For the sixth debate there ended up being seven candidates, and for the seventh, six.
It was something of a bland debate, and not only because, sadly, the candidates of color have left the race or didn’t qualify for the debate. Which is what it is. Having diversity matters, and the process should be changed to better support it in a variety of ways (including shortening the campaign period), but the purpose of that diversity is primarily to ensure that we end up with candidates that will be broadly aware of the challenges facing America (that is, having a slate of candidates with different ethnic backgrounds, social backgrounds, and genders wouldn’t be worth a cent if their outlooks and cares were all the same).
But the immediate blandness was mostly due to the candidates again not having much to gain or lose by going big. With the top four at or around viability for Iowa, there wasn’t a lot on the line for them, and neither of the other two were close enough or had strategic options to push themselves over.
Part of the issue was with the debate questions themselves. In at least some of the questions, the moderators tried to triangulate around controversy or static, which is never a good sign. The contest and the debate aren’t about what Sanders did or didn’t say in a private conversation.
Of course, neither is it about a vote 20 nearly years ago. Or how many past elections were won or lost or who against.
Which is to say that the bottom line is that these debates often tell you more about where the motivations for the campaigns and media are than anything useful in deciding who to vote for or what policies to prefer.
One surprise is that, as the campaign has dragged on, the issue that stands out as being correctly given some of its due attention is climate change. Climate is a hot planet issue… err, hot button issue, and rightly so. It’s a defense issue, which should make it easier in time to cut through the faux conservative points about cost or economy in the face of a threat to both.
One bright spot was Steyer on healthcare when he basically said if Congress was functional we wouldn’t be having the debate. Term limits likely wouldn’t fix that problem, but at least he’s got the real problem: our lawmaking body isn’t responding to the needs of a nation. All the presidents in the world aren’t going to change that. We need to see changes both in who goes to Congress and how those two chambers operate. But I digress.
With the recent assassination of a member of the Iranian government fresh on the minds of the nation, foreign policy inevitably played a bigger role, but in an odd way. Usually in the course of a campaign there are international crises or moments to reflect on the nation’s role in the international order, but they are typically externally-driven and framed in terms of how candidates would have responded. This was a case of Donald John Trump lashing out in an untrained manner.
As that was the framing, the idea that experience would have helped is a non-starter. Brains would have helped. The president doesn’t have a bad strategy borne of inexperience. He has no strategy borne of his complete lack of capacity to ingest, much less digest intelligence. If he had that, he would never have abrogated the nuclear deal with Iran in the first place.
All of which is to say that the answers were of a kind: restore what Donald John Trump has broken. Besides, to do so in a climate that will be far more difficult to achieve even the same results, given how badly the fool has repeatedly undermined our national credibility.
It will be helpful to see some voting, and soon we will. Nothing brings clarity to a race like some of our citizens putting down their choices and letting everyone take a look and then make their own choices based on how things are shaping up.