Musings on the first Democratic debate

I watched the first of the two debates involving ten of the twenty people who qualified for it. Given the large number, the two-hour time allowed for an average of about ten minutes per candidate and each was given just one minute to respond to questions. So it was unreasonable to expect a detailed examination of candidate positions since they all largely agreed on how to respond to the issues that were raised, with the possible exception of John Delaney who seemed more like a Republican, touting his credentials as a businessman.

This article contains nice graphic summarizing the positions of the candidates on some of the issues. A notable omission in the graphic and in the debate was any mention of where the candidates stand on the Israel-Palestinian issue and on the US relationship with Saudi Arabia.

But there were occasions when spirited exchanges took place despite the tight constraints. This was mainly due to the candidates ignoring the moderators’ requests to finish and continuing to speak and respond to each other. What I looked for last night was to see if any of them rose, sank, or remained the same in my personal estimation as a result of their performance. It will be interesting to see how post-debate polls and the professional pundits compare with my estimations.

So here is my summary.

Those who gained: Julian Castro, Bill De Blasio, Tulsi Gabbard

The people in this category were those I knew very little about and these three grabbed my attention as being worthy of closer scrutiny.

Those who lost: Amy Klobuchar, John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee

Apart from Klobuchar, I did not know much about these candidates either and none of them said anything that made me think more favorably of them.

Those who remained the same: Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker

This is a tricky category that requires elaboration because staying the same in my estimation did not mean that I viewed them as the same. I have had a high regard for Elizabeth Warren and that remained unchanged. I have been lukewarm towards O’Rourke and Booker, seeing them as somewhat lightweight, and that view did not change either. There was a slight rise in my estimation of Booker who gave some detailed responses but a slight drop for O’Rourke. Ryan Grim has a nice review of Warren’s personal story, how it influenced her political journey, and how she has recovered from early setbacks to become a formidable candidate.

If there was a single incident that stayed in my mind, it was an exchange between Ryan and Gabbard. Gabbard, who served with the military in Iraq, has been a critic of the ‘forever wars’ that the US is engaged in. She kept drawing attention to her military service at every opportunity and said that trying to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan was futile, that they were there before the US invaded, they are there now, and they will be there after the US leaves. Ryan said something along the lines that the US needs to be “completely engaged” with Afghanistan and that “When we weren’t in there, [the Taliban] started flying planes into our buildings.” Gabbard swiftly corrected him, pointing out something that he should have known, that the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11. The fact that it was mostly Saudi Arabians who were involved in 9/11 is something that seems to not penetrate into public consciousness, largely because of the relentless Bush-Cheney lies and propaganda to gain support for invading Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let’s see what tonight’s debate brings.


  1. says

    “When we weren’t in there, [the Taliban] started flying planes into our buildings.”

    That little display of utter ignorance means Ryan’s voted off the island, as far as I am concerned.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    To be fair to Ryan, he did immediately correct/clarify by saying the Taliban were protecting the people who attacked the US.

  3. says

    That’s good to hear from Gabbard because I had gotten the impression, partly due to her Hindu background, that she’s maybe a bit bigoted toward Muslims and is thus a bit of a PEP and war monger (at least with countries with largely Muslim populations). Maybe she’s not as awful on that as I thought?

    @2 Rob Grigjanis: I don’t see how that is a correction or a clarification. And, if it is, it seems to make things worse. His original argument seemed to be “We have to have a presence there or we’ll get attacked” but this would seem to make it “We have to have a presence there or they’ll harbor those who attack us.” The first argument is bad enough. That second? Worse, is it not?

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Leo Buzalsky @3: I’m not saying his arguments for having a military presence in Afghanistan are good (they’re not), just that he does actually seem to understand that the Taliban did not attack the US. I have some sympathy for people whose sub-optimal phrasing results in instantaneous mockery, since my own phrasing isn’t always that great.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Marcus
    When we weren’t in there, [the Taliban] started flying planes into our buildings.

    And Saddam Hussein supplied the planes.

    I am still working on how the Ayatollah Khomeini was also complicit. The fact that he was dead complicates matters but I am hopeful.

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