Tag: 2020 Democratic Debates

Debate Edition: South Carolina

I don’t think anyone won this debate, and the interrupting was incredibly annoying. It was like someone at CBS said “hey, people liked the energy and conflict in Nevada … what can we do to replicate that?” and came up with non-moderation and asking borderline offensive leading questions. No winners, but a few exchanges stood out to me.

Stop and frisk was a question Bloomberg knew would be asked. And he knows it’s something other candidates are going to target. I have no idea how he doesn’t manage to come up with something better in his debate prep. I contrast this with Sanders’ response on previous votes against gun control. I thought his response in the former debate — the state in which society existed in the 80’s, and what his constituents wanted in he 80’s, informed his vote. We’ve got different problems now, and he’s got different beliefs now because of this new information. This debate, where he outright called some of his votes bad … that seems like a much better approach on the stop and frisk questions. Bloomberg started down that path:

“I’ve met with black leaders to try to get an understanding of how I can better position myself and what I should have done and what I should do next time.”

But instead of continuing down a path of showing personal growth, he decided to tout his achievements.

“We’ve improved the school system for black and brown students in New York City. We’ve increased the jobs that are available to them. We’ve increased the housing that’s available to them.”

In one way, I get what he’s trying to say. But it was about the worst way I could have imagined saying it. I had an instant “umm, Brown v. Board of Education” mental response. Again, I’m certain he is speaking to the reality which is that there are schools and neighborhoods where a minority is the clear majority. But even a well phrased version of the response falls into Warren’s “so he’s saying he’s nice to some women” response. It’s ok that he made a lot of people’s lives hell for just walking down the street because he also increased funding to the school district?

And I thought that was the oddest bit right up until Buttigieg:

“I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump, with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s, and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.”

Essentially he is against the civil rights movement? The anti-war movement? The women’s lib movement? Hell, the gay rights movement?! All of which were “revolutionary politics” from the 60’s.

I was surprised that Bernie didn’t have a better response for his previous and current comments about Castro. Taking what Bernie said on Sunday on its own, he’s rejecting a “reductio ad Hitlerum” association fallacy (Hitler liked dogs, thus liking dogs is awful … Castro did a lot of awful things, therefore since Castro did it it was awful). His statements from the 80’s are essentially that there are reasons Castro wasn’t overthrown that Americans don’t understand. Which, in fairness, is totally true. There’s a dearth of communication between Americans and Cubans, so I’m certain there is a great deal of the internal political environment that was (and is) poorly understood. It *is* true, too, that people who opposed Castro were thrown into prison. Which had more impact Castro’s ability to stay in power – appeasement or totalitarianism? Americans don’t know. I doubt Cubans really know, either, since it’s not like we can isolate each input to quantify it’s impact. I’ve visited other countries with totalitarian governments, and I can absolutely say that people accepted reduced freedoms in return for an improved standard of living.

Even saying ‘hey, we could benefit by looking at what Castro did to increase literacy’ … what’s the harm? I mean, maybe ‘what he did’ was mobilize the army and anyone who couldn’t pass a fourth form reading exam has a dude with a Kalashnikov rifle standing over them as they study. Shoot anyone who couldn’t pass the exam and thereby achieved a statistical 100% literacy rate. We can look at that and reject the idea. But maybe ‘what he did’ was offer a grand to every individual who passed the fourth form reading exam and it proved to be a great motivation. Or double the number of teachers in elementary schools. Or funded adult literacy programs in every small town … which are ideas we could certainly try.

We do ourselves a disservice if we reject any idea about anything just because of its source. Hell, we do ourselves a disservice to ignore *bad* ideas from *bad* sources just because they (or the situation which gave rise to them) makes us uncomfortable. I can study something without agreeing to 100% believe and support everything about it. I’ve watched Doc McStuffins with my daughter and don’t believe the toys come alive every time we leave the room (although it *would* explain the mess!). I’ve read Harry Potter but haven’t managed to become a wizard. I think I can study what the Sandinista government did without deciding they had the right way of things, finding an armed mob, and taking over the government next Thursday. I can look at how Cuba increased literacy or started producing low-cost medication without starting a guerrilla war.

