MY JAW DROPS—IT’S NIGHT ONE OF THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATES
Came the evening of the great, the long-awaited, peek at our aspiring forty-sixth presidents on a debate stage, and I settled in to take notes. I had watched a few minutes of punditry during the day and learned that this was being called the ‘B-Debate’, because only one of the top five candidates in the polls would be appearing. That would be Elizabeth Warren, who seems to be sometimes second, sometimes third. No thanks to the moderators, I quickly sussed that the stage positions had been determined exactly the same way as in the last goround of the GOP candidates; leaders in the polls in the center, fringe candidates to the side. Since there were an even number of candidates, and hence no ‘middle’, I don’t know whether Cory Booker or William ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, who flanked her, was the next most popular, but they in turn were flanked by Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, and Amy Klobuchar, until we got to edges of the platform, the left edge being held down by Bill De Blasio and Tim Ryan, who provided the evening’s best color by his perpetual adoption of a look as though he had just seen a potential assassin jumping the stage whenever he was asked a question. At the other end were the polite bright kid, Jay Inslee, who had his hand up half the night wanting to say something, and his rudeboy detention room classmate, John Delaney, who simply yelled and interrupted whenever something came to mind.
One would expect that the distribution of questions would follow roughly a pattern of the central candidates getting the most questions, and so it did, with Warren, by my unofficial, oft-distracted by such matters of letting the dog out and trying in vain to find my cherry pop, getting seven questions, though it must be said that she, after being the belle of the ball for a while, then ignored during the second half-hour and making a brief comeback during the third, retreated into polite silence during the last half-hour. O’Rourke got six questions, Castro and Booker got five, and so on down to Delaney getting three, Inslee and DeBlasio getting two each.
So off we went, without the candidates getting even the courtesy of an opening statement. Not that it mattered, because the first round of questions, nominally about wealth inequality, were answered with…well, opening statements. Warren, for once, actually answered the question she was asked, O’Rourke answered in Spanish, so ask your Google Translate what he said, Klobuchar blamed the whole problem on student loans, which is odd, since she’s pretty much the only one who isn’t going to forgive them, a difficult way to work a Democratic room this year. Gabbard, after a feint toward the gender pay gap, spent her time reminiscing about her military service, and Delaney waxed similarly nostalgic about his salad days as an entrepreneur. Inslee and De Blasio both wanted the party to return to its working-class/labor union roots. Since I had sat through his town hall, my over/under for Ryan mentioning that he was from Youngstown, Ohio was twelve seconds, and he beat it by about ten. Castro’s reminiscences about his mother were punctuated by a call for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and Booker hadn’t said much about anything when the moderator decided to pick a fight by asking him why he had been so critical of Senator Warren for shaming individual corporations that she wants to see punished.
Next up was health care, which the moderators began with one of my favorite techniques, a show of hands, in this case for those who wanted to abolish private health care to raise their hands (De Blasio and Warren). They mostly ended up talking about abortion, and the whole thing pretty much fizzled after De Blasio interrupted O’Rourke and Delaney, looking a lot like Bob Balaban trying to mansplain Catherine O’Hara in a Christopher Guest movie, interrupted De Blasio. Thus we moved on to immigration, the discussion of which was conducted largely en Espanol, so I’ll get back to you when I can get Google Translate to work.
And so on we went: Gun control, Iran, Afghanistan, climate change, then civil rights, which immediately morphed into LGBT rights, though not without at least a peep from Booker, who wanted to talk about the black man. And LGBT almost immediately in its turn lasered in on the T portion of the equation; if that T is your thing, I’d recommend Castro, who seemed especially bothered about abortion rights for the transgendered (and please nobody pierce my innocent ears with an explanation of what that means) or Booker, who finds the murder rate of the black transgendered community unacceptable.. Much, much later, there was another show of hands: Who wants to rejoin the Paris climate accord? (Everyone but Booker, perhaps a most clever ploy, since of course he was the only one who got to explain his position and thus garner more precious face time.)
Then came one of the most singular moments of American debate history, when the moderator called for short answers to the question of what is America’s biggest threat, and, amazingly, they all followed instructions, the downside being that, having slept through shorthand class, I can’t tell you what candidates Castro and Ryan said. However, Inslee brought the house down by saying ‘Donald Trump’, Delaney went with China (but ended up babbling on about how it was really Iran), Klobuchar went along with China, as did Booker, but Klobuchar threw in Iran, Booker climate change. De Blasio thought it was Russia, Gabbard nuclear proliferation, and Warren and O’Rourke went with straight climate change, no chaser.
And so we came to closing statements, starting at the right end with Delaney, who wants to recover the lost America which worked together in a happy band of people to find pragmatic solutions to national problems. From the other end De Blasio was back to the party recovering its soulmate the common man. Inslee, on his last day on earth, wants to look his posterity in the eye and tell them that he tried to do something about climate change. Gabbard was quite outraged by the hubris of candidates who think that they can conduct, or for that matter end, the war in Afghanistan without having been in the military, and yes, somehow managed to mention ‘peace and prosperity’—I guess somebody had to. Castro started out in Spanish but, mercifully, finished up with a few sentences in English about his immigration success story—or was it his mother’s? Booker was another ‘common purpose’ guy, Warren tried to raise Castro on her hardscrabble roots, and O’Rourke contrasted his daughter’s good fortune in God’s lottery with the plight of immigrant children in detention’s squalor and misery.
And that, as they say, was that. I always like to see who talks to who after debates, but except for a touching hug between Booker and Warren, off they stomped, the quicker, I suppose, to get to the TeeVee to find out the punditry’s declaration of winners and losers. Me? I skipped the punditry so I could tell you what I saw, not what somebody else saw.
And so, herewith, the night’s Biglys. Predictably, I thought candidates I already liked, Booker and Warren, did the best job. Probably more consequential was the candidate I liked better at the end of the evening than I did at the beginning, which was O’Rourke. Admittedly, there was very little ‘thoughtful’ on display, but he contributed a lot of it. My favorite no-hopers were Klobuchar and Inslee. Probably the most-important award, given who the winner will be debating, is my bullyproofing rating. Though I’m resigned to repeating my election night tears, by damn, I do not want to watch a summer rerun of The Donald’s opponents, especially the Republican ones, getting knocked over like candlepins by the orange windbag. Thus, if I had a vote in a Democratic primary, which I do not, I would look kindly upon the high levels of bullyproofing I perceived from Castro, Warren, and Booker.
But my evening wasn’t quite over, though.I did a crossword. An old favorite, The Kinks’ “Sunny afternoon” came on the classic rock station. I dreamt of a President Warren, a President Booker, or, really, a President Anybody But What We Gave Ourselves, and all was well.And then my dog and I went for our bedtime walk, which ended with us dodging law enforcement brandishing bigly weaponry running up and down the street shining spotlights into cars; it seems there had been a shooting.Cory Booker had warned me that this happened in his neighborhood every week and it would surely enough come to mine in the fulness of time.Such are life’s disappointments.