2020 Democratic Debates 2.1 and 2.2

What are the issues? What’s all the debate about?

Climate Change

How long do we have to do something? How to reduce our carbon pollution? Do we invest in R&D, focusing on carbon capture, farm-based sequestration, carbon tax, more EV charging stations? All of the above? That’s the debate.

The main reason this is so dire is that the Republicans generally refuse to work on any real policy (and Trump uses executive orders and rulemaking to attack our home, earth). One apparent bright spot came in the Senate this past week when the Committee on Environment and Public Works unanimously moved on a bill that would direct $10 billion toward emission reduction and infrastructure built to mitigate damage from a harsher climate. But it’s a tiny step compared to the major needs.

Healthcare

To have a Medicare-for-all system or improve on the Affordable Care Act? Or will they end up the same thing—a public option slipping into single payer? That’s the debate.

Similar to climate, the Republican side is the lawsuit supported by Republican AGs and the Trump Department of Justice to kill the Affordable Care Act entirely. They have no plan for the millions who would be affected. It would be a major mess, with sick people thrown to the wolves, job losses that might tank the economy—the equivalent of dropping a legal bomb. They have no policy to replace it. Worse, the ACA is relatively conservative in its approach, so any replacement would likely be more liberal and less likely to pass the Senate at a time when immediate action would be needed to restore confidence and save lives.

The Republican lawsuit comes after years of trying to revoke the ACA without ever putting forward even a skeleton policy of what could replace it.

Immigration

To decriminalize border crossings or not? Should any future Trump-style president be able to use the mere fact of crossing as an excuse to separate families? If the law remains criminal, rather than a civil process, that proposition remains. That’s the debate.

(There’s also a lot of media-imposed strife on whether undocumented immigrants deserve to have access to healthcare, because. . . I don’t really understand the issue. They’re humans. Every human needs healthcare at some point. I think some are conflating access with unpaid access, which isn’t really the issue.

I understand part of the media’s MO is to show contrast, but if they can’t effectively articulate the issue, maybe they should do their job first. Once they have explained what the issue is, they can freely show contrast on it.)

The Republicans are much more divided, with a minority constantly eager to blow up any compromise between the parties—it’s been that way for over a decade at this point. Any deal is deemed by the Freedom Caucus types as a bad deal. But, as with the environment and healthcare, Trump is using executive orders and rulemaking to undermine any order or compassion in our immigration system.

Education

Cancel student loans? For everyone or just the lower class? That’s the debate.

On this one I don’t really understand why there isn’t emphasis on increasing the number of colleges and other options to drive prices down. But oh well.

But education also includes the need to integrate primary education. Which is really a need to integrate communities generally, because shuttling kids about rather than having them live in the same neighborhoods with their classmates is pretty nuts.

Once again, Trump and Secretary of Education DeVos are seeking to undermine any useful oversight of our educational system, including giving for-profit institutions carte blanche to reap profits while not providing education.

Impeachment

Would Trump being acquitted in the US Senate help him more than not impeaching him? That’s the debate.

Biden

Is his record from before 2008 more important than his record since? What about 2008-2016? Are those years off-limits because Obama remains popular? Is there redemption for being wrong in the past? How do his mistakes balance against his other votes and acts that remain positive? That’s the debate.

Trump

Vote him out. There is no debate.


In general, the second pair of debates seemed worse than the first in many ways. It might be useful to explain how people choose their candidate.

Let’s go back to 2008, when John McCain lost to Barack Obama. McCain was regarded as a maverick. Come 2012, Mitt Romney was the leader in the race. There were many in the party who kept trying on other candidates, only to find them ill-fitting, and Romney ultimately won the nomination and lost to Obama.

In 2016, similar situation except Jeb! Bush was the leader. Unlike 2012, the folks wanting change latched onto Donald Trump and did not sway.

It works a little bit different for Democrats—different values—but not much:

  1. If there’s an incumbent, a lame duck’s vice president, or a runner-up from the previous cycle, probably go with that or a surrogate for that.
  2. But, if a real, natural leader emerges (think John F. Kennedy), pick that one.
  3. Otherwise, go for something different than last time, unless those alternatives are obvious duds.

For 2020, a #1-style candidate could be Bernie Sanders. There’s some built-in support for #1s. The previous president’s voters, or their own primary voters from the last time around. On the other hand, Joe Biden kind of fits as a #1 with the vice president, having declined to run in 2016. There’s some confusion whether he qualifies, a whole cycle removed.

