of course, now i'm back and [i think] conscious and, of course, i have things to say about part two of debate two: the moderatathon.
the key word i had in mind after watching the proceedings on wednesday night was: surprising. i felt that, for all the hype about biden vs. harris two, the spotlight very much shifted to other parts of the stage. the other surprising thing was that i felt like the overall performances were strong with most people doing no harm to their aspirations. but, as is my custom, let me start with a few overall points.
- peanut gallery :: yes, there were flaws in the debate and the questions asked were not adequate to provide sufficient detail. and yes, people should be making these criticisms. however, some people need to chill the fuck out. seriously, the criticism is way over the top for something that should be treated only as an opportunity to sample the goods on offer, not as a way of plumbing the depths of each candidate's qualifications and policies. one of the things that annoyed me most on wednesday night was the twitter freakout over the fact that the topic of america's wars was brought up only at 10:15; the topic of gun violence wasn't brought up at all. which one is it that kills more americans per year? not once at any of the debates has the topic of food vulnerability among the poor or the dangers of repealing epa standards been broached. and discussions about issues like immigration [the number one issue for many voters] and healthcare have been woefully inadequate. you know why? because it's a bloody two-to-three-hour debate and you want to touch on as many topics as possible. if you went into significant depth on every subject, the debates would each be four days long. is that how you want to make your decision? who can stand on their feet and not go insane for four sleepless days? so yes, voice the criticisms. but calm the hell down and remember the framework in which moderators are forced to work. if you want to compare more detailed plans, check out the candidates' websites. [side note :: msnbc has been making a concerted effort to give air time to as many different candidates as they can. seriously, they have at least one candidate on per day. this includes time where they're interviewed as a candidate in order to give their broader policies and when they're called in to comment on specific issues. so watching a lot of msnbc, a practice endorsed by dom and me, is another way of getting to know the gang.]
- lemon entry :: let me make a startling confession: i like don lemon. i liked him before he got in trouble a few years back for some admittedly stupid comments when people were portraying him as literally the worst thing on cable news. my feeling on him has always been that he's not an asshole and is a smart guy but that his brain-to-mouth filter is just made of wider mesh than most. stuff slips through when it shouldn't and people rightly criticize him. but those sudden bursts of truth are also what make him appealing. for every time he does something like ask a victim of bill cosby why she didn't fight back, there are twenty cases where he's said something about trump and conservatives that most people have shied away from. i don't know about others but i'm ok with that ratio. so i was a little excited to see him included in the moderators' panel this week because you just knew that he was going to drop something. and the man did not disappoint. in this case, it wasn't an excited slip of the tongue, either. in a scripted question, he flat-out called the president's notorious tweets and statements racist [which they are but the media has been unwilling to say as much]. trump went off on him for the statement [from the first night]. don's response? he said the exact same fucking thing on night two. i like don lemon. i stand by that statement.
- the culling is coming :: as of today, fewer than half the current candidates have met the qualifications for the third debate, which takes place in september. i quite like the way that the democrats have structured their debates, gradually increasing the minimum requirements and basing it on a number of factors. there are a few candidates who are on the bubble and will probably sneak in but we can expect that, whether or not the candidates are still in the race, the next debate [also booked for two nights] will have a much more slimmed-down look.
- saint obama :: i really wish people would stop talking as if the candidates were truly attacking barack obama without context. lawrence o'donnell hit the nail on the head when he said that the criticism is best perceived as an acknowledgment that the party can do better than it has in the past and that this is a hallmark of the democrats. [and should be a priority more than it is.] people tear the clintons apart because of "don't ask don't tell" [which was well-intentioned at the time] and the horrible criminal justice reform bill. criticizing mass deportations during the obama years is no different. if you're not challenging yourselves to be better, what the hell are you doing in politics?
- joy to the world :: msnbc anchor and democratic party insider joy reid made a great point this week that needs to be amplified: black voters, especially in the south, are extremely pragmatic. they didn't support barack obama until they really started to believe he could win. so take joe biden's tremendous advantage with that demographic with a grain of salt. [sorry, this isn't strictly debate related but like i said, it deserves to be amplified.]
so, as to the candidates themselves...
did themselves good
cory booker :: that whole harris/ biden confrontation? well, it happened, but it was so overshadowed by booker-biden that no one is likely to remember it. booker was on fire for the bulk of the debate, even though he seemed to contradict himself by calling for unity within a breath of calling out biden. nevertheless, the man had an answer for everything and showed a solid knowledge of the history and platforms of his opponents. he also just seemed brimming with excitement and energy that the others lacked, while never getting over the top. he also dealt gracefully with the fact that his first answer was interrupted and momentarily drowned out by chants of protest against another candidate, which had nothing to do with him. the warm moment between him and governor jay inslee over the two of them being selected as the candidates with the strongest environmental policies was genuinely encouraging and made his comments about wanting to come together seem more authentic as a result. richly deserves to be included in the leadership conversation more than he has been.
