was as energetic and on-message as ever Tuesday night, defending his Medicare for All bill with vim and vigor. While Warren was getting attacked for her nebulous stance on Medicare for All and for refusing to answer when asked if it would raise taxes on the middle class, Sanders was uncompromising and unafraid to answer bluntly.
If Twitter is anything to go by, fans of his are still waiting for Sanders to look directly into the camera and say “Let me be clear — everyone else on this stage is either a corrupt liar or an empty fuckin’ suit”, but conventional wisdom says that harsh attacks in a field so crowded almost always blows up in your face. And it’s clear that he and Warren, seen by all as the two most progressive candidates, have far more similarities than they do differences.
…Which is not to say that there are no differences.
I was initially pleased with Warren’s extremely general but seemingly genuine support for Sanders’ Medicare For All bill, but watching that support grow from opaque to a different kind of opaque has not been heartening. More and more often you see her using the phrase “access to healthcare”, which as I discussed earlier is a method to cloud your intentions frequently used by disingenuous hacks like Harris and Buttigieg. She claims that she’s “with Bernie” but in Ohio, she said she would “never vote for a plan that raises taxes on the middle class”, which is a part of Sanders’ bill. Nevermind that there’s no clue what she, or any candidate, means by “middle class”.
It’s clear she still thinks that even the mention of higher taxes on the middle class is a dead-end, that American voters are too stupid to understand that even if taxes go up they’ll still have more money at the end of the day. This approach lets freaks and weasels like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar run with that idea, and insulting the intelligence of your base is a proven mistake. Warren can’t keep doing this dance forever.
What The Squad Has to Say
There’s a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi that I’ve found more and more useful as this horrible primary drags on. I won’t make you read it, but it ends with the following line: “The mark of divinity in Adam was not that the Angels bowed to him, but that Satan wouldn’t”. Often it’s who our enemies are that define our best qualities. Who hates you, and why do they hate you?
For Bernie Sanders, the answer is clear. The monsters that profit from our pain and misery, as well as the crooked establishment political zoo of donors and consultants that enable them, hate him with a passion and it’s easy to understand why: they will lose their power, their influence, perhaps even their jobs if his project is successful.
For Elizabeth Warren, the answer is not so clear.
There’s a reason why three-quarters of the “Squad” — young, popular, and progressive House Democrats Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar — announced that they intend to endorse Bernie Sanders instead of Elizabeth Warren. They know there can only be one primary winner, and they’re sticking with the candidate they know they can trust.