Yes, there was yet another Democratic Debate among the remaining presidential candidates. I gutted my way through most of it, gritting my teeth every time Mayor Pete opened his mouth to spout pious bromides. In no particular order, here’s my quick take on the remaining seven candidates who made the debate stage:
Bernie Sanders: Passionate. Bernie remains committed to a progressive agenda that will truly change lives for workers in America. His consistency of vision is his biggest strength.
Joe Biden: Angry. I may be biased, but when Joe tries to match Bernie’s passion, he comes off as angry instead. There’s just nothing new here.
Elizabeth Warren: Competent. Warren is always prepared and is capable of delivering a memorable one-liner, especially her quip that she’d be the youngest woman elected to the presidency. But she may be the candidate least equipped to match Donald Trump in a debate.
Amy Klobuchar: Milquetoast Moderate. Klobuchar is trying to present herself as the level-headed voice of reason between Trump’s followers and the “radicals” on the side of Sanders and Warren. This has been tried before (anyone remember Hillary?), and it didn’t work out so well.
Tom Steyer: Earnest. He’s putting his money where his mouth is. I just don’t see him being a serious contender for the nomination.
Andrew Yang: Revelatory. Yang had his best performance in this debate. He’s shown an ability to think on his feet, and his answers are unconventional and thoughtful. I hope he stays in these debates and wins more support.
Mayor Pete: Wine Cave. Poor Mayor Pete. He’s so desperate to appear serious and important. But he’ll sell his soul for the big money (not that he’s alone here), including a big fundraiser in a wine cave, which led to the best line of the night, by Andrew Yang, when he quipped about those who are so willing to “shake the money tree in the wine cave.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a compelling choice for president in 2020. She’s principled, she’s against America’s disastrous regimen of regime-change wars, and she’s got the guts to criticize her own party for being too closely aligned with rich and powerful interests. She’s also a military veteran who enlisted in the Army National Guard in Hawaii after the 9/11 attacks (she currently serves as a major and deployed overseas to Iraq during that war).
What’s not to like about a female veteran who oozes intelligence and independence, a woman who represents diversity (she’s a practicing Hindu and a Samoan-American), an early supporter of Bernie Sanders who called out the DNC for its favoritism toward Hillary Clinton …
Aha! There you have it. Back in February 2016, Gabbard resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC to endorse Sanders, and the DNC, controlled by establishment centrists like the Clintons as well as Barack Obama, have never forgiven her. Recently, Hillary Clinton smeared her (as well as Jill Stein, Green Party candidate from 2016) as a Russian asset, and various mainstream networks and news shows, such as “The View” and NBC, have suggested (with no evidence) she’s the favored candidate of Russia and Vladimir Putin.
Think about that. Hillary Clinton and much of the mainstream media are accusing a serving major in the U.S. military of being an asset to a foreign power. It’s an accusation bordering on a charge of treason — a charge that is libelous and recklessly irresponsible.
A reminder: Tulsi Gabbard enlisted in the military to serve her country in the aftermath of 9/11. What did Hillary Clinton do? Can you imagine Hillary going through basic training as a private, or serving in the military in a war zone? (Hillary did falsely claim that she came under sniper fire in Bosnia, but that’s a story for another day.)
Tulsi Gabbard is her own person. She’s willing to buck the system and has shown compassion and commitment on the campaign trail. She may be a long shot, but she deserves a long look for the presidency, especially when you consider the (low) quality of the enemies she’s made.
Last night was the fifth Democratic debate featuring the top ten candidates for the presidency. These are more “meet and greets” than debates, given the short time for responses and the sheer number of candidates, but they can be revealing. Rather than focusing on who “won” (here’s a typical “Who won?” article) or the best applause lines, I’d like to summarize each candidate in as few words as possible. Here goes (in alphabetical order):
1. Joe Biden: Fading. Biden often misspeaks and relies far too heavily on the dubious legacy of the Obama years. He has no apparent vision for the future.
2. Cory Booker: Wide-eyed. Booker tries to convey enthusiasm and optimism, but somehow it hasn’t worked for him. There’s a growing sense of desperation about his candidacy.
3. Pete Buttigieg: Salesman. To me, Mayor Pete looks like he should be going door-to-door, selling Bibles. The face of young milquetoast moderation within the Democratic party; unsurprisingly, he’s attracted a lot of establishment money.