andrew yang :: if likability were the principal quality required, the search would be over. yang is a ridiculously personable man and, after the stiffness of the first debate, he fully showed why he's developed a dedicated following known as the "yang gang". but aside from being funny and charming, he also did an inspired job of making the case for universal basic income in a way that's likely to turn the heads of even those who think such a plan sounds crazy. more than any other candidate, his supporters and his platform represent a real mix of democratic party ideas. he's one of the candidates who's on the verge of being invited to the next debate. i sincerely hope he makes it because, although he may present as a one-issue candidate, he's not wrong when he suggests that his issue has the power to transform america. [side note :: he's also not wrong when he suggests that the opposite of donald trump is an asian guy who loves math. although there are a number of total opposites to donald trump in this regard.]
tulsi gabbard :: i sincerely hope that joe biden sent congresswoman gabbard a big bouquet of flowers and an expensive box of chocolates because, insofar as progress was made against kamala harris in this debate, gabbard was the one who made it. she showed an awesome knowledge in particular of the issues many voters have with harris: her record as attorney general in california in prosecuting cases that many would now view as unfair and even racist. she was calmer and more articulate across the board and, while she didn't necessarily seem informed on all issues, she handled her weak areas better than before. [side note :: i'd also give points to the stylist who told her to show up in all white. as they doubtless expected, it made her stand out to even the most casual glance. plus it gave her a bit of a princess leia of the business world vibe. not germane to discussions of policy but a clever way to catch attention.]
kirsten gillibrand :: i'm glad that someone made it clear to her that she can't just shout over people and expect to appear like a leader. this time around, her sharp tone and dynamism came off as strong. she also appeared to have a much firmer grasp of a wider variety of issues, as well as being smarter, quicker on her feet, and tougher than she had before. her ability to throw a well-timed barb or relate a relevant story showed a charisma that's normally the purview of men- the wink and the smile- but she just bloody owned it.
came out even
jay inslee :: wisely focused on the environment, which is his key issue, and his record of accomplishments in this regard [and a few others]. most viewers, however, think of washington state as nothing but the hipster seattle area and will miss the fact that much of the state is rural and extremely right-wing, sharing more ideologically with adjacent idaho. that perception makes his accomplishments seem less impressive than they actually are. like a lot of politicians who have been successful at a state level, he lacks the charisma necessary to capture a wider audience, which is too bad, since he's obviously an intelligent and capable man. the bottom line is that he's not presidential material [at least for the moment] but if a democrat wins the white house in 2020 and he isn't made either director of the epa or secretary of the interior, it will be a travesty.
michael bennet :: as well as he presented himself in the first debate, this performance seemed like a rehash of a number of key points from that event and they lost effectiveness this time around. bennet does best when he's seen next to some or all of the "centrist cluster", where it becomes obvious that his concerns about straying to far to the left have a better grounding than the others. but with the wholesale meltdown of the centrists the night before, he just seems like a nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
julian castro :: although he technically had more minutes to speak in this debate than in the first, he made a lot less of an impact with them. he was oddly flat, with only one truly memorable moment, when he told joe biden that "some of us have learned from our mistakes" on immigration and deportation. it was the epitome of the phenomenon i mentioned earlier of democrats choosing to evolve. castro is intelligent, articulate and capable [side note :: also devastatingly handsome, not that that should count] but he may be just a little to cool and casual to stir strong feelings in many voters. he's another candidate who's on the cusp of qualification for the next round of debates and i sincerely hope he makes it.
kamala harris :: i quite honestly vacillated about whether she held her own or caused herself harm in this debate. clearly, she was nowhere near as strong and as commanding as in her first performance but it's not like she had some kind of critical failure. her weakest moment came when she gave a classic non-response to tulsi gabbard's well-researched criticism of her work as attorney general. the most important factor for her may have been the fact that joe biden just hadn't done the work he needed to really pin her down on difficult issues. the two of them debating healthcare policy, as important as it is, would have been lost on the vast majority of the audience who weren't familiar with the details of either candidate's plan. however, what came through loud and clear was that harris is no advocate for universal healthcare, at least in the short term, and that in itself is going to prove a difficult sell to a voter base who have increasingly looked abroad and thought "why the hell can't we have what they have?"