On Socialism and Socialism

One needs to differentiate between government-controlled means of production (colloquial ‘socialism’) and the employee-owned means of production that he supports (democratic socialism). Because there’s a big difference between the government taking over factories and putting out a five year plan for agricultural and manufacturing production and selling some control of companies to employees (who, logic dictates, would be driven to keep their product innovative and competitive beause they all want to have a job ten years from now so American capitalism would look for long-term prosperity instead of a few execs finding a way to get millions this year by driving the company into the ground).

Debate Edition: Nevada

I put Warren at the top of my performance ranking too. She had a good bit of speaking time, finally. And she had good attacks against Bloomberg prepared. Noticed that she turned an opportunity to attack Sanders into an attack on Bloomberg. She seemed particularly fired up by Bloomberg.
Bernie in a strong second. “Socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for the poor” – I’m glad to see Bernie start to differentiate boogie-man Commie socialism and “things that benefit the unwashed masses” socialism. I think this is going to be a big thing as we go into Super Tuesday as the moderates try to make Bernie seem unelectable. And a decent line against Trump — they’re both socialists, but do you want socialism where billionaires benefit or socialism where thousand-airs benefit?
Biden third – not so much for any great performance (and he had some noticeable stumbles) but he didn’t stand out either positive or negative for most of the debate. Having the second lowest speaking time helped him here.
Buttigieg fourth. He had some good attacks, but he doesn’t do much to convey a policy beyond “can’t we all just get along”. Which, pragmatically, may well be answered with a resounding “no”.
Kobluchar fifth. She is lucky they didn’t go more into her Telemundo interview. Don’t remember the name of a foreign leader? Whatever. Yeah, everyone has brain farts. Don’t seem to have any clue about the policies of Mexico when you head to an interview with Telemundo prior to the primary in Nevada? That’s pretty astonishing given (1) her positions in the Senate and (2) the situation she was in. She didn’t seem to have much of an answer for her record as a prosecutor either – curious that no one seemed to ask Buttigieg a similar question about issues when he was mayor. Buttigieg had a well prepared attack against her on her voting record too. “I wish everyone was as perfect as you” isn’t much of a response. And she set him up for another obviously well prepared line about Senators feeling they are more important than Mayors and that “the arena” isn’t just Washington.
Steyer, Yang (who got name-checked even if he’s not running anymore), Booker and Harris (also name checked, also not running anymore), some dude who thought about running for president this year but thought the better of it. They all scored better than Bloomberg for me. Bloomberg had basically the debate I expected him to have – an easy last place finish. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes his polling trajectory. And I’m really looking forward to see if he adjusts for the next debate. And seeing if he had answers about red-lining, stop and frisk, changing party affiliation, etc is why I was hoping he’d qualify for some of the debates before he’s on the ballot. He had the lowest speaking time — which was a bit of a surprise given how much taking *about* him seemed to dominate the debate.
The “I’m the only one who is not a millionaire” spiel from Buttigieg is tiresome. “Millionaire” is someone with a million dollars in assets. I’m 43 and a millionaire. Half of that is retirement account, half is real estate (not literally, I’ve got like 20 bucks in my purse too). That’s not because I’m raking in Bloomberg money. It’s because I’ve been able to save a few grand a year since I was 20 – had a kid late in life, got lucky getting into IT. The fact that people in their 70’s have a mil or two … yeah, it means they’re probably part of the upper middle class. They’re probably not skipping lunch so their kid can get shoes that fit. But it’s sure as hell not true that anyone with a mil or two is “three Veyron’s in the garage so your personal shoppers don’t suffer the ignominy of showing up at Heinens in a Chevy” out-of-touch rich. And I’m surprised that someone doesn’t pick this thread up and go on about how Buttigieg’s own net worth would be significantly higher if they’d been able to take advantage of free public university tuition. Or how much do you need saved up to help pay for your kids’ college tuition(s). How much you need saved up to ensure decent health care as you age.
At that, use Buttigieg’s not-a-millionaire status to refute the “worked hard for that money” trope from the super rich. I have a friend who worked hard for a few years, sold a company to HP, and never worked again. I have another friend who worked two low-level retail management jobs and a part time gig with a cleaning service for a decade, took out massive loans to get a Uni degree, and works as a nurse now. I’ve got a friend who worked as a cop for a few decades, got shot on duty, and collects some disability payment now. They’ve all got about the same net worth today. I’m not saying Steyer or Bloomberg didn’t work hard for their money. But Bloomberg’s net worth is 64 *billion* dollars and my friends each have about three quarters of a mil in assets … did Bloomberg really work 85,333 times harder than any of these people? I’ll even spot him an order of magnitude – did he work 8,533 times harder? I think Mayor Pete’s net worth was estimated in the 100-200k range. Did Bloomberg work 320,000 times harder than someone who served in Afghanistan? And that’s not trying to play “I worked hard” with someone just scraping by who has two fifty in assets.
It’d be great if the moderators would have buttons to kill mic’s – there were a few times where we couldn’t follow what was being said because of others talking. Instead of trying to talk over the candidate to cut them off, just drop their audio.

