DEBATE 2020: Reactions and Analysis from the OD Team on Last Night’s Debate
COLIN TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR:
Last night’s Democratic debate stood out for me not so much in terms of candidates — though some, like Warren, Booker, Castro, and Inslee certainly did — but in terms of the messages that were being echoed throughout the hall. Several candidates, including a surprise attempt to outflank the pack from the left by Bill de Blasio, focused heavily on the need to turn our party’s focus back to organized labor and working-class Americans and lots of familiar, flowery rhetoric about how to make the economy work for regular people again.
What bothered me was how little time was devoted to detailing how one might actually go about challenging the ruthless, unyielding demands of capital and its Republican thralls; the decision of several candidates to dodge the “how would you deal with Mitch McConnel” in order to respond to the previous question about guns was a telling show of cowardice in my eyes; a signal that they have little true intention of changing the status quo or have already resigned themselves to watering down their proposals to make them palatable to the donor class.
Senator Warren’s unashamed desire to confront the behemoth of corporate power currently leeching the lifeblood out of 90% of Americans was a joy to see, and the cold determination in her voice impressed me and helped shake some lingering doubts. Oddly enough, though, I feel that Bill de Blasio had the line of the night when he said that “I want to make it clear: this is supposed to be the party of working people…Yes, we are supposed to be for a 70 percent tax rate on the wealthy.”
We ARE supposed to be that party, but somehow at our own debates, we’re all still having an argument on whether or not high taxes on the rich is the right thing to do. Whether or not free college and universal healthcare are what the American people deserve. Somehow, the Democratic Party that is supposed to represent regular Americans has an ostensible “frontrunner” in Joe Biden who is going fundraisers with billionaires and begging them for his help, telling them “I need you” and promising that nothing is going to change for them! The lack of ideological coherence in the Democratic Party and the incessant efforts of the party establishment to accommodate conservative “moderates” is one of my biggest grievances and I was happy to hear someone call it out on the main stage.
The other thing that stood out to me the most from last night’s debate was what wasn’t said. While there was much debate on the immigration detention crisis and even talk of a Marshall Plan for Latin America, there was no mention of America’s foreign policy and how our incessant meddling has directly contributed to the chaos and violence that fuels the flight of immigrants to safety in the United States. While much was said about gun violence, there was no mention of how the flood of legally-purchased American weapons smuggled into Latin and South America contributes heavily to some of the highest murder rates in the world. The fact that Tulsi Gabbard was the only openly anti-war candidate out of ten is a deeply disturbing sign of how hardwired imperialism is into mainstream Democratic politics, and I hope to see Bernie Sanders challenge that tonight.
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ROB HAFFEY, STAFF WRITER:
Let’s address the obvious immediately: there should not be this many candidates in the running. Twenty spread over two nights, several of whom have absolutely no path to the nomination, is a waste of voters’ time. One can’t help but feel that an overinflated ego is the only thing fueling many of them. Even so, it must be conceded that every single person who appeared on stage tonight would be an infinitely superior president to Donald Trump.
Going into this first night my leading choice was Senator Elizabeth Warren, and after seeing her fiery and deeply knowledgable performance tonight my inclination to vote for her in the primary has only increased. She represents the blending of experience, passion, and wonky knowledge that I look for in a president and I’m positive that she could build the ladder to help us climb out of this hole Trump has dug. Her answer on the gun violence issue was particularly refreshing as she pointed out that researching gun violence more deeply and broadly, something we have never really done, needs to be a cornerstone of any successful plan.
Senator Cory Booker surprised me, in that up to this point I didn’t really see the appeal of his candidacy. Tonight he came across as authentic, confident, and able to succinctly distill his vision for this country. On numerous occasions, he managed to seize the issue bouncing around the room and display mastery over it. While it wasn’t enough to win me to his side, it was more than enough to justify his place in the race at this point in time.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro was also a standout. His nuanced explanation of the immigration issue was unparalleled tonight and he proved deft at pushing back on other candidates when he suspected they didn’t fully comprehend a given topic. Again, not enough to pull me away from Warren, but I look forward to hearing more from him. A Warren/Castro ticket has a certain ring to it.
Beyond those three, the other candidates mostly struggled to set themselves apart. Governor Jay Inslee managed to capture some limelight by focusing on his signature campaign issue of climate change. Whoever secures the nomination might be wise to consider him for a cabinet position should they ultimately succeed in seizing the White House.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard made an impression on some viewers with her trouncing of Congressman Tim Ryan in a back-and-forth on Afghanistan, but she is still ultimately my dead last choice for nominee due to her disturbing past of coddling brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad — going so far as flying to visit him at one point — as well as her checkered past on LGBTQ issues.
Regardless of how things shake out, I’m thrilled to see we have such a diverse, strong, albeit overcrowded field of candidates. The future looks bright for the Democratic Party and by extension the United States of America.
VINNIE LONGOBARDO, STAFF WRITER:
A phalanx of Democratic presidential hopefuls lined up on stage in Miami last night for the first debate in a field so crowded it had to be split into two more easily digestible portions. With candidates split up between the two evenings by random lot, the night wound up being considered the junior varsity of the Democratic team with only one of the top five polling candidates — Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — appearing in the first group.
As the leading contender in the first debate, Warren dominated the first half of the debate with her well-reasoned economic plans to address income inequality and a host of other bread-basket issues setting the standard for the other candidates’ discourse.
With a stage filled with a mixed bag of other eager contenders — including current and former U.S. senators, congressional representatives, and state governors — Warren was the candidate to try to outshine and all of her rivals attempted to do just that. That none of the candidates did anything to lessen her momentum — or any of the other frontrunners — was the main takeaway of the evening, however.
Several candidates rose above the expectations of their dismal polling numbers nonetheless, with Julian Castro and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio performing more strongly than expected with impressive progressive appeals. Others, such as Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, former Maryland Representative John Delaney, and former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, struggled to gain traction on the crowded stage that often devolved into the candidates shouting over each other trying to get their voices to break through the din.
O’Rourke’s somewhat tentative showing — highlighted by a surprise decision to break into gringo-accented Spanish in the middle of his response to the first question addressed to him by the debate moderators — was hurt by a heated exchange with Castro that his fellow Texan dominated.
The remaining candidates — Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and Washington Governor Jay Inslee — all made their case to voters with aplomb.
Booker, who was clocked with the most speaking time of all the candidates, made a strong impression with his stories of how his own neighborhood has been affected by gun violence.
Klobuchar continued to sell herself as a younger moderate who could appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans as a path to beat Trump without having to elect another old white male without explicitly mentioning the looming shadow of frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden.
Gabbard leaned heavily on her military experience in her pitch and made a compelling case to one day be named at least Defense Secretary if not president.
Inslee, on the other hand, did not stray far from his stated role as the harbinger of climate catastrophe and its status as the single most important issue of our time.
Overall, the most notable thing about tonight’s debate was the complete lack of attention paid to the frontrunner in the race, Joe Biden, perhaps because of his absence on the stage.
Tonight, in the second half of the debate with Biden joined by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mayor Pete Buttigieg among other, it will be interesting to see if the gloves stay off.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.