4. Tulsi Gabbard: Composed. Tulsi is rarely flustered. Her poise and sense of calm come through in interviews and on the campaign trail, but doesn’t translate as well in debates.
5. Kamala Harris: Affected. Harris, a former “top tier” candidate (her words), has watched her support dwindle. Maybe that’s because there’s something scripted about her.
6. Amy Klobuchar: Establishment. She has positioned herself as a sensible centrist, which is another way of saying her positions are predictable half-measures that threaten no one in power.
7. Bernie Sanders: Passionate. Bernie has lost none of his outrage at a rigged system. He’s still calling for a political revolution. Good for him.
8. Tom Steyer: Billionaire. It’s interesting to see a rich guy espouse progressive ideas while vowing to attack climate change. I don’t think he has a chance, but he’s not your typical politician.
9. Elizabeth Warren: Prepared. Warren has a plan for everything. But will her professorial manner translate in a general election? Her crossover appeal seems limited.
10. Andrew Yang: Different. Yang thinks for himself and has an eye on the future. His out-of-the-box thinking adds some intellectual excitement to these often stale “debates.”
Of the ten candidates, Sanders and Warren are identified by the media as the “radical” progressives, whereas Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Harris, and Klobuchar are seen as moderates or centrists. Gabbard and Yang are non-conformists but in different ways, and Steyer is anomalous in terms of his wealth.
For me, Bernie Sanders remains the clear choice for 2020.
I watched the two Democratic debates this week. Media outlets treat them as a horse race, announcing winners and losers. So perhaps you heard Kamala Harris scored big-time against Joe Biden. Or perhaps you heard Elizabeth Warren did well, or that Tulsi Gabbard generated lots of post-debate interest (Google searches and the like). I will say that Beto O’Rourke was clearly unprepared (or over-prepared) and unable to speak clearly and meaningfully, so count him as a “loser.”
All that said, the clear winner wasn’t on the stage; it wasn’t even among the 20 debate participants. The name of that clear winner: America’s military-industrial complex and its perpetual wars.
Sure, there was some criticism of the Afghan and Iraq wars, especially by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. But there was no criticism of enormous “defense” budgets ($750 billion and rising, with true outlays exceeding a trillion a year), and virtually no mention of Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen. (Tulsi briefly mentioned the Saudis and was shut down; Bernie mentioned the war in Yemen and was ignored.)
The only direct mention of the military-industrial complex that I recall hearing was by Bernie Sanders. Otherwise, the tacit assumption was that soaring defense budgets are appropriate and, at least in these debates, unassailable.
Bernie and Tulsi also mentioned the threat of nuclear war, with Bernie making a passing reference to the estimated cost of nuclear forces modernization (possibly as high as $1.7 trillion). Again, he had no time to follow up on this point.
NBC’s talking heads asked the questions, so blame them in part for no questions on the MI Complex and the enormous costs of building world-ending nuclear weapons. Indeed, the talking heads were much more concerned with “gotcha” questions against Bernie, which attempted to paint him as a tax-and-spend socialist who doesn’t care about diversity. Yes, that really was NBC’s agenda.
Always, Democrats are asked, “How will you pay for that?” You know: “extravagances” like more affordable education, better health care, a tax cut that helps workers, or investments in job training programs and infrastructure. But when it comes to wars and weapons, there are never any questions about money. The sky’s the limit.
A reminder to Democrats: Donald Trump won in 2016 in part because he was willing to denounce America’s wasteful wars and to challenge defense spending (even though he’s done nothing as president to back up his campaign critique). We need true Peace Democrats with spine, so I remain bullish on candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.
Hopefully, in future debates Bernie, Tulsi, and others will call for major reforms of our military and major cuts to our bloated Pentagon budget. But don’t count on that issue being raised by the mainstream media’s talking heads.
Bonus Winner: I can’t recall a single mention of Israel and the Palestinians, not even in the context of framing a peace plan. No mention of America’s role in Venezuela either. The imperial and aggressive neo-con agenda on foreign policy went almost unchallenged, but kudos to Tulsi Gabbard for calling out the “chickenhawks” (her word, and the right one) in the Trump administration.
Yes, it’s much too early, but I count at least fourteen Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 election. Here are a few impressionistic words on each of the candidates.
The True Progressives
1. Bernie Sanders: Bernie is principled, sincere, honest, and dedicated to helping working people. Yes, he’s a “Democratic socialist,” which is scary to the mainstream media. The establishment of the Democratic Party is against him. Advantage, Bernie.
