Alright, I didn’t want to watch the Democratic candidate debates, but inevitably, I did. No one who knows me is surprised by this.
I’m not going to go over the highlights or analyze each candidate’s performance here. There are a ton of articles online by now already doing that. That’s not what we do here, anyway.
My biggest takeaway, though? They’re [mostly] all good. I’ll take any of them over what we have in office now. They each seem to have a decent understanding of the nation, its people, its threats, and its issues. They all seem to want to do things to make the nation better for most people – Dems or otherwise. There’s an encouraging amount of alignment amongst them as far as what the issues are. The differences lie in their plans for tackling them and why they’re the best one to get it done.
I’m not going to address their varying levels of government experience because that’s apparently no longer relevant as to whether or not you can become the president of the United States.
These initial debates, especially when there are more than three or four candidates on stage, are really just to give people face time on a national news network. I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t know who all of these candidates were until I saw them there, and I pay attention to this stuff. I wasn’t impressed with all of them, but as I said, I honestly don’t see how any of them could possibly be worse than what we have now.
Is that the point, though?
YEAH, IT ACTUALLY IS.
When asked what the biggest geo-political threat to our nation currently is, Governor Inslee of Washington (one of the candidates I wasn’t as familiar with before this debate), answered, “Donald Trump,” to resounding applause.
Political critics often talk about how the Democratic party is “obsessed” with beating Trump in the 2020 election. The idea behind this critique is that they’re too worried about saying the right thing to beat the incumbent and not actually discussing their views and plans. In other words, they’re too busy playing defense when the American people, apparently, need and want a more offensive approach from their Democratic nominee.
When people watch these debates, though, they seem to approach them with inherent and understandable frustration. This is probably because politicians are known for making promises they either can’t or won’t keep. There’s a whole genre of public speaking that refers to the way politicians speak. Even their attempts to come across as relatable and edgy feel contrived and played out. We’ve heard all of their talking points and debate tactics and persona pandering at some point or other. Their zingers are seldom as zesty as they seem to think they are. Our candidates keep arguing over phrasing and nebulous issues and plans of attack and Trump, and in the meantime, people are literally suffering. People’s lives are being disrupted. People’s economic opportunities are dwindling. The planet is overheating.
So, we’re bored, largely unimpressed, and yes, frustrated.
But our frustrations may be misdirected. Women are frustrated because our reproductive rights are being threatened – again. Dreamers are frustrated because they’re facing the threat of deportation – again. Blue collar workers are frustrated because their job security is being threatened – again. Everyone is frustrated because our air and water quality is getting consistently worse, our education systems aren’t competitive across the globe, personal and national debt has skyrocketed, our alliances have been damaged and pushed aside (only to be replaced with other, less desirable ones), our infrastructure is literally crumbling, we’re imprisoning children and separating families at our borders, foreign governments are interfering in our elections, we’re fighting decades-old international conflicts with little to no end in sight, our Senators and other government employees are corrupt and act in the interest of their own bank accounts and re-election campaigns rather than those of the people they swore to serve..
To put it lightly.
So, the frustrations are thus and they exist or have been exacerbated, currently and largely, because of the current administration. We just want someone who’s going to fix everything, or someone who will at least fight (hard) to do so.
As for the debaters…
They all had very well-rehearsed statements. They all spent time detailing their credentials, their experience, and their passions. The big issues were the same ones you keep hearing about. My Baby Boy Beto talked a lot about the existential threat of climate change. Booker talked about gun violence. Warren was heavy on policy, as usual. Gabbard discussed American military action. Yang? Can’t remember. Hickenlooper doesn’t want the GOP to use the word “socialism” when referring to the Democratic party, which merely plays into their simplistic and semantics-based attacks surrounding larger and more complex ideologies. Buttigieg asserted that the Republicans don’t have a monopoly on religion on the basis of their insane levels of hypocrisy. Williamson wants more love in politics, and honestly, whatever. I feel that.
Etc., etc. You know the issues. They’re the same ones that you keep hearing about in the news. If you don’t watch the news, they’re the same ones you see made into easily digestible memes on social media. If you’re not on social media, they’re the same ones you overhear people talking about in your local bar or restaurant.
Here’s the thing, though – there were so many people on that stage, all of whom were vying for a moment to speak uninterrupted. Some were more successful than others. In these initial debates, you simply can’t allow everyone to address everything. You’re not going to have the chance to dive deep into policy and plans. Critics who wanted this or that candidate to delve more deeply into how things would get done under said candidate’s administration seem illogical. Seriously – how is anyone going to go into any kind of meaningful detail of a plan within the span of 90 seconds?
