The first Democratic debates are in the books. In all likelihood, one of the twenty candidates that debated over the last two nights will ultimately win the Democratic nomination and take on Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. As an American who lives in a potential swing state, I almost certainly will be voting for that person. I am not sure yet who I want that person to be, and although I do have some early favorites, the last two nights were more about just learning who these people are and about the issues that will dominate the Democratic side of this election. Here are some personal takeaways:
A “Marshall Plan” for Central America
Immigration has been a hugely important issue in the U.S. for a long time, but in Donald Trump’s America, it might be the most important. I’m all for the more compassionate approach offered by this group of candidates, but at the end of the day, I want people to stop showing up at our southern border. I want to live in a hemisphere that doesn’t have a crisis of refugees. I want a president that is going to address the roots of this problem. A Marshall Plan for Central America would do just that.
A Marshall Plan for Central America, as named by Julián Castro and described by several other candidates, would help to address the problems in Northern Triangle countries that lead people to seek refuge in the first place. Much like “The Wall”, it would entail a huge investment on the part of the U.S. and certainly reduce the number of immigrants coming to the United States. But unlike “The Wall”, it would be an investment that actually helps people on the other side. We need to do for our Central American neighbors what we did for our European allies following WWII, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the most effective way to address this “hemispheric problem”.
Se habla Español aquí
Night one of the debates saw a woke-off between Beto O’Rourke and Corey Booker as both tried to demonstrate their almost bilingualness to a party very interested in turning out Latino voters. In one sense, I think it’s great that the Democratic Party is speaking a language of inclusivity (in this case, literally!). In another sense, this was one of the most blatant displays of pandering and general douchebaggery from all four hours of the Democratic debates (and perhaps why we didn’t hear so much Spanish on night two).
Like Corey and Beto, I am a semi-competent Spanish speaker myself, and while it’s a great skill to have, I am also definitely capable of being a douchebag about it. At least I’m aware of it though, right?!?! Not sure that I can say the same thing for these two…
Rehearsed responses vs. Off-the-cuff
When it comes to my enjoyment as a viewer, there is no comparison. I HAAAAATE listening to the candidates who robotically relay their rehearsed responses, and I LOOOOOVE the candidates who respond to their questions authentically as if they come straight from their heart and/or loins. That said, does it really matter when it comes to qualifications for the presidency? And actually, don’t we want a president who can sit down and think of thoughtful responses to complicated problems, even if they don’t entertain us when they discuss those thoughtful responses in front of a camera? Probably, but I still hate it.
Avoiding the question
The above points withstanding, I think it’s great when the moderators point out the non-answers that so many candidates provided to questions that were oftentimes very direct. I also liked the 15-second follow-up that they granted those candidates to give them the opportunity to do what they failed to do in the first 60-second go-round. Spoiler Alert: most of them fail again.
One of my biggest disappointments was how little we heard from Andrew Yang on night two of the debates. While I’m not yet officially on the Andrew Yang bandwagon, I do think that of all the Democratic candidates, he’s the most intriguing. The way the dude talks about tech, and automation, and UBI (or the “Freedom Dividend” as he calls it), makes him sound like he’s running for 2040 or 2060, and when those years arrive, I think we’ll look back on his diagnoses and say that he was ahead of the game on a lot of shit. I’m still not sure I want him as the 2020 nominee, but if you find this guy as interesting as I do, listen to him on some of his recent podcast appearances:
Shoutout to the T’s in LGBTQ+
Though it once again sounds like pandering (especially when Julián screws up his terminology), it is nice to hear so much support for transgender issues, and LGBTQ+ issues in general, in a nationally televised debate for a major political party. The pandering to a lot of traditionally marginalized groups that takes place in the Democratic Party is annoying, but better to be pandered to than to be ignored. #Progress
Biden’s apology refusal
One person who chose not to pander, at least in one case, was former Vice President Joe Biden, who once again refused to apologize for some comments he made in regards to this country’s history of racial segregation. Without offering an opinion on those comments, I can say that I appreciate Biden’s refusal to do what everyone does in these sorts of scenarios in 2019: offer an insincere apology. The exchange between Harris and Biden in regards to these comments was one of the most interesting of the night, but the exchange only happened because Biden chose to stick to his guns (and his political record), even if he might be rightfully criticized for doing so.
