Bernie Sanders had a great debate

There was a lot to like about the Democratic debate between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden last night. Because there were only two people, it allowed for a lot of direct back and forth, with each actually asking the other questions, and the moderators let them do so. The moderators deserve some credit for not interrupting and making it all about them. In general the questions were decent and some important issues were discussed. Of course the pandemic and how to deal with it dominated the discussion, especially at the beginning, but there was a lot of discussion on topics that earlier debates had largely ignored, such as immigration reform and climate change. But the very fact that considerable time was given to these topics meant that other important topics did not get a hearing. I also thought that the lack of an audience in the room was a good thing and they should be dispensed with in future debates.

It quickly became clear what the main differences between the two candidates are. The first is that Sanders is deeply sincere about the views he holds and the policies he proposes. Apart from the fact that he has been fighting for them all his life, he speaks about them with such passion that you can be sure that his words are not the product of multiple testing on focus groups. Another distinguishing feature from Biden is that on every issue, Sanders spoke of the need to deal with the immediate issue but also looked at it structurally, about how the situation came about and what systemic changes needs to be made so as to prevent the situation recurring or be better able to deal with it if it does. Biden, on the other hand, tended to view things more superficially, focusing almost entirely on dealing with the immediate problem. Using a medical analogy, Biden was merely trying to alleviate the symptoms of a disease while Sanders was also trying to diagnose and cure the disease. Biden admitted as much when he said that Sanders wants a revolution while he wants incremental changes.

This became more clear towards the end when Sanders focused on the power structure in the US and that as a nation we need to seriously grapple with the question of how it came to be that we have this massive wealth and income inequality where greed and corruption at the top are so rampant. He said that the terrible US response to the coronavirus is just one example of the fact that the power structure in the US is dominated by billionaires and big corporations who control the media and the legislature and that prevents the country from creating institutions that would serve the mass of people and not just the elites. Sanders pointed out that Biden is funded by Super PACs that are funded by billionaires and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and that is an example of this structural problem. Biden’s response to the issue of the wide imbalance in power? He wants federal funding of elections, another example of his Band Aid approach.

The debate got pretty intense during the middle portion when each of them brought up the others’ votes. Sanders pointed out that being a leader meant being able to make the right judgment calls even when they are unpopular and that he was proud to have taken tough votes against measures that Congress, with Biden’s support, passed but that are now realized to be wrong. He said that he was proud of his votes against the bankruptcy bill (that Biden voted for but has now reversed himself at least partially) and the awful Defense of Marriage Act (that Biden voted for) among others. Another of Biden’s wrong votes he raised was his support of the law that authorized the Bush-Cheney administration to invade Iraq. Biden says that his mistake was in believing Bush when he said he would not go to war. Sanders replied that he and anyone else who was paying attention knew that Bush-Cheney were itching to go to war and that they would use it for just that purpose. Biden in turn brought up Sanders’s votes against gun control laws that Sanders has admitted were mistakes.

I was astonished that when asked by Sanders directly whether he had ever spoken on the senate floor in favor of cutting Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits, Biden flatly denied it. Sanders looked as if he could not believe his ears because there is ample evidence of Biden doing just that. I too was astonished because it was such a flat out lie. Others have quickly pointed out other false statements that he made.

Some time was wasted when one moderator brought up once again the absurd issue of Sanders speaking positively of the education and health progress that the Cubans under Fidel Castro made. The idea that you cannot point out the positive steps that authoritarian governments have made is ridiculous. This trivial issue had been given a lot of time in the last debate and there was really no reason to go over it again. But it gave an opportunity for Biden to grandstand about how saying any good thing about an authoritarian government was terrible, which is utterly absurd.

On the issue of climate change, which finally got a decent hearing, Sanders was again passionate, arguing that the planet faced an existential crisis that required a complete weaning away from fossil fuels and towards renewables like wind and solar and that we should immediately start that process by banning fracking. Biden meanwhile spoke about things like getting the US back into the Paris Accords and helping to stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forest. Sanders said that those things were good but nowhere near enough to deal with the scale and urgency of the problem. It was once again an example of the fundamental difference between Sanders, who said that we need structural change, and Biden who wants to address the surface issues while leaving the basic structure unchanged.

