The Second Part Gaggle
For the same reasons I said yesterday, I don't think that there were any winners or losers in this second night of the initial 2-part debate among Democrats, because it's much, much too early for any of it to matter. And also because this wasn't really a debate, but a multiple-choice questionnaire. So, there wasn't anything to "win," but just score well on your test. Even the various blunt exchanges -- most notably between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden -- will have lessened impact at this point in the long journey to the convention. I won't repeat all the reasons for this that I wrote earlier, but you can see that piece here.
Yes, I know that most commentary says that Kamala Harris "won." But as I said above, I just have a different perception of what took place. It just wasn't a debate. People simply got questions -- a year before the final exam. Everyone, within a wide framework, passed the test without a failing grade. But there were definitely people who did better than others, and worse.
But yes, I thought Kamala Harris did well. Bernie Sanders did fine, though his anger (while understandable) is sticking out a bit much. Michael Bennet did fine in his answers, but in the Big Gaggle of 10 candidates blended in a bit too much. Kristin Gillibrand did fine, too, though kept interrupting and talking over others -- I understand why one would do that, but it risks coming across as more desperate than aggressive. Pete Buttigieg did okay, though not at his best. Eric Swalwell did fine, although I don't think broke through any new ground. But even Joe Biden did fine -- except for his responses to Kamala Harris, especially considering he had a week to prepare a reply to what he had to know was going to be asked. He did not come across well in that.
Quick side note: How difficult would it have been for Joe Biden to have answered Kamala Harris's olive branch question about at least acknowledging that his position long ago against busing to have been: "I have spent a career fighting for civil rights and I believe am well-respected for it. At the time, for reasons I've explained, I thought my position was the proper one, for busing to be a local issue which I supported. But over a long period of time, as my views on busing have evolved it is clearly not a position I would take today, and for that reason I do regret it."
Back to the others on the gaggle. Among those who did less-well, I thought John Hickenlooper was just fair. Andrew Yang was a non-entity. And Marianne Williamson was banal, though transitioned into silly with her final "We'll beat Trump with love" final statement. Yet none of them "lost," since they really don't have very far to drop.
Overall, I thought the strength of the debate was that there was more invoking Trump and criticizing him. The weakness was the efforts to get their voices in and talking over one another. (Kamala Harris did well addressing that.)
Another weakness is the party's general response to charges of Democrats being "socialists" -- a charge of Republicans for over half a century. They dance around it politely and need to be blunt. They need to make two points:
1) People who try to push the claim that Democrats are "socialists" are ignorant of what socialism is. It is not about the government helping the public and providing safety nets. Socialism is a political philosophy where, as its foundation, the government literally owns all industry and business. No Democrat has ever promoted that.
2) The American public has long-accepted and overwhelmingly supports policies that are socialistic because they provide critical safety nets for society -- Social Security, Medicare, public education, farm and oil industry subsidies, the police department, the fire department, federal deposit insurance, the military. Those are all socialistic at their core and widely supported by Republicans and Democrats alike as central to democracy and capitalism.
Ultimately, I don't think this first two-part debate-like event accomplished much because it was SO early. This isn't to say Kamala Harris wasn't helped by it -- she was. Just that for whatever she gained, it was still too early to be as substantive as this would be if it came in six months when the convention is closer and there is a more focused collection of candidates left.
And in the end, that's my biggest takeaway. It's not that I dislike there are so many candidates -- that's life, if people want to run and qualified for the debate stage, more power to them -- but that there are so many candidates who really have no business being in a race to be President of the United State. This election is profoundly serious, and whether or not I like someone, I'm really bothered that Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, and Tulsi Gabard are on an Ego Tour taking up valuable air time that would otherwise be used to hear from the people who may actually, seriously take on Trump -- but also John Delaney Bill DeBlasio, Tim Ryan and a few others. I may even include Julian Castro, as well as he did last night, but is polling at 0.8 percent. For some of them, I suspect they're running to raise their profile enough to be on the ticket as Vice President. And while that's understandable, I think that when you only poll at 0.8 percent that isn't a great calling card.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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