Who Lost the Democratic Debates?

I have a love/hate relationship with politics. The optimistic side of me wants to believe that quality change only happens by electing quality people into office. Community organizing and grassroots movements ultimately lead to policy changes that reflect the views of the people of our country. That being said, the pessimistic side of me knows that the current system is broken. Money drives the conversation in politics. Talking points are decided by the Mass Media, and campaigns/elections are reported on like they are football games instead of an actual democratic group decision making process.

The second round of the Democratic debates last week was nothing different. Although the debate was supposed to start at 8PM, the first question during the second night of the debate was not asked until 8:23PM. CNN made the decision that 23 minutes of unnecessary pomp and circumstance was more important than formal discussion. In the time allotted for actual debate, CNN did a great job at pinning candidates against each other by using republican talking points. They also asked more non-policy questions (17), than they did on climate change (15), gun control (11), and women’s rights (7). My favorite was, “Are Democrats moving too far to the left to win the White House?” To answer this question is to walk into a trap, and it ultimately does a disservice to Democratic voters. If you answer yes to this question, you will be seen as siding with the Republican Party, and if you answer no, then you are labeled as a socialist who is considered “too extreme” to win. But extreme isn’t such a bad thing in my opinion. Extreme won Donald Trump the presidency in 2016, and it will win him the presidency in 2020 if the Democrats do not offer a radical solution to the problems this country is currently facing.

The idea of “change” has been winning presidential elections in this country since Obama won in 2008. A more or less version of “business as usual” (when compared to the policies of Donald Trump), lost Hillary Clinton the election in 2016. It is time that the Democratic Party comes to terms with the fact that its voters are becoming more liberal, and more diverse. The election is 15 months away. This is not the time to win the hearts and minds of unaffiliated voters, it is time to energized your base, which is something Donald Trump has been doing non stop since 2015.    

Night one of the second round of debates perfectly sums up how out of touch most Democrats are with their base. On one hand you have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the most progressive candidates running in 2020, and on the other hand you have a bunch of moderates fighting to be the most “common sense Democrat”. The term common sense in this scenario actually means candidates who are too afraid to fight for what their base believes in. In the last 20 years, the percentage of Democrats identifying themselves as liberal has gone up over 50%, while Democrats identifying themselves as conservative has gone down almost 50%, and yet the majority of candidates running in 2020 are trying to appeal to a group of people that really do not exist in their base.

As a matter of fact, despite what the media tells you, the majority of American voters actually want a “Medicare for All” system, but you would not be able to tell that if you simply listened to how CNN framed healthcare questions during the debate. Moderator, Jake Tapper, aimed at Senator Bernie Sanders was especially concerning. He said, “You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take away private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored healthcare for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy, and previously he’s called the idea political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Delaney?” The first thing wrong with this question is that instead of asking Bernie’s views on healthcare, they immediately framed his view as negative. The second thing wrong with this question is that they named dropped another candidate into the question, which automatically gives Delaney an opportunity for rebuttal even if Bernie does not mention Delaney at all in his response.

Many people in the crowd during the debates did not care much for Delaney’s (or other moderates) remarks despite CNN giving them more talking time than they deserve. One of the loudest cheers from the audience came after Warren told Delaney, “I don’t understand why anyone goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for.” This statement was in response to Delaney saying Warren’s healthcare bill is too extreme. Frankly, Delaney didn’t even deserve to be present at these debates. His campaign is entirely self funded, and he actually has only raised $284,000 from outside sources, the lowest amount of any candidate currently running. Nobody likes him or cares about him, but he received more talking time from CNN than nine other candidates. This becomes more unsettling when you realize that John Delaney’s net worth is over 60 million dollars, and the majority of his wealth was earned in the healthcare industry; the same industry that was funding anti “Medicare for All” advertisements on CNN during the debates.

Speaking of talking time, Joe Biden got more than twice as much talking time as most of the candidates, while candidates like Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson, who both have more name recognition and individual donors than John Delaney, were allotted only around four minutes of talking time. Regardless of your opinion on these candidate, they are arguably the most unique candidates running in this election, and their views deserve to be heard.

One of the most upsetting parts of the debate was during night two when the topic was focused on immigration. Most people (Democrats and Republicans combined) do not want a wall to be built at the border, and most people do not want to send illegal immigrants back to their origin countries. And yet, Democratic front runner, Joe Biden’s view on immigration resonated more with Donald Trump than the base of the Democratic Party. Biden does not want to decriminalize illegal immigration, but he is also against child separation and detaining people who illegally cross the border for months or even years, which is highly hypocritical since the only reason Trump is able to do this is because it is a criminal act. Regardless of the morality around classifying crossing the border as a criminal act, Joe Biden’s views on immigration are almost opposite to that of the Democratic base.

Overall, I feel like the Democratic Party needs to start respecting their base more, and these rounds of debates were the perfect example of not doing that. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have received the most money and have the highest amount of individual donors, but during these debates, they were framed as radical leftist that are too extreme to beat Donald Trump. Trump was framed as “too extreme” and look where we are now. Trying to meet America in the middle failed the Democratic Party in 2016, and it will fail them in 2020 if they do it again. So, who lost the Democratic debates? That question is easy; Democratic voters. It is time to start listening to the people that are bankrolling your national convention every four years. The people that will always vote blue. Failing to fight for what your base believes in results in a party that ultimately believes in nothing, and nobody wants to vote for someone that has no conviction.

“People say satire is dead. It’s not dead; it’s alive and living in the White House.”

Robin Williams

Leave a Reply