2. Elizabeth Warren: She identifies as a “capitalist,” but she’s proven she’s willing to take on Wall Street, the big banks, and other special interests. She’s intelligent, sharp, and committed. Her weakness: a lack of charisma and the whole “Pocahontas” angle, i.e. her identifying as Native American on past occasions.
3. Tulsi Gabbard: A military veteran who’s strongly against regime-change wars, a vocal critic of the military-industrial complex, Tulsi has demonstrated poise, thoughtfulness, and coolness under pressure. The DNC and media are against her because she’s independent-minded and refuses to bow down before special interests. A dark horse candidate who may catch fire. (I’m so excited I’m mixing metaphors.)
The Usual Suspects (Milquetoast Centrists)
1. Cory Booker: A water-bearer for Big Pharma, Booker has a pleasant demeanor but takes few chances.
2. Kamala Harris: A former prosecutor, Harris seems to love prisons more than schools.
3. Kirsten Gillibrand: Rumor has it she asked her friends on Wall Street whether it was OK for her to run. They apparently said “yes,” so she announced her formal candidacy today.
4. Amy Klobuchar: Already with a sad reputation for abusing her staff and making ill-judged jokes about it, Klobuchar is an uninspiring centrist.
5. Beto O’Rourke: A millionaire who married a woman who will apparently inherit billions, Beto showed up in Iowa speaking in platitudes about the wonders of democracy in the USA. His only firm principle is that he believes he deserves to be in the race, perhaps because he looks a little like a Kennedy if you squint really hard.
1. John Hickenlooper: A governor from Colorado, Hickenlooper made his money by opening a micro-brewery. At a campaign appearance in Iowa, somebody broke a glass, and he helped to clean it up. Though he was afraid to say he was a “capitalist” on TV, Hickenlooper may have some potential.
2. Jay Inslee: Governor of Washington State, he’s made fighting climate change the central issue of his campaign. He’s got one of the big issues right, so advantage to Inslee.
Wild Cards and Also-Rans
1. Andrew Yang: A former venture capitalist and unconventional thinker, Yang has caught people’s attention by talking about a guaranteed income for all. A possible anti-Trump in the sense he’s a successful financier with brains and heart.
2. Pete Buttigieg: A gay mayor who’s also a veteran, Buttigieg got some air time recently by referring to Trump as a “porn president.” Comes across like a young Mr. Rogers.
3. Julian Castro: Formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama. And that’s all I know.
4. John Delaney: I just saw his name today. The end.
The Ultimate Centrist and Establishment Man
1. Joe Biden: Hasn’t yet announced, but it looks like he will. The presumed front-runner based on name recognition and his loyal service as Obama’s VP for eight years. Will have the full support of the mainstream media, the DNC, and the Washington establishment. A decent-enough man, Biden is effectively a moderate Republican.
Bracing Views, in all its power, fully supports Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, real progressives who want to effect real change.
Which candidates do you like, readers? And which ones don’t you like? Look forward to your comments!
Update (3/19/19): Apparently two more candidates are waiting in the wings: Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum. Both are candidates of color who recently ran close but unsuccessful races in Georgia and Florida. Perhaps not presidential material (due to lack of experience on the national stage), they may emerge as strong candidates for a VP slot.
Watching a documentary commemorating the fiftieth anniversary year of Robert Kennedy’s (RFK) tragic run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, I couldn’t help thinking back to a venerable (if also somewhat moth-eaten) political science theory of critical realignment. This theory refers to a national election that radically and durably alters the balance of power in our two party system.
According to one iteration of that theory, these elections tend to occur on an approximately 36 year cycle of presidential elections and manifest in one of three ways: a new party displaces one of the two major parties (as when the Lincoln Republicans, calling for the containment of slavery, completed the dissolution of the Whig Party in 1860); a major party reinvigorates its dominance by mobilizing new and existing constituents around a fresh set of policy issues (as when the Republican Party ushered in a new period of electoral success with the 1896 election of the industrial protectionist McKinley); and when dominance switches between the two major parties (as when Franklin D. Roosevelt won overwhelmingly the first of his four presidential terms in 1932).