But if any of the candidates can break away, it will be on the basis of them channeling serious charisma—#2s. A few have had a moment here or there. Bill Clinton was the most charismatic figure of the past 30 years. Ronald Reagan also had good charisma for his time. Kennedy was very charismatic and well-spoken, so much so that it’s still a drinking game to take a shot when a Dem quotes him in a debate. For whatever reason, #2s are fairly rare.

But in 2020, Democrats might not be ready to call it with a #1. There are enough competitors that they can choose alternatives to both Biden and Sanders. There are several people adjacent to each of them, and if any of them show some charisma or other edge to their candidacies, the nomination will be up for grabs.

The other factor to consider is that this field must shrink. As it does so, some of the moderates will fall out, some of the liberals will fall out. The remaining personalities will seem more distinct. The choices clearer. The confusion of trying to deal with so many faces and names will fall away. Those who supported a candidate (donors, voters, and staff) who drops out will shift their support to others. That contraction will be highly clarifying.

2020 Democratic Primary Debates 1.1 & 1.2

Not who won or lost—when I watch debates, that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for personality, honesty, ideas. There are some notes of strengths/weaknesses, below.

Climate Realism

During 1.1 there was a question whether Inslee’s plan would save Miami, which he basically had to say yes to. You can’t stand in front of a city and tell them their city is going to go bye-bye. At least not yet. But it’s likely to, as seas rise enough.

There was a little bit of acknowledgment of that in 1.2 with Buttigieg differentiating between mitigation and stopping further climate change, but the general attitude of politicians seems to be focused on limiting the future damage without pointing to preparedness for the damage that will surely come.

Broad Agreement on Healthcare

The question seems to be whether to shoot for Medicare for All or let a public option evolve into Medicare for All. The differences of all sizes are moot at that point—they are all smaller than the differences that would exist in actually passing any bill change the healthcare system.

There seemed to be some slight nods to the bureaucratic friction in healthcare—one of its worst features is the difficulty of selecting insurance, understanding it, etc. But even those nods seemed very slight, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Half the pain of health conditions for a lot of folks is jumping through all the damned hoops.

US-Middle-East Relations

Everyone seems to agree war sucks, which is nice. The broader question of how to move the Middle East toward a better place wasn’t addressed. Some talk, especially in 1.1 about the Iranian agreement and tensions there. Indirect references to the potential for a peace dividend from a few candidates, without much to say about how to get there.


It’s a healthy field, as my report last week indicated. It seemed like there were more policy differences during 1.1 than 1.2. 1.2 felt much more about positioning than positions. Whether that’s because they saw how 1.1 went and strategized more, because of the contenders present, hard to say.

It felt like climate change was still an afterthought, and although there are only 11 more primary debates, it seems like getting more into the issues of climate would be helpful.

Over the two nights the strongest performances seemed to be (in alphabetical order):

  • Booker
  • Castro
  • Harris
  • Warren

Booker held his own on 1.1, not a complete stand-out, but certainly a contender. Castro had a few stand-out moments (also 1.1) and certainly showed himself to be worth a closer look. Harris, the only one I note from 1.2, seemed well-prepared and personable, but also had more time to speak so that probably helped. Warren has that professorial poise about her, and she’s always well-prepared.

The weakest performances came in 1.2, which may have helped Harris by providing more contrast. Swalwell jumped in with “me, too!” at several points and has some thing about the youth taking over, and Williamson apparently falls into self-help dictation mode whenever she is given a chance to speak.

Sanders (1.2) did alright, but at this point he’s fairly repetitive (if on message). One of his strengths and weaknesses is the fact that he seeded the ground so well with his 2016 rhetoric. That same rhetoric has been broadly adopted by 2020 candidates, both because they want to appeal to Sanders’ 2016 supporters and because it’s become part of the vernacular of the party (itself an oddity—Sanders still isn’t a Democrat).

Biden’s approach (1.2) seems to focus more on his record than is useful at points (doesn’t help that others want to remind us of negative aspects of his record). Others point to their records, but since Biden was around for so long, some of it feels like ancient history (for both the good and the bad). Harris rightly called Biden out for his anti-busing stance, but the electorate back then was more racist and the issue more visible (in 1972 it was largely seen as toxic that George McGovern proudly stated his pro-busing stance).


As the next debate (2.1 and 2.2) is about a month away, there will be some time for everyone to regroup and practice. They all got a chance to see how everyone else did, so the second round should be more informative as to who’s ready to rock and who isn’t.

