(This is the second of a series of commentaries looking at different aspects of the Democrats’ third presidential debate)
One can look at the recent Democrat debate from the standpoint of the candidates or the proposals they offer up. In this commentary, we will look at the personalities on that stage in terms of their performances.
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There are two conflicting themes that permeate the political atmosphere this presidential election season – stick to the issues and beat up on President Trump. This also means that the Democrats have taken up President Reagan’s “eleventh commandment” – do not speak ill of fellow party members.
Now that does not mean you cannot draw policy distinctions. Reagan was a communications genius in leveling his opponents with a sort of kill ‘em with kindness approach. So, how did the Democrats do with those three challenges – stick to issues, attack trump and be nice to each other?
With the exception of former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, they avoided personal attacks. But the one exception was a big one. Castro made a full-frontal attack on former Vice President Joe Biden’s age and mental acuity. His repeated (four times) “you mean you do not remember what you just said” attack on Biden’s explanation of his healthcare plan could be called the Alzheimer gambit.
Despite his later protestations that he was not implying any intellectual deficiency on the part of Biden, the implication of Castro’s attack could not be denied. Apparently, he viewed it as his Kamala Harris moment from the first Debate – when she aggressively confronted Biden on his past positions. For sure, Harris enjoyed a momentary blip in the polls – at least until the political whack-a-mole pugil stick slammed her back into single digits.
The attack itself was not well received by almost anyone except perhaps Castro’s campaign manager and his mother. What made it worse was that Castro was wrong. It was Castro who appears to have forgotten what Biden said.
For Castro, it was a defining moment. It will most likely define him as a former presidential candidate.
If age was to be an issue, it was Joe Biden, himself, who raised it – inadvertently, of course. When suggesting that children should hear more words – one of the more unique proposals – he said they should listen to … at which point he started to say television but pivoted to the “record player.” Good God! That predates the music apps, the iPod, the CD, the cassette tape and the 8-track.
Another question lingering over the debate was whether former Congressman Beto O’Rourke would show his frustration and desperation by using the f-word, as he has on a few recent media appearances. (Okay, maybe I was the only person wondering.) He did not.
But he did prove to be the gift that keeps on giving to the Republicans. He has taken up an anti-gun- violence position as if no one else is talking about it. To overcome the fact that ALL his opponents are talking about it – and mostly singing from the same song sheet – O’Rourke went for YUGE drama. In his best rabble-rousing tone, O’Rourke declared that yes – they are coming after the guns.
He did limit his gun confiscation plans to the so-called assault weapons – for now. But that dictatorial rant will likely find its way into a significant number of Republican campaign ads.
In an effort to yet again re-start his campaign, O’Rourke is clinging to the gun issue as his last grasp on relevancy in this presidential contest. He is also coming perilously close to looking like he is bleeding the El Paso tragedy for political gain. His efforts to connect that tragedy directly to Trump is a bridge too far, but he traversed it anyway – two times. In one case, he asserted that the shooter was “directed to El Paso by the President.” He later doubled down by alleging that the shooter was “inspired to kill by the President.” This is a man desperate for attention.
Post-debate analysts saw Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s retort to a Trump comment to be his best of the evening. Trump had said that he could not see Mayor Pete cutting a deal with China’s Xi Jinping, to which the Mayor said he wishes Trump could. It was a good retort, but I thought one of Buttigieg’s memorable statements was when the subject turned to General Joseph Dunford. The first openly gay candidate said that he had served under the General … and for emphasis, he added “way under.” The double entendre evoked a ripple of laughter from the audience but no post-game comments from the politically correct pundits. As I recall, it was the only laugh line in the entire three-hour talkathon.
Millionaire businessman Andrew Yang is not in either the moderate Biden camp or the radical Warren/Sanders camp. He may be the most grounded of all the Democrat candidates. While they all try to relate to us common folks, Yang actually does. For a political candidate, he has an unusual air of normalcy. But that does not prevent him from doing what we normal people often do. He has some crazy ideas. He started out the campaign by proposing that every person over the age of 18 should get $1000 each month from Uncle Sam. Since Sam gets all his money from us, why not just reduce our taxes – don’t take the money in the first place.
To draw attention to his free money proposal, Yang announced that he would hold a contest to pick 10 families in America to which he will provide $1000 per month for one year. He did not detail the selection process, but it would be some sort of contest.
The money would come from his campaign fund. In one way, it is a unique idea — but it still falls into the category of distributing other peoples’ money for political advantage. I fear his idea is more yin than yang.
Senator Elizabeth Warren has a perverse ability to make nonsense sound credible. Perhaps the most extreme example was her contention that NO ONE in America – not a single solitary soul – likes their health insurance company. That made me feel very lonely because I do like my health insurance company and the coverage. I have one of those Medicare advantage plans. I do not want Big Sister to take it away.
She also made the ridiculous claim that the only reason private insurance companies make profits is because they deny coverage. Over a few years, I have racked up more than $700,000 in medical bills and my insurance company has not denied any payment.
If Warren is right – fat chance of that – why is throwing 140 million Americans off their private insurance considered to be one of the third rails of politics. You mean they want to keep those companies they hate and that deny all those claims? Warren needs to get off the political reservation and into the real world.
I am not sure why Senator Bernie Sanders even showed up for the debate. He offered up the same pre-recorded message as he spouts at every occasion. Down with the millionaires and billionaires and all those big successful American corporations that provide jobs and an amazing standard of living. Sanders said that he is the only one who stands up to the special interests – naming big corporations, big pharma, big banks and the big gun lobby. He has stood up against everything big except Big Bird and … big unions, the big education industry and millionaires and billionaires like Tom Steyer, George Soros and himself. Yes, the rumpled-suited messy-haired curmudgeon of the presidential race is one of those one-percenters.
California Senator Kamala Harris – the star of the first debate – was the fading rose of the presidential contestants. She underscored every issue with some pity story about her upbringing. That “I was that girl” finesse turns out to be a one-trick pony. How many times can she relate what she had learned from her mother, her grandmother and the bus driver who took her to school each morning? Geez!
Senator Cory Booker was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. Onstage he played out the “why can’t we all be friends” strategy. However, when in the spin room, he took up Castro’s campaign of innuendo against Biden with comments like, “we don’t know if he can cross the finish line without a fumble.”
And what can be said about Senator Amy Klobuchar? Not much. During the Biden-Castro dustup, she pontificated … “a house divided cannot stand.” She claims to be best suited for the presidency because she lives in the Midwest.
The closing question was designed to allow each of the candidates to talk about themselves – as if that had not been overly done already. What we got was a series of what we used to call “log cabin biographies” – you know, how they all started out in the humblest circumstance, overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges and arrived to where they are today thanks to hard work and tenacity. I used to joke that the higher politicians rose the more Dickensesque were their early years.
Which of these folks won the debate? We can let that to the pollsters to tell us. Outside of Castro committing political suicide in front of millions of viewers, the shifts will be marginal – but significant. Biden needs to gain some of those lost percentage points. And if Warren goes up a point or two and Sanders down, we may be seeing the consolidation of the radical left vote – and that would not be good news for Biden.
So, there ‘tis.