AND THE SIGN FLASHED OUT ITS WARNING : THE DEMOCRATS DEBATE, NIGHT FOUR
I got everything done yesternight in time to get the TeeVee on in time to watch a little punditry. The big topic of the moment was whether Kamala Harris would reprise her assault on Joseph Biden; after a few modest spins on conventional wisdom, somebody said that she had better not, she had better watch her backside, because now that she had become a frontrunner of sorts, somebody, probably Tulsi Gabbard, would be coming for her. Give that woman Prophet of the Year.
Our stage order had frontrunners Lunchpail Joe and Harris in the middle, flanked by Andrew Yang—much more central tonight—and Cory Booker. The left side proceeded outward from Julian Castro to Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet, whilst the right side proceeded from Gabbard to Jay Inslee and Bill DeBlasio. The opening statements began with a great advance in civil discourse by DeBlasio and Bennet both cursing, Inslee rode his climate change hobbyhorse, and then Gillibrand filled us in on her matrilineal genealogy. Castro upped the ante quite a bit on originality by saying that he wasn’t out to make America anything again, he was looking forward. Gabbard defined a true patriot for us, Yang was off on giving everybody money annually, and then things started going off the tracks. Booker was interrupted by some tumult from hecklers in the crowd (something to do with deportations, the morning news tells me), and Harris had a mic problem. Biden wanted The Donald to notice the diversity on stage (somehow all the candidates of color were smushed into one night by the draw), and then off we went, beginning, as with last night, with health care, which was covered a little more succinctly than yesternight, in 24 minutes.
Mine Host began depressingly predictably by trying to start another food fight between Harris and Lunchpail Joe, and a very non-intriguing private conversation ensued about Harris’ health care plan, punctuated finally when designated buttinsky DeBlasio offered that, “I don’t know what the Vice President and the Senator are talking about”, which surely was a near-unanimous sentiment among the audience. Gillibrand opined that the two of them “couldn’t see the forest for the trees”, which I also agreed with, though I might have reversed that order. Booker pointed out that Donald Trump was loving this quibbling, which was probably true if one thinks that he could be bothered to watch. And then, as predicted, Gabbard pounced on Harris, who was bragging about how Kathleen Sibelius, Barack H. Obama’s health care pointperson, had endorsed her health care proposal. Gabbard responded that Sibelius worked in the health insurance business.
After a while we moved on to immigration for eighteen minutes; Mine Host began with Castro’s idea of decriminalizing border crossing, and the Secretary talked about that for a bit and then piled on Biden for his role in the Obama administration’s deportations, which predictably brought the retort that Castro was in the cabinet at that time too. When that particular tete-a-tete got too repetitive, Mine Host turned to Gillibrand; the best she could do was a cringeworthy ‘Um’ at first, but after the wheels upstairs had spun for a few moments, she remembered a stump speech that was semi-appropriate and started in on how horribly we were treating ‘mothers and babies” and “women and children”, apparently the only classes of people who are being detained.
Next up was criminal justice, mostly taken up with another private conversation, this time between Biden and Booker, who blamed a nineties crime bill associated with Biden for the resulting overincarceration of black men. Mine Host attempted to pick yet another fight between Biden and Harris, this time on last month’s bone of contention, busing, but somehow an audience savior emerged in Bennet, who managed to get the floor and ask the much-needed question of why shouldn’t we talk about the school segregation which exists today. But Harris wasn’t out of the woods yet, for Nemesis arrived in the form of Gabbard, who was quite critical of her tenure as California’s Attorney General and as a county prosecutor, happily seconded by Biden and, to a lesser extent, by Booker.
Forty-five minutes in, and we hadn’t heard from Inslee or Yang—just like last time, in other words, but when climate change comes up, it would be an act of great cruelty to ignore Inslee, so he got the first shot. The night before, we had gotten a torrent of center-left bromides on the subject—Paris accord, electric cars, green jobs, and on and on. Not tonight. Much more passionate, as always, was Inslee, who continues to be upset that anybody anywhere doesn’t see that this is the crucial, maybe even the only, issue worth talking about. On the other hand, Booker has no use for the Paris accords—“kindergarten stuff”, Yang threw up his hands and offered the counsel of despair that it’s too late to do anything besides evacuate low-elevation areas, and Gillibrand said nothing much but did get in the line of the night by saying that on day one of her administration she was going to “Clorox the Oval Office”, and then on Day Two she would get to work on climate change, presumably favoring measures which would help only mothers and babies.
Mine Host then introduced the interesting dichotomy between defeating The Donald, which always seems to presuppose moving to the center, and ideological purity. Unfortunately, this mostly elicited the candidates talking about why they were the best candidate to defeat Trump, and the topic was euthanized after seven unedifying minutes.
That left fifteen minutes for the economy, which somehow transformed into Gillibrand excoriating Biden for his abortion stance and some negative comments she says he once made about working women, or at least working mothers, and which he just as adamantly denies that he ever made, though she kept shaking a piece of paper in his direction that she presumably wanted him, or at least somebody, to come over and read. That left a scant few minutes for the Mueller report and impeachment and foreign policy. Most everybody wanted to impeach, with the slight exceptions of DeBlasio warning not to let that replace an emphasis on the issues that the working man cares about and Bennet’s Pelosi-ish wondering what good it would do when the McConnell Senate wasn’t going to convict in any case. As for foreign policy, that small matter was taken up entirely by Booker and Gabbard offering up whether they would have us out of Afghanistan within a year (she would, he wouldn’t). Though Yang wanted to talk about Iran, that was nixed in favor of a commercial.
And so it was time for closing statements, the one constant of which was the reappearance of that now-venerable American political tradition, the web address, which the morning news in turn informed me was driven by the need to get X number of contributors (or actually X times 2 compared to the summer debates) to qualify for the September debates. Apparently, only seven (Yang says eight) candidates as of now would be onstage in September, and that really would be, one thinks, the end of any small hope which might remain if a candidate wasn’t up to 2% (a thin enough hope in itself, one would think) in some poll or other by then.
As far as those closing statements, most wanted to spend their time on Trump.Slightly offbeat exceptions were DeBlasio, who thinks that the voters want their issues addressed first and Castro, who interestingly channeled Isaac Newton with an analogy of how we were standing on the shoulders of our immigrant forebears.Yet more interesting were Inslee’s channeling of the Donald’s “I alone can fix it”, except of course he was talking about climate change, and Yang’s remark that all the media could say about his last debate appearance was that he wasn’t wearing a tie (not that the moderators let him say anything much, it must be pointed out), and what would you expect but a reality-show president when all people had to go on was a reality-show debate, coverage of which concerned itself with his neckwear, which was not a bad thought to go to bed with.