Trying to get a Grasp on the 2020 Candidates

Cannot do it. Too many of them of various levels of notoriety. I fear we have entered some kind of Bermuda Triangle of candidates, from which we will never emerge.

The debates will be held next week, which means we all have to be able to get this straight in our heads so we can know which people said what and, assuming there’re gaffes, at whom to be outraged.

Meanwhile, Trump ran a rerun of a 2016 rally to “re-launch” his campaign and thought nobody would notice, there’s crazy tension between the USA and Iran, and several glacial regions are racing to see which will melt the fastest. . .

OK. 2020 Candidates. Focus. Oh, God. There’s about a billion of them just with last names starting with the letter B. Bennet, Biden, de Blasio, Booker, Bullock, Buttigieg. And that’s not counting the ones who are known by B-names, like Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke.

I’m going to write a full sentence about my perceived zeigeist of each of the candidates, in alphabetical order. People with more knowledge of these candidates are free to differ with my perceptions, which are based on entirely limited research and passerby hearsay. (Those with an × did not qualify for the first debates. Otherwise it’s 1 for first-night, 2 for second night. Also, I’ve helpfully omitted Mike Gravel entirely.)

  • 2 Bennet, Michael; Got in a little late to the race, this Colorado senator is moderate, and seems to prioritize foundational reforms like campaign finance.
  • 2 Biden, Joe; After missing the boat in 2016, this former vice president is the fast food joint of the race: a known quantity, not great food, but dependable for what he is.
  • 1 de Blasio, Bill; Also a latecomer, this New York City mayor is repeating the grand tradition of that city’s mayors to consider (Michael Bloomberg) and possibly run (Rudy Guiliani) for president in a way that nobody really expects to go anywhere.
  • 1 Booker, Cory; New Jersey senator seeks to run a calm, building tide of a campaign that seems to focus on social justice.
  • × Bullock, Steve; Governor of Montana who is running on the basis of his ability to win in a part of the country that’s been supportive of Trump.
  • 2 Buttigieg, Pete; This mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is an up-and-comer who has attracted attention for being a sophisticated mayor of a mid-sized city.
  • 1 Castro, Julián; This former HUD secretary is running on meat-and-potatoes, chicken-in-every-pot kind of general good-governance.
  • 1 Delaney, John; This former representative from Maryland announced back in 2017 with a focus on cooperation and bipartisanship.
  • 1 Gabbard, Tulsi; This representative from Hawaii seems focused on an isolationist foreign policy.
  • 2 Gillibrand, Kirsten; This New York senator campaigns on helping to reinforce the safety net.
  • 2 Harris, Kamala; This California senator is running on her bona fides as a former prosecutor.
  • 2 Hickenlooper, John; This former Colorado governor seems to be running as a kind of generic progressive with a track record.
  • 1 Inslee, Jay; Governor of Washington who has squared his hole as the climate guy.
  • 1 Klobuchar, Amy; This Minnesota senator emphasizes her ability to win with rural voters and progressives alike.
  • × Messam, Wayne; This mayor of Miramar, Florida, apparently wants to cancel student loan debt.
  • × Moulton, Seth; This representative from Massachusetts is running as a kind of new-core Democrat.
  • 1 O’Rourke, Beto; This former representative from Texas is best known for his 2018 senate race, but hopes to use his popularity from that race to give him a leg up in this broad field.
  • × Quimby, Joseph; This Springfield mayor is fictitious and is not running for president.
  • 1 Ryan, Tim; This representative from Ohio is running on a new manufacturing and new industry message.
  • 2 Sanders, Bernie; This Vermont senator ran a major challenge in the thin 2016 field and hopes that momentum can be renewed in a far denser field.
  • 2 Swalwell, Eric; This representative from California seems to center his campaign around particular policy proposals for a handful of issues including gun safety, college education, and neurological and chronic diseases.
  • 1 Warren, Elizabeth; This Massachusetts senator probably should have run in 2016, but now the professor is at the lectern and she has lesson plans for everything.
  • 2 Williamson, Marianne; This self-help book author wants to pay direct reparations to the descendants of slaves.
  • 2 Yang, Andrew; This entrepreneur wants to give everyone a monthly check that’s larger than Ms. Williamson’s reparations checks would be.

In any case, there’s way too many candidates, so hopefully the upcoming debates will help put the ranking in a more stark contrast and let us begin to speak of a more limited field with confidence that field is solidifying.

