It was a regular political debate.
And it was anything but.
“It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. If it’s true that we embrace a far left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. So let’s stand up for the right policy, go up there and defend it.” – Pete Buttigieg
Ideals on display. A lot of them.
There is certainly a divide in the Democratic Party, but after Tuesday’s debate, I don’t think it’s an unhealthy one. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren stood center stage as progressive champions. Mayor Pete and Beto O’Rourke represented a younger (and much younger) challenge to the status quo. Marianne Willliamson brought passion and emotion to the stage and Amy Klobuchar was, in my opinion, the only moderate who managed to walk that tightrope between ideology and pragmatism. The others…well, they were the others, their sole purpose seemingly to throw out some lobs for the better prepared, more energetic candidates to crush.
And those others were primarily moderates. Former Congressmen John Delaney served one up to Elizabeth Warren when he challenged that the progressive ideas she championed were “impossible promises” and “fairy tale economics,” Warren fired back “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.”
She and Sanders withstood these kinds of attacks throughout the night. While explaining that his medicare-for-all plan would provide better healthcare plans for unions, Congressman Tim Ryan challenged “You don’t know that…you don’t know that.” Without missing a beat, Sanders exclaimed “I do know, I wrote the damn bill!” At one point Warren accused the more moderate candidates of regurgitating “Republican talking points.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was author Marianne Williamson, who on more than one occasion delivered emotionally charged responses to questions she was asked by moderators. When asked about the water crisis in Flint, MI, an issue close to the hearts of the debate’s host city, Detroit, she held nothing back.
“We need to say it like it is — it’s bigger than Flint. It’s all over this country. It’s particularly people of color. It’s particularly people who do not have the money to fight back. And if the Democrats don’t start saying it, why would those people feel they’re there for us. And if those people don’t feel it, they won’t vote for us, and Donald Trump will win.”
She came out fervently in support of reparations to African-Americans, calling for payments totaling between 200 billion to 500 billion be paid out. She argued even that figure was too low.
“If you did the math of 40 acres and a mule, given there was four to five million slaves at the end of the Civil War, and there were probably 40 acres and a mule for every family of four, if you did the math today, it would be trillions of dollars.”
As a theme, she warned that unless Democrats step up and start acting to heal the deep issues of toxicity, racism and hatred in the country, that they could never hope to beat Donald Trump in a general election.
I have gone into this election cycle keeping an open mind. I have no clear favorite. The field is diverse and many ideas, as well as strategies, are represented. I, as I imagine many Democratic voters are, am torn between voting for a candidate who champions every cause I believe in and a candidate who, while they may not share every viewpoint I do, has a realistic chance to win the general election in 2020.
In Sanders in Warren, you have the idealists. In Buttigieg you have a “safe” semi-progressive option. In Klobuchar you have a seasoned moderate who comes from a state that went for Trump in 2016 who is well-aware that issues like “Universal Healthcare” may not play well in the heartland. You have Beto who…is from Texas. Maybe he can deliver Texas. I didn’t think he said anything remarkable tonight, and I don’t feel he has done anything to distinguish himself as a candidate.
John Delaney, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper and newcomer Steve Bullock were just flat. Delaney got pummeled by Warren, Sander’s clap-back to Tim Ryan was memorable and hilarious. Hickenlooper just never said anything original. He played the middle and said nothing. And Steve Bullock gave the most painful closing statement I have ever seen. He tripped over words, he winced, he just generally looked like he partied too hard the night before and forgot to do his homework.
But despite half the field falling flat, one thing was noteworthy. There was an energy about this debate. Yes, there was disagreement, yes there were some awkward moments, but most notably…there was talk about real issues. We had the opportunity to watch thoughtful, informed, policy based discussion on issues that matter to Americans.
Racism was discussed intelligently, and at length. It was not a debate about whether racism still existed, but a discussion on how to solve the increasing culture of racial hate and divide. Terms like “prison industrial complex,” and “reparations,” were used repeatedly. Elizabeth Warren said that we need to call white supremacy in this country what it is — “Domestic terrorism.”
Minimum wage, childcare, teacher’s salaries, and higher education were all discussed in detail, as was the empowerment of workers through unions. Agree with their positions or not, care about these subjects or not, the conversation was a productive one. It acknowledged the issues at hand and the candidates very clearly expressed their stances and plans on each.
There was no hate. There was no name-calling. There was no disrespect. The worst you can say is that, like in any other debate, they spoke over one another too often. Historically speaking, it was probably a pretty normal debate. If you compared this debate to anything prior to 2016, it probably wouldn’t stand out at all.
But tonight, experiencing this conversation, watching and listening to what we might consider “normal politics,” elicited an emotional response in me — something like hope mixed with loss… like seeing someone you’re very fond of after years of being away. That feeling caught me off guard, but it shouldn’t have. It’s been a long time now since we’ve had anything normal. We get so caught up in the daily performance that our President puts on — the lies, the tweets, the insensitivity, the blatant disregard for anyone but himself — that we might forget there are problems we can actually solve. There are conversations happening that have depth and there are plans being made that are written with painstaking detail and a determination to push our country forward, together, with respect and dignity.
Tonight, I watched a normal debate. It didn’t give me one candidate to root for, it didn’t resolve any of my concerns on big issues. But it gave me hope. And maybe hope is all I need.
Photo from CNN Politics
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