On Socialism

“People like things that socialism gives us, but as soon as you *call* it socialism, a lot of people stop liking it.” — this is one of the biggest problems I’ve seen in modern politics. Medicare recipients, for instance, demanding the gov’t keep its ‘hands off’ *their* Medicare. Not sure if that’s ignorance and people actually don’t realize these things are government-provided or the whole cognitive dissonance thing where someone just cannot reconcile decades of anti-Soviet fearmongering with “it’s not a bad thing to ensure old people don’t go bankrupt dealing with an illness”.

The Democratic party has a serious branding issue — Republicans manage pithy phrases that make people who don’t bother digging into the details support awful ideas — one of the Bush’s Clean Water Act, which was more or less legislation to avoid clean water. But how are you *against* clean water?!? Abolishing the “death tax” that you only incur on multi-million dollar estates. But you *want* to tax grieving kids!?!? The masses don’t want to get into nuanced details, great. Seems like the Democrats could spend some time with a few marketing guys and come up with catchier names for populist socialist ideas. Compassionate capitalism — are you against compassion? Or capitalism? The horror!

Let’s be forthright — those who disparage socialism promote their own type of socialism. It’s the difference between corporate socialism where capital is transferred to massive corporations (oil subsidies, agro subsidies, bank rescues) and populist socialism where capital is transferred to individuals (Medicare for All, free public Uni tuition, incentives to install personal electrical generation facilities).

Debate Qualification

A day or two ago, Bloomberg had 3 of the 4 required national polls to qualify. While I appreciate how unfair it is for him to be on the debate stage under modified rules that may have allowed other candidates to appear in previous debates. I get that the new rules make it a lot easier for super rich people to buy their way into contention. But, as a voter, I want to see him in a debate. Low-information voters exposure to him is a bunch of TV spots about how awesome he is and how much Obama loves him (at least, that’s what I’m seeing in Ohio). Even voters who put research into it … looking at any of these candidate’s web sites or listing to their stump speeches provides a one-sided view.
It was informative to see Buttigieg side-step questions about policing during his time in office. It was informative to see Sanders explaining his early votes against gun control (and, personally, I’ve always wanted to see a candidate say “I have new information, and I’ve changed my view”). It was informative to have known the whole context of Buttigieg’s “switch to cartoons” comment and how Kobluchar misrepresented his statement — and to see how ineffective he was countering the misrepresentation because I *know* Trump is going to do a lot of misrepresenting in the run up to the general election. It was informative to hear Castro’s position on foreign policy/aid as it impacts immigration policy.
Bloomberg is going to show up on my ballot as an option. The latest average I’ve seen for Ohio has him 5 percent above Warren and 4-5 percent behind Sanders and Biden. It’s not like he’s some random dude expected to get a couple hundred votes. I hope I’m able to hear him respond to questions he’d probably rather *not* have to answer. To hear him respond directly to other candidates. And, honestly, to help highlight why campaign finance reform is such an important topic. It’s not like the process will be made ‘fairer’ by disqualifying self-funded candidates from debates.