By the way, has our current president even laid out a single policy plan since he’s been elected? Has he even filled all of the cabinet positions in his administration?
There was a lot of passion on that stage, though. Passion has to be there because the American people are passionate – and angry. One common complaint against Warren, for example, is that she’s too uppity and needs to “calm down.”
Nah, I don’t want a “calm” candidate to take on the Republicans. I want someone smart and strategic. There’s too much at stake to get caught up in likability scores.
And not to beat a dead horse, but is Trump remotely calm or likable?
As expected, there was a good deal of identity politics on the stage. Nearly every candidate had an “As a [commonly marginalized group]…” moment. De Blasio touted his experience as the father of a black boy in America. Booker saw de Blasio’s black son and raised him one “I actually am a black male in America.”
While these tropes are played out and tiresome now, they’re not entirely obsolete. It’s important for the voting public to understand that these candidates actually have lived lives comparable to the ones the rest of us experience on a daily basis. It’s a toss-up…people want someone relatable because they presumably understand what life is like for the average American, but the average American isn’t fit to run the nation. I don’t need to grab a beer with my president. I need him or her to run the nation.
That said, relatability is paramount, especially when the current president has somehow managed to convince working class, blue collar Americans that he not only gives a sh*t about them, but that he actually is one of them. I don’t need to tell you how far from the truth that actually is.
Also, something fun the Republicans have been doing lately, after seeing the diversity of the Democratic candidate pool, has been to assert that people like Kamala Harris aren’t black enough. They did it with Obama, too. The audacity of these claims is almost impressive. I almost wish I had their level of “I don’t care how this comes across – I’m going to say it anyway and people will get behind me and I’ll never be held accountable for the things I say,” but you know, morals are still a thing.
Damn my morality.
Rep. Tim Ryan from Ohio said it well when he stated, “They’ve divided the working class.” The Republican party, as it stands today, is not the party of working class Americans, despite what they may have been once upon a time. Their great success, however, was in creating division amongst groups that should really be united on several fronts. It’s branding and marketing, and the fact that it’s worked is a little ridiculous.
But everything’s connected. We’re all connected.
How do you possibly tackle an issue when the issue is all of the issues? It usually comes down to the money – where it’s coming from, where it’s going, how it’s being allocated, who it’s benefitting, who it’s hurting. A question of universal healthcare becomes a question of environmental regulation and government and corporate corruption. A question about climate change becomes a question of international trade deals and alliances. A question about inner city crime becomes a question of education reform and social welfare programs.
Basically, everyone had good things to say. There’s just so much to say.
All of this reminds me of the Game of Thrones finale, which sucked. The big existential threat that had been touted from the very first season as the growing and lingering threat that every single kingdom within the Seven Kingdoms would have to come together and address, fight and, critically, claim victory over, was defeated within a matter of moments, without the help of the southerners whose queen had decided her place on her throne was more important than all of humanity potentially being wiped out. (I realize that was a run-on sentence. Please don’t tell any of my college lit professors. Or my mother.)
And then, after seven seasons of “Winter is Coming,” the big, big threat turned out to be…Cersei.
Anyway, in this scenario, Trump is obviously Cersei. She was busy waging her own war for the sake of her own self-interests, casually ignoring the threat to not only her own life, but to the lives of all the people she’d been tasked to govern, serve, and protect (I know – faux-medieval monarchies are a bit more flexible on the idea of a sovereign “serving” their people, but you get the idea). The White Walkers are representative of climate change. We out here tryna save the planet, but we still have this nuisance of a president actively making things more difficult than they should be.
In Game of Thrones, they defeated the White Walkers in spite of Cersei being Cersei. For us, I’m afraid the fight is and will continue to be much longer and more difficult. And whoever the POTUS is – we’ll need their support.
What we need is unity. It’s tricky because only one Democrat can win the nomination and/or the presidency. The Democrats hold themselves to a higher standard than the Republicans seem to, almost to a fault. Thus, the notion of the Dems eating their own is perpetuated and sometimes it’s hard to argue that that isn’t the case. For instance, AOC has already criticized some of the candidates for speaking Spanish during the debates. I’m not sure how she thinks she’s helping with comments like that.
And honestly, potential presidential-candidate pandering isn’t the most critical thing for us to be focusing on right now, damnit.
Going forward, the candidates will need to remember that they are, in fact, all on the same side. Most of them have a history of working together, fighting for similar issues. Some of them have different ideas of where priorities should lie and where strength resides in government, but overall, their messages are largely similar.
Let’s just get through the next year. Please.