I’ve seen a lot of criticism of the debate last night, including the claim that the CNN moderators acted like Republicans, throwing hard questions at the candidates. I reject that: for it seems to me that’s exactly what the moderators should be doing—not coddling the candidates or asking them to expand on their ideas, but challenging them the way Republicans or centrists would challenge them. If the candidates can’t defend their stands against liberal moderators, how could they defend them against Republics? As for the candidates going after Warren and Sanders, who apparently decided not to go after each other (is there a ticket in the offing?), it’s because they realize that most Americans, including Democrats, don’t subscribe to many ideas of “progressive” Democrats.
Nor do I, at least not whole hog. I consider myself a tad more liberal than most Democrats, for there’s no way I could ever be persuaded to vote for a Republican president, nor would I ever stay home from the polls. But do I want my healthcare removed in favor of “Medicare for all”? Nope. I have a great healthcare plan for which I pay basically nothing, and I’d be loath to swap that for a form of healthcare in which you have to wait months to see a specialist. On the other hand, I do want the option of Medicare for all, and I’d be willing to pay higher taxes to get that as an option for all Americans. Do I want open borders? No. Nor do I want illegal immigrants to be treated as if they were legal (including free healthcare), nor do I accept the view that we should believe every immigrant who says they’re refugees. That’s palpably ridiculous—many, who are migrating for economic reasons (and thus don’t qualify as refugees) have learned how to game the system.
Do I want college debt forgiven? I’m not sure. Those people took on the debt willingly, but now want it forgiven. Where will the money come from? Do I want the Green New Deal? In principle, yes, but in practice it’s unachievable and financially insupportable, though I do think that we need “action this day” about global warming.
That said, I would vote for any of the Democrats over Trump, but right now I’d vote for Buttigieg over either Sanders or Warren in the primary.”Mayor Pete” is young and inexperienced, but he’s smart and, I think, would grow into the Presidency. Sanders is a non-starter, and Warren, while also smart and progressive in many ways I’d like, is less likely to defeat Trump. She will be typed, as were John Kerry and Mike Dukakis, as a “Massachusetts liberal.”
In general, then, I agree with Frank Bruni’s take in today’s New York Times (quotes from Bruni are indented below the link):
On Elizabeth Warren:
Sanders and Warren, in turn, cast their critics as merchants of nothing more than “small ideas and spinelessness,” as Warren put it. She didn’t match Sanders’s volume — who can and who would want to? — but her lines were as good or better.
Like this one: “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
Or this: “Democrats win when we figure out what is right and we get out there and fight for it. I am not afraid. And for Democrats to win, you can’t be afraid either.” Fight, fight, fight, fight. There is no syllable more central to Warren’s campaign.
She’s sharp. She’s stirring. I also think she’s wrong — wrong that enough general-election voters will choose a candidate who aims to take away options when it comes to medical insurance, wrong that enough of them want a government at bitter war with all of corporate America, wrong that enough of them would be comfortable with the scope of federal spending that she proposes.
Also wrong that voters will choose a candidate who basically favors open borders and the decriminalization of illegal immigration, although Warren is loath to admit it.
. . . [The moderate candidates raised questions about] the dizzier dimensions of the Green New Deal and any Medicare for all plan that starts by wiping out private insurance. They raised the right questions about it and poked the right holes in it, prompting Warren to complain repeatedly that they were playing into Republicans’ hands by appropriating Republican talking points.
That was deft of her politically and cheap of her substantively, which made two things abundantly clear.
One, she’s a better candidate than Sanders, at least in the abstract.
Two, if she winds up with the nomination, it will be after planting herself as firmly as possible on an island of purity.
There’s probably no credible toggle toward the center for her, no ready bridge to a messier but potentially bigger mainland. What bold real estate. What risky terrain, too.
On Mayor Pete (and Beto):
And I was impressed by Pete Buttigieg. I’m always impressed by him. How does a person become this articulate, this informed and this poised by the age of 37? It’s like his parents read him the Encyclopaedia Britannica instead of “Goodnight, Moon” and regularly injected him with some analogue of human growth hormone that supersizes developing brains.
. . .There were smaller contests within the larger one on Tuesday night — for example, Buttigieg versus Beto O’Rourke, 46, for the affections of voters who yearn for generational change. Buttigieg definitely came out on top, in part because he hewed more tightly to the argument that it was time for new approaches and unsullied optimism, capably noting how much of the conversation around him had remained unchanged in Democratic politics for decades. O’Rourke rambled, and the only strong impression of him that I came away with was that he’s tall. His performance won’t arrest his fade from the promise and prominence of his 2018 Senate campaign. He must miss Ted Cruz dearly, and no one ever does that.
Buttigieg’s backers told him before this debate that he needed to show more fire than he did the last time around, after which he stalled in the polls. He didn’t achieve quite the animation that they sought, but he made strides in that direction. At no point during the night did I come so close to standing up and cheering as when he took on Trump’s Republican enablers on Capitol Hill.
“If you are watching at home and you are a Republican member of Congress,” he said, “consider the fact that when the sun sets on your career, and they are writing your story, of all the good and bad things you did in your life, the thing you will be remembered for is whether in this moment, with this president, you found the courage to stand up to him or continued to put party over country.” It was a canned soliloquy, sure, but that made it no less necessary.
And then there’s Marianne Williamson. She’s already out of the running, and won’t be in the next round of debates, but Bruni has a grudging admiration for her:
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Marianne Williamson. How can you not? She says big things and loopy things and impassioned things and sometimes they’re even the same thing. And she’s constantly chiding Democrats for what clichéd, banal, uneducable windbags they can be. More than a few of them need to hear that.
Of course it’s early days: we have 16 more months of campaigning, and things may (and will) change dramatically over that time. Perhaps someone like Obama will rise from the pack to trounce Trump. But it’s fun to speculate, and fun—but sometimes depressing—to hear the Democratic candidates go after each other, and Trump, with hammer and tongs. What’s most depressing is that no one candidate stands out right now. Biden is leading by a large margin, but I wonder what kind of President he’d make.