Day Three

I think there was an opportunity for either (or both) of them to spin the “woman cannot win the presidency” v/s “Trump will weaponize misogyny in the election” situation in a positive way — maybe Warren took umbrage at the way Sanders conveyed his belief that Trump would mobilize sexists against a female candidate in the way he mobilized racists in 2016, maybe Sanders said something outright offensive. Accusing each other of lying, even privately, doesn’t help anything. “Fairness” in journalism is going to create a false equivalence between the accusation of a lie with Trump’s daily deluge of lies. There’s no recording of the meeting, and litigating what was said, what was meant, and what was understood diminishes both candidates. And, while I don’t normally like when a candidate avoids either the proximal or distal question to avoid having to answer something they don’t want to answer … I think this is a situation where avoiding the proximal question and engaging on the distal one would serve either of them well:
[I know Bernie is | I am] a strong advocate for women’s rights, but “how can we overcome Trump’s misogyny in 2020” is something we need to address. If you are no longer forced to decide between groceries and prescription medication, does it matter if a man or woman delivered Medicare for All? If you are breathing clean air and drinking clean water, does it matter if a man or woman enacted the New Green Deal? If your kids can graduate from University debt-free, does it matter if a man or woman ensured access to free public universities?

Bankrupting the Country

There are some argumentative political statements that I can never decide if it’s deliberately obtuse or an actual misunderstanding. Joe the Plumber comes to mind — a lot of people have no understanding of business taxes (or know the difference between gross and net). Maybe he really thought a million dollar gross plumbing business would throw him into the wealth tax level. Or he’s making a disingenuous argument — either bemoaning that a plumbing business netting a million dollars would pay increased taxes or deliberately failing to mention that a million dollar gross business isn’t anywhere near wealth-tax levels and letting people hear “million dollar” and assume as they assume.

“Won’t Medicare for All bankrupt the country” has become this year’s Joe the Plumber for me. Won’t private insurance bankrupt individuals and businesses? I pay around 3k a year for my family’s insurance. If universal health care meant my taxes went up 10k, not having to pay that 3k wouldn’t make me feel much better. But what I pay isn’t the sum of what my health insurance costs. My employer paid about 14,000USD for my medical and dental insurance. Legislation can ensure what employers currently contribute to wasteful private insurance becomes funding for Medicare for All.

If the entirety of my 3k went to Medicare for all, and the remaining 7k came from my employer … they would be saving 7,000USD on a single employee. Maybe all 10k comes from the employer. My taxes go down 3k, the company still saves 4k. Or maybe universal heath care costs 17k and the entirety of what both my employer and I pay gets redirected toward Medicare. The worst case in any of these scenarios is that we’ve broken even, I’ve got better coverage, people who change jobs don’t have lapses in coverage, and people who need to see a doctor or get medicine do so.

Yes, it’s possible implementing universal health care would be a net cost increase. While there’s logical consistency that removing profit, executive salaries, and general overhead would yield a lot of savings … having more people actually use their health care might yield a lot of additional expense. But the gross cost of universal healthcare is offset by what we currently pay — just like the plumbing company with a million dollars in gross receipts isn’t forking over 40% of that million dollars in taxes. 

