The Democratic Debate for 2020, Part 5

Booker, Gabbard, Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Warren

W.J. Astore

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.

Quick Thoughts on Hillary and Trump before the Debate

Hail Caesar!

W.J. Astore

Sorry, I have no special insight into tonight’s debate.  I’m guessing Hillary will win based on points, but that Trump will also win by being present on the same stage.  More celebrity than politician, more showman than man of substance, Trump knows how to control his own image. Hillary will command the facts; Trump will command the audience’s attention.  It’s a win-win for them but a lose-lose for America.

I had a strange dream last night.  I dreamed that Trump arrived at the debate, riding a chariot and posing as Caesar.  And the audience applauded.  I was desperate to ask a question (yes, I was in the audience, don’t ask me how), and got the chance.  I said something like this: “I was in the military for 20 years, serving my country, yet you, Donald Trump, dodged the draft during the Vietnam War.  You claim to be on the side of veterans, but you arrive here dressed as Caesar, as a conquering hero, even though you yourself never served.  Have you no sense of decency, sir?  Have you no shame?”

I swear: I rarely remember my dreams, and those that I do remember have nothing whatsoever to do with presidential politics.  In my waking hours, I don’t think of Trump as Caesar.  He’s more of a Nero, a deeply flawed narcissist who will fiddle while America burns.

Hillary raises different issues.  I keep seeing, both in print and on TV, the argument that Hillary is imperfect, secretive, compromised by special interests, a person of questionable judgment, but that we must vote for her simply because SHE’S NOT TRUMP.  Trump is so bad, such a hazard to democracy, the argument goes, that we must swallow the jagged big pill that is Hillary, no matter how painful that pill may prove, simply because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.

It’s sad indeed that some people’s best (only?) argument for Hillary is that SHE’S NOT TRUMP. For me, I can’t get past the Democratic Party’s efforts to rig the primary process in her favor against a true populist with integrity, Bernie Sanders.  It’s Bernie, not Hillary, who should be running against Trump, but the Democratic Party establishment determined from the beginning that Hillary, not Bernie, would be its nominee.

Of course, both parties, Republican and Democrat, want to keep alternatives from us.  The shameful part of tonight’s debate is that Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) are excluded.  In short, there will be no “debate” tonight in any meaningful sense of that word. Instead, we will get a narrow discussion of establishment views with considerable jousting and posturing (and perhaps some mugging from Trump), generating some heat but precious little light.

Yes, I will watch the debate.  I just hope some version of my dream of Caesar’s rapturous appearance doesn’t come to pass.

Hillary to Bernie: You Smear Me When You Tell the Truth


W.J. Astore

I watched yet another Democratic debate last night, this one moderated by MSNBC in a more traditional format instead of the previous version’s “town hall.”  Much was repeated: Bernie Sanders wants a “revolution” to overthrow a rigged economy and to enact campaign finance reform, Hillary Clinton says she’s a progressive who can get things done and who will build on the legacy of President Obama.

For me, the big moment came when Hillary tried to change the narrative on her taking millions of dollars from banks, investment houses, and Wall Street in the form of speaking fees and money from Super PACs.  She accused Bernie of a “smear” campaign when he “insinuated” she might be influenced by all this money.  She said other progressives (she cited Obama, for example) took money from Wall Street yet still allegedly held the big money boys to account.

Another moment, not as big but also telling, was when Bernie painted Hillary as an “establishment” candidate.  Talk about stating the obvious!  But Hillary rejected this by playing the gender card.  How can I be an establishment candidate for president, Hillary asked, when if elected I’d be the first woman president?  This is total nonsense, of course. She is an establishment candidate who just happens to be a woman.  But I suppose she and her team had no other response to the truth Bernie was bringing.

Speaking of the establishment, after claiming she wasn’t part of it, Hillary cited Henry Kissinger’s praise of her, saying Kissinger had applauded her for running a tight ship at the State Department.  Praise from Caesar …

But back to the “smear” campaign.  Obviously, Hillary and her team are hoping the media will focus on the smoke and mirrors generated by that loaded term, while neglecting the reality of Bernie’s truth-telling.  Given the craven nature of the mainstream media, her cynical gambit may even work.

When the big money boys give millions to candidates, any candidate, they’re not usually so blatant (or stupid) as to be buying votes.  They’re not going to get caught telling a candidate, vote yes on this, no on that.  What they’re buying is access.  They’re gaining the candidate’s ear. They want to be the last “person” to whisper in the candidate’s ear before she or he makes a decision.

I’m sure Hillary believes she’s her own woman.  But she knows how the system works, and so does Bernie.  If you accept big money, you know it always comes with strings attached.  The more big money you accept, the more strings, until no matter how much you resist, you end up dancing like a puppet on those strings.  That’s basically Bernie’s point, and it’s not a smear. It’s the truth.

An interesting question came up about whether Hillary would be willing to share transcripts of all her speeches before the big money boys.  She said she’d look into it.  If she’s the “progressive” she claims to be, she should be willing to share those transcripts immediately as a matter of public record.  Something tells me we either won’t see these transcripts, or they’ll be released months from now, after the primary race is decided.







The 2016 Presidential Candidates in a Word

face plant
Politics: Sometimes I just want to do a face plant (Photo: Barbara Neiberg)

W.J. Astore

Continuing our election coverage, I thought I’d try to sum up each major candidate with a single word (excluding profanities).  I encourage readers to submit your own words for each candidate in the comments section below.


The Democrats

Clinton: Compromised.  No candidate is more beholden to special interests and the establishment than Hillary.

Sanders: Revolutionary.  Let’s face it: It would be revolutionary for a Socialist Jew to win the Democratic nomination.  And “revolution” is one of Bernie’s favorite words.

O’Malley: Eclipsed.  I had to strain to remember his name, and I’ve watched the debates.  Simply overshadowed by Hillary and Bernie.


The Republicans

Trump: Bombastic.  Trump makes a lot of noise, and my dad always told me “the empty barrel makes the most noise.”

Cruz: Oleaginous.  There’s something slippery about Cruz.

Rubio: Callow.  An eager beaver, apple-polishing type.  Not quite ready for prime time.

Bush: Uncertain.  He doesn’t seem to believe the words coming out of his own mouth.  This is one reason why Trump calls him “weak,” because The Donald never doubts himself.

Carson: Serene.  His calm is perfect for a neurosurgeon, but he’s out of his element on the political stage.

Christie: Angry.  He seems to despise both Obama (“feckless weakling”) and Hillary.  Like Tony Soprano but without the charm.

Kasich: Grey.  A conventional Republican governor, he blends into the background due to the strutting peacocks that surround him.

What do you think, readers?  Have at it!