The debate yesterday involve a lot of cross talk, people speaking over each other and not allowing the person who was asked a question to speak uninterrupted. The moderators did not seem to make a strong enough effort to stop people talking simultaneously so that it was hard to make out what was said. The worst culprit when it came to interruption was Pete Buttigieg, who perhaps should be called Pete Buttinsky in future. It was clear that he sees himself as the establishment hatchet man to go after Bernie Sanders. Even when the moderators directly asked Sanders a question, Buttigieg would start talking immediately over Sanders to try and drown him out. To my mind, he came off as somewhat desperate, knowing that this was his last chance to make an impact. Buttigieg avoided getting into it with Amy Klobuchar this time, since the sharp exchanges last time did not seem to have reflected well on both of them.
As expected, red-baiting of Sanders played a large role, starting with the moderators asking why the Russians are supporting Sanders.
What I found interesting was that although all the candidates wanted to attack Sanders, they had to concede (even billionaire Tom Steyer) that the progressive agenda that he has long been advancing has wide appeal. Where they attacked was in effectively saying that while Sanders’s analyses of the problems were correct and his goals were good, they disagreed with him on how they should be addressed. From there, they segued to claiming that it would cost too much and that he had not said how his Medicare For All would be paid for, pretending to not understand that there would be a net savings. Even though Sanders again brought up The Lancet study supporting his claim of net savings, they ignored it and continued with these Republican talking points.
Elizabeth Warren went after Michael Bloomberg again for his treatment of women and the fact that he had helped finance the Senate campaign sof right wing extremists like Lindsey Graham and others who had utterly regressive views.
As usual, Amy Klobuchar’s answer to most questions was to say that while the progressive ideas were good, she was the only one who knew how to get things done. Biden went one better and kept saying that he was the only one who had done pretty much everything. His repeated assertions got annoying and lacked credibility.
Sanders’s past opposition to gun control legislation was brought up and he conceded that that vote was a bad one but he said that he now gets a D- rating from the NRA and promised to make it an F when he becomes president. Steyer said the reason nothing gets done on gun control is because the gun industry has bought the Senate.
On the Israel-Palestinian question, pretty much everyone gave boilerplate answers about getting all parties together to solve the problem and supporting the two-state solution. Sanders however went further and called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu an authoritarian racist and said that while he supported Israel’s right to exist, we should not ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people. The Israel lobby in the US led by AIPAC, already funding anti-Sanders ads, is likely to intensify their campaign against him.
There was considerable discussion about issues affecting the black community, such as the massive rates of incarceration. The need to legalize the use of marijuana was agreed upon by everyone except Bloomberg. Bloomberg was again attacked for his racist stop and frisk policies.
Red-baiting was raised again later in the debate with, as expected, Sanders’s statements about Cuba’s advances in education and health resurrected. When he pointed out that Barack Obama had said the same things, Biden danced around the issue. Sanders pointed out that the US has overthrown the governments of many countries.
On other foreign policy issues, many of them took a very hard line against Russia for its alleged interference in US elections. Biden said that he would impose sanctions on Russia. He also said that he would order China to do what the US wanted it to do on various contentious issues, which I am sure gave the Chinese leadership a good chuckle.
The most astounding question of the night was when the moderator asked if it were proven that Russia had interfered in the US election, would they launch a retaliatory cyberattack? My reaction was: Are you seriously suggesting that we start World War III over this? And yet, such is the anti-Russian hysteria over election interference that no one expressed incredulity at the suggestion.
I was somewhat surprised by Steyer. He came across as someone who understood the issues and had some good instincts about how to address important social issues. He also on his own brought up the important issue of the need to address climate change which these moderators, like those in previous debates, ignored. It struck me that he might make a good cabinet member, perhaps for the department of Heath and Human Services.
Another thing that surprised me was that, going by the loudness of the cheers and boos, Biden and Bloomberg had a lot of support in the auditorium. Biden I can understand since he has invested a lot of time in cultivating support in the state. As for Bloomberg, maybe he paid people to support him. I thought that this was an idle speculation on my part during the debate but Tessa Stuart writes that apparently others have similar suspicions since he has been purchasing support elsewhere.
“Mayor Bloomberg has a solid and strong and enthusiastic base of support,” Bernie Sanders said from the debate stage in South Carolina Tuesday night. “Problem is, they’re all billionaires.”
It was a tidy one-liner (with the bonus that it happens to have a basis in reality: Jeff Bezos was among those who reportedly lobbied the former New York mayor to get in the race) but the joke was met, somewhat mystifyingly, by a loud round of boos from the debate night crowd in South Carolina.
The same crowd had, for most night, been enthusiastically erupting at a noticeable volume for every answer Michael Bloomberg gave — including when he very nearly admitted that he “bought”21 new members of Congress in 2018.
It was enough to prompt speculation that Team Bloomberg may have splurged on a cheering section to boost the beleaguered billionaire’s confidence after he was practically ethered live on stage in Las Vegas less than a week before.
But one can easily see where the confusion might come from — according to a recent Wall Street Journal report, the Bloomberg campaign is paying more than 500 people — “deputy digital organizers” they’re calling them — up to $2,500 a month to hype Mike Bloomberg by text and on their personal social media accounts.
Ashley Feinberg expressed similar suspicions, especially since the audience was cheering some fairly banal comments by Bloomberg. She provides videos of the strange reactions.
My final impressions: Nobody had a standout moment. Sanders was heavily attacked but came through largely unscathed. Buttigieg was his usual smug and condescending self, patronizingly asserting that is the only one who could beat Trump with his kumbaya message. Warren, Klobuchar, and Biden did not help or harm their causes. Bloomberg was better than last time but that was a very low bar. His attempts at humor were painful, though. The one person who improved his chances was Steyer.
The debate was not very enlightening but if you missed it, you can see below, starting at the 23 minute mark and ending at the 2 hours, 26 minute mark.