January Debate

The post-debate chatter where CNN tried to tell me how women were feeling during the exchange was especially irksome. It’s not like they had a huge focus group convened for a virtual watch party, or like they had enough time to poll actual women. They reported what they wanted the reaction to be to the controversy they started just in time to spice up their debate.
How I felt during the exchange? As a woman, I’m used to people conflating specific situations with generalizations and screaming sexism. Which exasperates me because there’s so much ACTUAL sexism to combat. I didn’t think Clinton could defeat Obama in 2008. That doesn’t mean I am sexist. That means I thought about the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates, how the public was likely to see those strengths and weaknesses, looked at how Obama was leveraging then-cutting-edge technology. And thought Clinton wasn’t going to win. Sanders says his assessment was that Trump is a sexist, racist liar. I conjecture from that defense that the conversation was essentially that Trump is going to use that against any candidate. A woman running against him needs to be prepared to respond to sexist statements. A minority running against him needs to be prepared to respond to racist statements. And everyone running against him needs to be prepared to counter his lies. Does that make the path more challenging for a woman? Sure. This past summer, my daughter and I were at a playground when a cop rolled up and chatted with us for a few minutes. Do people who play at a different playground or have darker skin have a more challenging chat with their officer? Often, yes. Hell, I know *men* who take their kids to a playground and get grilled as a potential pedo or kidnapper. Discussing this doesn’t make me racist or sexist … it makes me aware of my privilege.
I already have a trouble trusting Warren. Not because she’s a woman but because she’s relatively new to her convictions. And, with Medicare for All, seems to be willing to drift away from *my* convictions. Sure, I’ll take “the risk that she’s got whatever belief is polling well this week” over “Trump”. I’d also easily take anything this side of pandemic flu over Trump, so that’s a low bar. And I’d be a lot more invested in supporting her this Autumn than, say, Biden. But compared to someone with a long history of beliefs (even when those beliefs ran against the mainstream thinking)? One of the logical flaws I saw in Clinton’s campaign (and McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin) is the idea that women are so invested in promoting feminism that we’ll vote for any available woman. If there’s a candidate who I agree with who happens to be a woman, yeah that would excite me. But I’m not eager to support someone whose views run opposite to mine just because they are female. That’s sexism too. And I worry that Warren is headed down that same “identity politics” path.
The quibbling about 30 years bothered me on two levels. Academically, 1990 is 30 years ago. Sanders didn’t win a special election, it was *Nov* 1990. Which, mathematically, is less than 30 years ago. That is, we don’t need to quibble about whether “in the past 30 years” is an open or closed set. I get rounding, but saying “it’s been almost 30 years since anyone here, other than me, defeated an incumbent Republican opponent” would have retained the big/round number and been factually accurate. “And the only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.”? Not true. And, just like every car seems to be the ‘best selling automobile in it’s class*’ followed by some small text about how the class has been so narrowly defined that it precludes a few similar-enough and better-selling vehicles … Warren picked the time-frame. Her response was not off-the-cuff; she knew the question was forthcoming and had an answer prepared. She could have picked 25 years which is still a big and round-enough number.
What bothered me more is that, even if her statement were true, it’s a disingenuous argument. It is phrased to sound like “you are worried about electability, well here are a bunch of losers and I’m the one who can win because I have won’. But that doesn’t line up with facts.
* Bernie defeated a Republican opponent back in 1990. Then won elections over non-incumbent challengers – including in 1994 when the Republicans did quite well with challengers for House seats. He didn’t have an incumbent *to* defeat since 1990. So he’s got 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, in the House. Then 2006, 2012, and 2018 in the Senate. That’s not nearly as detrimental to electability as her statement is meant to sound. And, hell, he defeated *Democratic* opponents in this 30 year window too.
* Biden defeated his incumbent Republican opponent back in 1972. But we’re only looking at 30 years. So 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008 he defeated non-incumbent Republicans. And was on the winning ticket in 2008 and 2012.
* Kobluchar didn’t have an incumbent to defeat when she ran in 2006. Or in 2012 and 2018. Again, still won against Republican challengers.
* Buttigieg — He’s got an actual loss to a Republican incumbent — the state Treasurer race. How much of that race is party line, though? Didn’t have an incumbent to defeat when he ran for mayor in 2011. Or in 2015.
* Steyer hasn’t run for anything AFAIK.
Her assertion would have made more sense if they had been running against Republicans and losing. Across the entire stage, there was one loss to a Republican in the past 30 years.
At that, Warren defeated Brown in 2012. And won against her non-incumbent challenger in 2018. That’s hardly a the long record of winning that “the only person to beat an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years” sounds like. She had a well-rehearsed response to a made-for(and by)-TV controversy {one that my conspiracy theory brain says “hey, who might have leaked damaging scuttlebutt about a strong opponent right before a debate and the caucuses?”}. And her prepared response is an appeal to pathos. As a human who appreciates logos and ethos too, my opinion of Warren is diminished by this debate.

November Debate

I like the point about putting more effort into turning the 50% of non-voters into voters … between single-issue voters who will never vote for a Democrat & the 30 or whatever percent that seriously think the Trump presidency is perfect, it’s not like there’s a lot of people to be swayed there. The huge pool of people who don’t vote? Offer free childcare & transportation. Get them engaged with some piece of the platform.


“The fragility of his ego stood in the way of national security” … Harris’ assessment of Trump’s interactions with N. Korea is a good quote, and not just about this particular issue.