Key features of critical realignments include a crystallizing issue, heavy voter turnout, and major and durable shifts in voter allegiance. Political scientists have noted that this phenomenon seems to have petered out with the fracturing of FDR’s coalition in the Sixties. The election of 1968 did not see the emergence of a dominant new party (George Wallace’s success as a third party candidate that year was fleeting), nor did it witness either a renewal of Democratic dominance or a switch to long-term Republican Party dominance (control of the White House and Congress has instead oscillated between the two major parties).
Would the U.S. party system have experienced a critical realignment had Bobby Kennedy avoided assassination and won election as the thirty-seventh president of the United States? It is a question that occurred to me as I watched video footage taken from Kennedy’s funeral train of the people spontaneously gathered along the rail lines in big cities and small hamlets to pay last respects to their martyred candidate.
As one of the Kennedy family friends riding that train noted, those forlorn folks represented Kennedy’s base—Catholics, people of color, blue collar workers, the poor.
Had he lived and gone on to run in the general election, he would have added to these groups the students and liberals who had flocked to Senator Eugene McCarthy’s antiwar candidacy, as well as the party bosses who were supporting the sitting vice-president Hubert Humphrey. And had he won the presidency in 1968 and made significant progress in achieving his stated goals—ending US military involvement in Vietnam, retooling LBJ’s efforts at poverty reduction, fostering a sense of solidarity among racial and generational groups—would that have been enough durably to boost voter turnout and cement loyalty to a more social justice-oriented Democratic Party for decades?
A lot of “what ifs,” I know. But watching the stasis of American politics over the last decades in the face of mounting crises on both the domestic and international fronts, it is consoling to think of a possibility (however remote) of the critical realignment that could have been.
M. Davout, an occasional contributor to Bracing Views, teaches political science in the American South.
Why did Donald Trump win the presidency? A big reason is that he was willing to take unpopular stances. He criticized the Afghan and Iraq wars in the strongest terms. He attacked Wall Street. He called for closer relations with Russia. Of course, to cite one example, when he became president, Trump willingly embraced Wall Street — no surprise here. Trump is not about consistency. The larger point is that he appeared authentic, or at the very least not tied to traditional politics of the mealymouthed, which involves focus groups and think tanks and polls and triangulation before any policy position is taken.
The Democratic Party has learned nothing from Trump’s success, nor for that matter from Bernie Sanders’s rise. It’s rejecting the energy and popularity of Sanders’s progressive platform for the tired bromides of economic competitiveness, moderate tax increases on the rich, and infrastructure improvements (which Trump has also called for). It’s refusing to critique America’s enervating and endless overseas wars. It’s even refusing to focus on serious social issues (too divisive!), as reported here at Mic Network:
The new [Democratic] agenda will be released under the title, “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.”
According to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, the plan “jettisoned social and foreign policy issues for this exercise, eschewing the identity politics and box-checking that has plagued Democratic campaigns in the past.”
Leaving social justice issues out of the platform is sure to anger many progressives in the party who have been pushing for issues like police brutality, systemic racism and transgender rights to be front-and-center on the Democratic agenda.
Likewise, the absence of any foreign policy agenda is likely to irk the left’s many critics of America’s never-ending wars.
What’s the point of voting for a Democratic Party that refuses to address such vitally important issues? And don’t you just love the unimaginative title of the plan?
A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.
If you have to repeat the word “better” four times, I’m less than convinced that the deal is actually “better.” It sounds like a used car salesman trying to sell a lemon. I’ll give you a better deal on this beat-up Yugo! At a better price, with a better warranty, with better loan payments! Sure … right.
I think I can come up with five “better” titles for the Democrats just off the top of my head. I’ll give it a whirl:
No Guts, No Glory: A Bold New Plan for Our Country
America the Bountiful: Tapping Our Greatness — and Goodness
Better Angels: Reviving America’s Nobility
Comrade! March with Me to the Towers and Pitchfork the Rich!
OK. Maybe not number 5. I’m not saying my titles are great — just that they hold some promise of raising ourselves to a higher level. We should be thinking about making a better America, not for skills or jobs or the economy, but for our children. For our and their collective futures. A little idealism, please! The fierce urgency of now!
Where’s the emotional appeal in “better” skills or a “better” job? It’s funny: I don’t recall the Founders talking about skills and jobs. They talked about personal liberty, about freedom, about coming together and raising new hopes. And they didn’t just talk — they acted. Give me liberty or give me death. Now that took guts!
I see no inspiration — and no guts — in the current Democratic Party establishment. And until the party finds some, they will continue to lose.