To be young
I like Mayor Pete, but MY GOD is he young! How can he know anything?!? He is 37 years old. I’m 32, and I’ll be 33 before he turns 38! I’m still not over the fact that I’m now older than the vast majority of my favorite sports athletes and professional wrestlers. I don’t think I’m ready to be nearly the same age as the president. Plus, even if in his four-and-a-half extra years of life he’s managed to become 10 times smarter than me, he should still be at least 20 times smarter than that (or 200 times smarter than me) to be the leader of the free world. #Math #OldPeople #Vote4Bernie
I’m torn on it. I get why candidates do it, especially the candidates who desperately need the mic time in order to remain relevant, but the passive-aggressive Minnesotan in me cringes at the uncomfortability that it creates. My suggestion: Give the moderators a button that controls the candidates’ microphones. If Bill de Blasio won’t shut up because he comes from New York where everybody is rude, then cut his mic! That will teach his big ass some manners.
Assault Rifle Buyback
Even though I found most of his mic time underwhelming, I was intrigued by California Representative Eric Swalwell’s proposal for an assault rifle buyback. If we really want to reduce the number of guns, and consequently gun violence, in this country, this would be one way to try to do it. Many believe that it had some success in Australia. That said, the gun situations in Australia and the U.S. are apples and oranges, and the fact that Stalwell thinks that an assault rifle buyback would save the lives of “black children on the streets”, tells me that he might lack some understanding of this complicated issue.
What in the actual F? I would love to have video footage of the expression of bewilderment that slowly evolved on my face as she moved through her responses. I can’t tell if she’s on something, or onto something. Either way, I really hope she’s in attendance at the next Democratic debate so that I can continue to laugh-cry at tweets like the following:
Healthcare is the other dominant issue, alongside immigration and perhaps climate change, that will likely be most important to Democratic voters in the 2020 election. What is most encouraging to me is that all the major contenders for the Democratic nomination define universal healthcare as a goal (which was not the case a decade ago). They have different ideas about how to get there—some through the immediate abolition of private insurance, others through an approach that is more measured and graduated—but it does seem that these candidates want all Americans to have access to a public option, aka single-payer system, aka Medicare for all.
I’ll be interested in continuing to listen to the different plans that the candidates put forward to create that system. I think that Kirsten Gillibrand makes the most sense to me so far, that she’s happy to let private insurance companies remain in existence and compete with her proposed single-payer system (insinuating that they won’t be able to due to their need to generate profits), but for now I’m just satisfied that all the candidates want to head in the same direction—joining the rest of the developed world in guaranteeing healthcare as a human right.
Left-of-Center vs. Progressivism
The healthcare issue is illustrative of the larger choice at hand: do Democrats want to nominate a moderate, left-of-center candidate, or a progressive liberal? Do Democrats want more mild and practical reforms within the existing system, or what Elizabeth Warren calls “structural change”, what Bernie Sanders calls a “political revolution”? These are the questions that the Democratic debates, and eventually the caucuses and primaries, will need to answer. The tone of these first debates suggest that the tide is turning towards the progressives, but I’m pretty sure that as of this morning, Joe Biden is still considered the front-runner.
I embody this split in the Democratic Party. I’m inspired by the brand of egalitarian socialism described by Bernie, but I also see the shared prosperity that can result from what Gillibrand describes as “healthy capitalism”. I love the idealism and aggressiveness in the detailed plans of Warren and Yang, but I also feel the sensibility and practicality in the proposed policies of Delaney and Klobuchar.
But all that said, I believe that what I and a lot of other potentially Democratic voters are experiencing is a good problem to have. There were a lot of people up on that stage that I could see myself voting for, especially when they are running against Donald Trump. I want the best candidate for the job, but I also want the best candidate for that job, and in the twenty candidates that I saw over the last two nights, I think there are at least a few people that would be pretty good at both.