Someday, footage from the Democratic debates of 2019 will occupy a prized place in the comedy section of our cultural archives, just down the shelf from moldering copies of the Keystone Cops.
I only caught about an hour of Tuesday’s debate, but I could tell from tonight’s performance that I could have stopped after 10 minutes. True, out of the mephitic cauldron of bubbling nonsense, an occasional bubble of sanity rose to the surface and expired in a satisfying eructation. But such little pops were emitted by the debaters of whom no one had heard of before (well, not before the first set of debates a month ago) and surely no one will hear of again. Those voices were shouted down by the hectoring war whoops of Elizabeth Warren — what an unpleasant person — and socialist nostrums of Bernie Sanders. ‘Let’s give lots of stuff away!’ Tonight, the bubbles of sanity came almost exclusively from the entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who also had what was perhaps the most amusing line of the evening: in order to beat Donald Trump, he said, you needed someone who was the opposite of Donald Trump. What is the opposite of Donald Trump? ‘An Asian guy who likes math.’ Not bad. But Mr Yang will not be president in part because he will not be the Democratic nominee.
I should note that tonight’s entertainment also featured a small mercy. Cory Booker didn’t break into Spanish in order to pander to the Hispanic vote. That was nice.
In Either/Or, a book devoted in large part to the problem of boredom, Søren Kierkegaard recommends a novel approach to the appreciation of cultural artifacts. Instead of reading a novel straight through, his pseudonymous author advises, read alternate chapters. Skip the conclusion of an opera or play. In that way, the dedicated aesthete garners a satisfaction very different from that planned for him by the author of the work. But at least he defeats the specter of boredom.
Did you know that there are 60 minutes in every hour? Or that there were 60 seconds in every minute? Tonight’s spectacle lasted nearly three hours. That’s 10,800 seconds. Count ’em. I did.
I wish that I had thought to employ that expedient that Kierkegaard’s young man recommended. Alas, like the poor chap in A Clockwork Orange, I felt as if I were strapped into my chair with my eyes taped open.
So what can I tell you? CNN, with its usual even-handedness, opened several questions such gambits as ‘The president’s racist rhetoric’ or ‘After the president’s racist tweets.’ At least we knew where we stood. Indeed, this is CNN.
As in the first set of debates, there were little competitions to display one’s left-wing credentials. I liked Bill de Blasio’s frankness: ‘We will tax the hell out of the wealthy.’ Noted.
The ‘wealthy’ — really anyone who is not a ward of the state — was one common enemy of the millionaires on the stage tonight. Two other enemies: insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. Why? Because they turn a profit — a least the ones that are still in business do. ‘Profit’ was one of the evening’s dirty words. Those evil insurance companies, according to Kamala Harris, earn their profits ‘on the backs’ of the people they serve. Can you believe it? She seemed outraged that an insurance company actually had to charge people premiums and that pharmaceutical companies, having invested tens of millions of dollars in researching and testing a drug, declined to give their products away. Amazing.
There were a lot of amazing things said tonight. Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington wants to make dealing with the weather the country’s ‘top priority.’ He wants to put America on an emergency, war-like footing to battle against weather. He also wants to end the use of coal and all fossil fuels. Most if not all of the other candidates jumped on to this eco-angsty bandwagon. Several spoke up for the Green New Deal, which, if enacted, would certainly go a long way towards dealing with the problem of profits. In the competition to utter the comment most pleasing to China’s President Xi, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand won hands down when she suggested that we embark on a new green deal contest with China. It’s one competition that Xi would be happy to see us win.
On immigration, Julián Castro iterated his plan to decriminalize entering the United States illegally. Asked if he supported open borders, he said that ‘open borders’ was a right-wing talking point. He didn’t want to talk about it. He just wanted to do it. Several candidates wrung their hands over the policy of separating children from their parents when they are caught entering the country illegally. No one mentioned that Obama began child separation, for the protection of the children. Nor did they mention, when lamenting the practice of putting said children into holding pens (they said ‘cages,’ which sounds so much more dramatic) that Obama did that, too.
The person who was mentioned most often throughout the evening was the president of the United States, Donald Trump. None of the candidates likes Mr. Trump. Sen. Gillibrand, after announcing that climate change posed the ‘greatest threat to humanity,’ noted that the first thing she would do upon becoming president was to ‘Clorox the Oval Office.’ Because, you see, Donald Trump is so crude and mean and unmannerly. Joe Biden, who said he wanted to restore unity and the ‘soul’ of the country, made a stab at that by accusing Donald Trump of tearing apart the very fabric of the country.
As in the first set of debates, the insuperable obstacle the candidates faced was the stunning success of Donald Trump’s first three years. One of the moderators gently noted that black and Hispanic unemployment was at historic lows under Trump while economic growth has been remarkable robust. Mr Castro dispensed with that by saying that it was all because of Barack Obama. Oh, I see.
The dishy Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii kept saying that she wanted to end foreign military entanglements and bring our troops home. But isn’t that a fundamental goal of Donald Trump? (Spoiler: yes, it is.)
Here’s a quick cheat sheet. All the Democrats support policies that would raise taxes. They all support policies that would make the country poorer because less energy independent. Some want to give free college tuition to illegal immigrants, all want many more immigrants, legal or illegal. Most think Trump should be impeached. Some want to abolish private insurance, most want ‘Medicare for all.’ Gov. Inslee insisted that ‘it is time to give people adequate mental health care,’ a statement that won a round of applause. Judging from what was said from the platform tonight, I think he may be right.
The big test for tonight was Joe Biden. Could he break free, survive Kamala Harris’s attacks, and give a decent account of himself? I don’t know whether, like the little engine that could, he might have managed it if he really tried. He never quite got into the groove. He was earning about C or C+ until the end of the evening, though: nothing brilliant, but also nothing disastrous. He lost it during his closing statement, alas, when he suggested that Donald Trump might be president for another eight years. That might in fact be a good idea. I do not think it is what he meant to say.