On the other hand, trying to pin down even a single sentence for each candidate gave me something to grasp for most. But still a lot to keep in the old noggin at one time.

Could have gone for tag-lines instead. Like Booker seems kind of an anti-Chris-Christie, because Christie went out of his way to be pretty ascerbic where Booker goes out of his way to be fairly calming.

Anyhoo.

What Should Candidates Talk About?

With the 2020 primary campaign still new, recent newsworthy questions involved issues that, while possibly illuminating about how candidates feel, don’t really get at where they want to go. Questions of imprisoned felons voting and whether the president ought to be impeached don’t really speak to the purpose of a president.

On the other hand, promising to pardon those convicted of federal possession, while welcomed, only serves a small minority of drug offenses and doesn’t stop the flow of new cases and new convicts. Which is part of the whole problem with election coverage and candidacy—that a president’s power is what it is, doesn’t get at the legislative problems we have, doesn’t tackle the problems in the states.

Put another way, if we chose our congress and state governments like we do the president, by national vote, the rhetoric of campaigns and the questions often asked by cable news would make a lot more sense. But we do not.

A more realistic stump speech would be along the lines of revoking the global gag rule, cancel the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, end the ban on transgender service, and other such policy tweaks. But, important in their own right, none of them would solve our larger problems. Getting anywhere anymore will take legislative acts. That means finding some way to get Republicans’ heads dislodged from their hinds. At least enough of them to actually move the country forward, where they’re currently dragging us backward.

Given the quandary, what should candidates talk about?

Talk about unions. Tell the people that rulings like the one the SCOTUS just handed down against class arbitration require employees of firms big and small to join together so that the fact of the strike can overcome the myth of judicial economy.

Talk about climate. Tell the people that driving costs more than the $3 they pay per gallon, and that the most valuable thing in the world is the world itself. That if meaningful progress toward carbon reduction is stalled by the oil trusts, the oil trusts get busted.

Talk about science. What’s a recent study, finding, discovery that made you worried or excited or anything at all? What has science done in your own life, be it technology, medicine, or even just plain old hope?

Talk about people. We’re living our lives spinning through space, and to make it all work out we need government and we need better government. What does that look like? Not sticking it to corporations or more regulation, but how to we make the process better? Talk it up, because government is one of those giant leaps for mankind that seems to get trashed a lot by the Republicans. Governments are people, my friend. They need to be properly cared for, watered, etc.

Talk about progress. What are the outcomes we should expect if the government works for the people. What are the numbers that show we’re not improving and what are the ones that show we are, and what’s the difference in government between how we handle those things.

In other words, talk about the fabric of humanity. Stop focusing on these silly short-sighted news cycle issues. Talk about the stuff that’ll still matter in a post-Trump world. Those are our gravest challenges. Those are the things most worth our time.

The 2020 Election, First Thoughts

Anybody knows we need a better choice in 2020, and not some billionaire who thinks he alone can fix it. The question is how to get there.

What I’ll be looking for is two-fold:

  1. Serious policy—Do they have proposals for the major challenges we face? Healthcare? Climate change? Poverty? Infrastructure?
  2. Seriousness about policy—Do they have alternatives? How will they get the legislators on board?

Horse racing is not something worth visiting. If any candidate waves their hands at a serious problem, they aren’t a serious candidate. If any candidate can’t talk about the heavy lifting, or says our challenges are insurmountable or would require something scary like socialism, and so we can’t fix the thing, they aren’t serious candidates.

Medicare for All is still just one way to achieve universal, affordable healthcare. But the achievement is necessary for our society. If it takes socialism, in that small part, just as defense does, then we’ll do more socialism. If you don’t like it, propose something better or lobby for an opt-out for yourself on grounds that you’re a billionaire who is afraid of people having access to healthcare.

We’re past the point of no-return, we have to do the things our society needs to thrive in the coming centuries. Those who want to pretend it’s 1952 can find the nearest time machine and run against Eisenhower and Stevenson.

In 2020, and beyond, we can remain flexible about how things work, but not in the need for them to work. Any serious candidate knows that, welcomes tough compromise that will result in putting the choices we face in starker terms, that will propel better future compromises. Government is expensive, but the costs are minimal compared to what our world would be without government. Those who want that world can also find a time machine and go for it.

And remember, the president only signs the bills into law and appoints the people that implement them. It all still has to go through a fairly conservative legislature. Medicare for All will be a heavy lift, but having leadership willing to step up to that stone and to try to pull the stone from it is something better than one who will say, “If it’s broken, why fix it?”