That structural approach of Sanders, raising the issue of who controls the power and decisions in the country, is of course why the Democratic party establishment, which is completely in the pockets of the dominant players in the current power structure, hates Sanders and his message. They, and the corporate media, do not want a discussion of the power structure in this country because he is attacking the very source of their power. But as Sanders pointed out, he may be behind in the delegate count but he thinks that his movement has won the ideological debate since many of the goals that he proposed that were dismissed as recently as four years ago as absurd have now become party orthodoxy, except that they are trying to find corporate-friendly approaches instead. Even his proposal for free college has just been accepted by Biden, except that Biden wants to put a ceiling of $125,000 family income for eligibility. Sanders also said that his movement has won the generational struggle since young people across the spectrum overwhelmingly support his ideas.

Biden made a splash by committing to name a woman as his running mate should he get the nomination, which will likely disappoint Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and other men who may have harbored hopes.

I thought that Sanders did extremely well. His passion and sincerity shone through and I felt that he clearly demonstrated why he is the better person to challenge Trump in the general election and be president.


  1. bmiller says

    It is just so, so sad that it will be Biden in all his decrepit, corrupt…glory?….who will be our standard bearer for the inevitable slaughter this fall.

  2. says

    The moment of shame for CNN was when a producer ordered a cut away from Biden to get Bernie wiping his nose with a tissue.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ll vote for Trump before I’ll vote for Biden.

    As long as Bernie hands in there, there’s always hope.

  3. says

    Biden said he will pick a woman.
    Biden said he would consider a republican running mate.
    And of course he will pick a willing stooge of the corrupt system.

    “Susan Collins, your message just arrived. . . .”

  4. billseymour says

    On 538’s live blog of the debate, Nate Silver wrote something interesting:

    One of the things that people constantly get wrong about Biden, as his pivot toward embracing Warren’s bankruptcy bill shows, is that he’s not really a centrist – instead he’s more of a “generic Democrat” who basically holds the positions that the median Democratic legislator has.

    My takeaway from that, if it’s true, is that Biden has no firm positions of his own, but rather just goes with the flow. That could be both good and bad. On the one hand, if Sanders stays in the race and continues to move the Democratic Party in the direction of basic human decency, Biden will follow along, at least until November. If he wins in November, on the other hand, he might decide to push for the positions of the median senator.

    I don’t know whether to be encouraged or discouraged.

    Also, on the subject of the virus, his insistence on ignoring Sanders’ fundamental structural changes, but rather considering only what people need “right now,” is irrelevant to the presidential primary. Whoever wins the election won’t actually take office until January. By then it’ll be too late anyway.

  5. says

    @Tabby No. 4,

    Sadly, no. That means that a strategy of voting for the left-wing of the Pro-War Pro-Business party and expecting our rights and lives to be protected is no longer a viable solution.

    Remember that last evening Bernie called Biden out on his anti-abortion record and no one blinked.

  6. consciousness razor says

    There is no use, hyphenman. For many in the party, Biden is an empty vessel, and for many of its voters, he is an inkblot. They seem to want it that way. They don’t want to hear about who he is, what he’s done, what he stands for now, what he intends to do, etc.
    The only accepted things we can do are to remain silent or to join in with their lies. So, you will take the useless platitudes and superficial gestures, and you will just have to learn to appreciate them, until it starts to feel normal. By then, it will be too late, but the hope is also that you won’t understand that anymore.

  7. Jean says

    hyphenman, how many lives do you think will be lost due to Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis? And do you think that Biden would have been as bad? And while this won’t likely be relevant next January (maybe…), there might be more crises to come.That’s just one aspect where abject incompetence matters.

    I’m Canadian and Trump scares me right now and Trudeau’s not helping much.

  8. says

    @consciousness razor no. 7.

    Yet, after half of century in the struggle, I remain optimistic because I can.

    @ Jean, No. 8: That’s true, you’re absolutely correct, but over time I’ve come to understand that fear is seldom a good reason for tipping the balance on a decision.

  9. A Lurker from Mexico says

    @Tabby Lavalamp
    Given Biden’s voting history, I’d say it’s a tie, Both options represent a potential loss of reproductive rights. Even if he’s switched gears in recent years, there is no guarantee that his newfound liberalism on women’s right to choose will survive his inevitable “election pivot”. Even if he won’t add more anti-choice bullshit to the system, he’s not going to go out of his way to fix what has already been undone. Lesser evilism of candidates varies from issue to issue. You happened to pick one that doesn’t really add to your argument.