did themselves harm
bill di blasio :: i don't think that di blasio necessarily did his moribund campaign any harm here but his entire role seemed to be acting as a fourth moderator who only posed questions to joe biden. the tension between the two of them was literally the opposite of the feel-good moment between booker and inslee: borderline painful to watch. while he might have been responsible for some deservedly tough moments for biden, those will benefit other candidates because the fact is, he seemed more occupied with tearing down biden than with presenting his own case for the nomination. lost in the fray was a reasonable if not bulletproof explanation for why he had not taken action to fire officer daniel pantaleo, who murdered eric garner. [side note :: an internal nypd investigation has today recommended that pantaleo be fired.] di blasio was a fool to jump in at this time and does damage to himself the longer he stays in.
can't be evaluated
joe biden :: oh kate, is this the ultimate fucking cop out? no, it isn't. anyone who talks about whether joe biden did himself good or harm or stayed even in this debate is an idiot because the fact is that, despite having the most time to speak, the vast majority of it was spent on the defensive, which can't be said for any other candidate. the difference between what biden had to do and what anyone else had to do was so great that it barely qualifies as the same skill set. the man is the front-runner, so he went in with a target on his back. he has a far longer record than any other candidate, which means he's had more time to create solid accomplishments [which he has] and more time to make mistakes [which he has]. on the whole, i'd say that the night ended on more of a down note for him, particularly because of some devastating takedowns from castro [mentioned earlier], booker [especially where he chastised biden for using obama's name when it was convenient] and a perfect double team between harris and gillibrand. on the other hand, no candidate came anywhere near having to defend themselves as much or as often as he did. how well you think he did is entirely dependent on your feelings about him going in. certainly, his performance early on showed the feisty biden that fans will love, right down to him invoking "malarkey", the term that had us all bowing before him in his 2012 debate against paul ryan. according to the first post-second-debate poll released today, biden maintained and possibly extended his lead. but to me, that means that this round of debates left people even more uncertain who to choose and that they've therefore decided to park their vote with the former vice president. no one's support is more vulnerable but no one looks as safe a bet.
and so ends the long, hot summer of political foreplay. the next time we meet is mid-september and much will have changed by then. or not. with so many players on the field, even those with single-digit polling have a case to forge ahead, especially considering that it's unclear if the two leading candidates are the true choices or just indicators of where the democratic voter base is trending [centrist vs progressive]. the candidates now have six weeks to get down to it and/ or make asses of themselves [although this will be tricky, given what's in the white house]. the next round of debates, though, will likely be crucial to the futures of many candidates, not least because there's a genuine chance we get them all on one night. that means that we get to have the standoff that the party needs: sanders/ warren vs biden/ harris/ klobouchar. it's also likely to include candidates who for various reasons don't easily fit easily into either the centrist or progressive mould [booker, buttigieg, castro, yang]. and it might also feature marianne williamson. [side note :: i wouldn't mind seeing billionaire philanthropist tom steyer get a chance on stage. he's a legitimately interesting non-politician candidate who was wwwaaaaaaaaayyyyyy out ahead of anyone else on the subject of impeachment. he also has an argument for being the opposite of trump in that he's a new yorker from a privileged- although nowhere near as privileged as trump- background who made it financially big- bigger than trump and certainly more by his own work. but having been one of those big scary financier types, he's re-evaluated his life and turned his mind and his wealth to making the world a better place. i see his voice as being more interesting than any of the current centrists.]
the important thing for all interested supporters to keep in mind is this: any one of these people will make a far better leader than the orange turd that currently befouls the white house. [i support kirsten gillibrand's clorox policy for the oval office. i'd also suggest an exorcism.] there are lots of interesting debates to be had and not just those that happen on television.
p.s. :: i've fielded a few questions about who my preferred candidate is. the truth is that i don't know. as a "far-left" progressive according to most online surveys i've taken, you can figure out whose policies i agree with. however, i'm also a bit of a pragmatist and i realize that electing a centrist is less of a threat if one elects more progressives to congress and the senate. seriously, a centrist democrat in the white house becomes something different depending on what they have to work with. [yes, it's true that they run the risk of losing ground if they try too hard to appease centrist conservatives but let's be honest: there are no more centrist conservatives. even if you limit yourself to considering who hasn't retired, you're left with the people who have supported trump's most odious policies and that means that every single one of them is vulnerable to a grassroots campaign that galvanizes voters who might otherwise stay at home. this is where criticism of the obama administration is richly deserved: the importance of maintaining a majority in the house and senate was ignored in favour of maintaining support for the president in every election from 2008 to 2016.]