Last night’s Democratic debate was very feisty, to say the least. People came out swinging, and some clear patterns soon emerged.
They all attacked Bernie Sanders and that was to be expected because he seriously threatens the status quo and has now risen in the polls to the top. He led in 10 out of ten polls released since Monday. They attacked his Medicare For All policies saying it would cost too much but never answer his response to explain why it is that the US spends twice as much as other developed countries that have universal health care, when we don’t even cover everyone. That must mean that the US is spending be spending about half its health care costs on things not related to providing health care and thus would experience a reduction of health care costs if we switch to something similar to those countries. It also shows that there is a huge amount of money right now that is spent on providing huge profits to the health insurance industry, buying overpriced pharmaceuticals, and ridiculously high administrative cost that would disappear under his plan, and thus it would end up saving the country and people money because they would no longer have insurance premiums deducted from their salaries, they would have no co-pays or deductibles, and most importantly, no worries about losing coverage.
A lot of time was spent on a silly discussion about Klobuchar in an interview not knowing the name of the Mexican president. I hate these factoid questions because they are meaningless. If she had been unaware of trade and immigration policy with Mexico, that would be serious. But not being able to name a foreign leader, even a neighboring one, off the top of her head? Who cares? It was like the silly questions in days past where candidates were asked to the price of a gallon of milk or some such to see if they had the common touch.
Elizabeth Warren, after her poor showing at the last debate, must have felt that she needed a breakout performance in this debate to stop her slide and she attacked everyone on the stage. It seemed like she felt the need to fend off Sanders on one side and Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar on the other. She made her mark early with particularly effective attacks on Michael Bloomberg for his stop and frisk policies, the abusive policies in his company and the sexist and racist comments by him, and the non-disclosure agreements that he got his employees to sign that he refused to release them from, and for not releasing his tax returns. She attacked Buttigieg for changing his positions after getting contributions from wealthy donors so that it was not clear what he now stood for.
Pete Buttigieg once again came across as smarmy, claiming to occupy the middle ground between the Sanders and Bloomberg and a unifying figure from outside Washington who can bring everyone together, and that all the others are polarizing. He delivered his bromides and platitudes with his trademark smug smile. It was clear that he saw Amy Klobuchar as his main rival to pick up the mantle of the establishment to challenge Sanders if Biden was to falter and he attacked her repeatedly and sharply, so much so that she got visibly angry and slammed him back. Her best comments were when Buttigieg made one of his sanctimonious pronouncements belittling her. She replied, “I wish everyone was as perfect as you Pete” and at another time “You’ve memorized a bunch of talking points, and a bunch of things.” That must have hurt. Buttigieg is one of those people who will smile at a rival and seem to make a nice remark about them that is really, or quickly followed by, a rhetorical stab in the back. The more I see of him, the less I like him.
Sanders attacked Bloomberg and his fellow billionaires for their contributions that have resulted in a tax system that favors them and have caused the huge and growing wealth inequality. The moderator brought up Sanders saying a year ago that billionaires should not exist and asking everyone if they agreed with it, allowing all but Sanders to proudly claim their devotion to capitalism. Sanders had suggested that companies should have at least 20% ownership by workers and Bloomberg was asked if he supported it. Bloomberg said that he deserved all the money he earned because he had worked hard for it and that Sanders’ 20% ownership proposal was communism, which is absurd and Sanders rightly called it out as a cheap shot and said that other people did the work that enabled Bloomberg to get so much money. Before the debate, Matt Taibbi had his usual list of things to expect and look out for and #1 on the list was “Someone makes an inappropriate/absurd comparison to communism in conjunction with Sanders (i.e., executions in Central Park, “Lenin also tried Medicare for All…,” etc.) Most of the other things on his list also happened.
What to do about climate change got a good hearing for once but in this case there was little division except on the issue of what to do about fracking.
At the very end while Biden was giving his closing remarks, a protest broke out. It was not clear what they were yelling but later I read that they were protesting the lack of any substantial discussion on immigrant rights. They may have targeted Biden because the Obama-Biden administration was very tough in its deportation policy.
My capsule summary is that Sanders was, as always, Sanders replaying his greatest hits and commentators seemed to think that he had a good night. Warren got the most speaking time and was the most effective in her attacks on Bloomberg. Biden was slightly better than usual and Klobuchar continued her attacking mode that got her a bump after her last debate. Bloomberg had a poor night, looking shell-shocked for much of the time, and was the person who got the most boos. This pretty much summed up his night.
The first hour of the debate was an absolute and total disaster for the former mayor. He looked lost at times — and those were the best times for him! Warren dunked on him repeatedly. Sanders slammed him. Biden bashed him. It was like watching a pro wrestling match where everyone decided to gang up on a single wrestler in the ring — and that wrestler was totally and completely caught off-guard. Bloomberg is still very, very rich — and will continue to spend his money on the race. So he’s not going away. But it’s hard to see how the momentum Bloomberg had built through his heavy ad spending wasn’t slowed considerably by a performance that slid waaaaay under what was a very low bar of expectations.
I am not sure if the debate will have much impact on the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.