    Any thoughts on the deaths of coronavirus that the Florida Democratic Party will cause by NOT postponing their primary? Or the court ruled blocking of Ohio’s attempted delay? Not everything is Trump’s decision or responsibility. And Biden is URGING people to go to the polls. Does that tell you anything about his handling of the situation? Biden’s main voter base is people 60+ years old (you know, the ones that run the highest risk of dying from coronavirus).

    These people seem desperate to get their geriatric voters to the polls, no matter the consequences. “Vote for Biden even if it kills you”. These are the corporate democrats most loyal supporters and not half a fuck is given about their well being. What hope is there for the voters who are even less regarded than them?

  10. Jean says

    @A Lurker from Mexico
    Yeah, these are dumb actions and statements but the Democratic Party and Joe Biden are not in charge of the country and don’t have an administration with people in charge to get the right messaging and policies out there.

    My point is not to excuse the stupid statements from the other side but simply to highlight how dangerous Trump is. He himself is an ignorant narcissistic fool but he is also surrounded by enablers and cult followers that will not contradict him on anything (with very few exceptions).

    And that even goes beyond the US borders. The Canadian prime minister announced that Canada was closing its borders to foreigners today except for US citizens. And people are speculating (not random people but on national news) that part of it is due to how Trump would react. He might be mad and decide to completely close the border with Canada for everyone and all goods which would be a disaster for us. That’s not something that would ever happen with any other ‘normal’ US president because even with an impulsive president there would be some people who could bring some sanity; with Trump, insanity rules.

    So anyone claiming that voting for Trump instead of Biden make any sense is a complete idiot in my view. Trump is dangerous on so many levels in the US and everywhere on the planet in so many ways that anyone who has a chance of beating him is a better alternative.

  11. A Lurker from Mexico says

    They are more than “dumb actions and statements”. If some random youtuber… Fuck it. Let’s go with Alex Jones. If Alex Jones started goading his viewers to ignore safety measures of an international health crisis everybody everywhere would be shouting from the rooftops about the insanity, the irresponsibility. There would be pretty decent arguments about how that should be considered some form of manslaughter. Alex Jones doesn’t have anywhere near the same amount of influence that a presidential primary candidate has, that a presidential primary FRONTRUNNER has.

    The Democratic Party and Joe Biden are not in charge of the country. But they are in charge of their own fucking events. The safety and well being of every single person that enters their primaries, polling places, conventions, debates and whatever bullshit. They are in charge of that. I help organize charity events, we take the safety of our attendants very fucking seriously. Because it is a responsibility of ours, not the local government, not the federal government. When I invite people to gather under my roof, their well being is my responsibility. They are not in charge of the country, but this is how they handle the one thing they are in charge of.

    At least when Trump fucks over his own supporters, he has something to gain. What’s in this for Joe? He’s not hurting for delegates, he’s 150 delegates or so ahead of Bernie. His campaign is not in dire need of a win. It doesn’t matter if Florida votes in March or in September, Bernie is not winning there. This doesn’t help at all in the general election. The fallout from making the crisis worse will absolutely explode in his face before November. A good 10% of the idiot boomers following good ol’ uncle Joe down that precipice will very likely be dead by the General Election, and therefore unable to aid in the battle against Orange Satan. Why? Why is he doing this? Why is Symone Sanders encouraging this idiocy in CNN, unchallenged? Why are the Democratic Party and it’s local franchises enabling this stupidity?

    And among the things that Joe and the Democratic Establishment are ignoring for no goddamned discernible reason in order to make this call are:
    -Value for human life.
    -A basic sense of decency.
    -Gratefulness and regard for the people who support them and trust them most.
    -Interest in aiding the current crisis.
    -And any fucking sense of strategy. Even if you are a machiavellian psycho that only cares for others in terms of how they serve you, this doesn’t make sense.

    He’s sending his most loyal voters to die for nothing, how is he being better than Trump?

    The guy trying to delay the Ohio primary (because you are not supposed to organize gatherings of thousands of people during a motherfucking pandemic) is Mike DeWine, a republican. How in the hell is a republican more concerned about the health and safety of democrats, and more in line with scientific recommendations, than the fucking Democratic Party?

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