In the last twenty years, Tyler Perry has written, directed, produced or starred in thirty films, forty stage productions, and ninety television episodes — and every single one of them is more fun to watch than the Democratic debate held in his new film studio in Atlanta. You can almost always count on Perry to give you a classic three-part story and bring it to a conclusion in under ninety minutes, but Wednesday’s Democratic debate was an irritating, confusing mess that lasted two hours and ended with Senator Cory Booker passing a hat through the audience in a desperate attempt to keep his campaign funded.
It was another sad and boring event, though there was some consolation in the fact that Beto O’Rourke finally dropped out of the race, which brought the candidate number down to eleven. Julian Castro also couldn’t make the cut for the Atlanta debate, leaving us with just ten candidates — until news broke that diminutive New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg plans on entering the race, presumably under the logic that one or even two billionaires in the primary simply weren’t enough billionaires. And then Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick suddenly decided to run, so now we’re back up to twelve candidates. Neither qualified for the Atlanta debates, however, so there were mercifully just ten podiums on the stage.
In my previous article on the October debate, I complained that the opening question — “should Donald Trump be impeached” — generated twenty minutes of every candidate saying the exact same thing, so you’ll imagine my reaction when MSNBC moderator Rachel Maddow opened by asking the candidates what they thought of the ongoing impeachment hearings.
The Medicare For All Debate Continues to Get Clouded
After that, the discussion moved into healthcare, where candidates had a chance to say mostly the same things they’ve been saying since June. It was an intolerable twenty minutes. By this time in one of Tyler Perry’s popular Madea films, the titular character would have already married Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman, farted on a penguin, and accidentally shot Ronald Reagan with a blow dart.
The only new wrinkle in the healthcare debate is Elizabeth Warren recently splitting her healthcare plan into two legislative pieces, the first being a public option, “Medicare For All (who want it)”, and then three years later a push for a Sanders-style transition into true single-payer health care that would push private insurance providers out of the picture. Make no mistake: this is a terrible idea for several reasons and another example of Warren waffling on Medicare for All, a trend that’s been noticeable since the spring of this year. The Warren narrative in the media started with “yes, of course, Warren is 100% on single-payer, just like Sanders!” And then when she inevitably did things to demonstrate that no, she isn’t 100% on Medicare for All, you suddenly saw “okay, she’s not 100% for single-payer, and that’s okay.” Before long, the line will be “whatever, single-payer isn’t possible anyway.”
Sanders, of course, continues to unabashedly support Medicare for All with no conditions.
Mayor Pete’s Black Voter Problem
Warren’s rise in the polls has mostly receded back to her usual place, raising questions about whether that sudden flash of support was real or just a mirage created by industry media trying to manufacture political drama. Pete Buttigieg’s sudden and unexpected skyrocket to the top of the polls in early battleground states could be just such a mirage, or it could be the result of spending almost a million dollars on TV ads in a single week. Either way, Buttigieg still polls in single digits nationally, so all of this sudden enthusiasm for the small-town Mayor doesn’t seem to be especially contagious. Plus, he still hasn’t fixed his black voter problem, and in fact, has spent the last few weeks making it worse, which came to light at the Democratic debate.
It’s almost funny how bad his campaign is at this. Sure, the June police shooting in his town of South Bend, IN that exposed deep racial tensions wasn’t really his fault. But firing South Bend’s first black Police Chief after he recorded the conversations of racist South Bend police officers sure is, and when it comes to black voters, he’s been making own-goals ever since. First, there was the Berenson Strategy Group running a focus group with undecided black voters and coming to the conclusion that black voters are just too homophobic to vote for Mayor Pete, an ugly and condescending notion recorded in an internal campaign memo that presumably was never meant to be seen by the public. How it was leaked is not known.
Still, it’s not impossible to imagine one of the bloodless neoliberal ghouls on Buttigieg’s campaign, deciding that leaking it anonymously might be a good explanation for Buttigieg’s dismal support among black voters using already-existing prejudices without having to mention Buttigieg’s race problems in South Bend. Pete’s not bad with black voters, you see, it’s just that they’re bigots. It’s their fault, not his!
That hypothesis may sound overly devious and cold-hearted, but consider Mayo(r) Pete’s recent “Douglass Plan” fiasco. Using the stock-photo of a Kenyan woman on the webpage detailing his anti-racism plan is just one of those crappy things that can happen when people are extremely busy and don’t really give a shit about doing the job right. But making a list of 400 signees — real names of real people — who all believe that “there is one presidential candidate who has proven to have intentional policies designed to make a difference in the Black experience and that’s Pete Buttigieg,” despite many of them not being black or even supporting Pete Buttigieg, is some next-level shit. Seriously, read the Intercept piece linked above, because the whole thing is just too weird to describe here.
Given the callousness and utter disregard his campaign has for black voters, it doesn’t take a stretch to imagine his campaign leaking the focus-group memo blaming black voters’ own bigotry for Buttigieg’s unpopularity.
Tulsi Gabbard vs. Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris
On Wednesday night California Senator Kamala Harris took the opportunity to blast Buttigieg at the Democratic debate for his mishandling of the Douglass Plan rollout, prompting Pete to respond with some gibberish about “being ready for this challenge” that left Kamala looking puzzled and disgusted. This was, unfortunately, overshadowed by the big shots she took at Tulsi Gabbard later in the evening.
Tulsi had a weird few days not long ago when Hillary Clinton, whom you may remember as the person who missed a free throw so hard it broke reality and made all the jokes real, called Gabbard “a favorite of the Russians” and implied she was a foreign asset of some kind. This was mostly seen as an embarrassing attempt to demean someone that Clinton feels betrayed her in the past (and there’s a good chance the publicity surrounding it gave enough juice to Gabbard’s poll numbers for her to qualify for the Atlanta debate, which just goes to show how terrible Hillary Clinton’s political instincts are). Nevertheless, Gabbard responded to the accusation with a totally normal tweet in which she calls Clinton “queen of the war-mongers” and “the personification of the rot in the Democratic party.”
When asked about this comment at the Democratic debate, I thought Gabbard managed a pretty good defense, but then Harris blasted her with both barrels, and things went downhill for Gabbard pretty quickly. Barring another unintended boost from an incompetent political has-been, Gabbard likely won’t be on stage next time.
Joe Biden: Wrong About Cannabis, Wrong About Everything
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a Democratic debate without former Vice-President and current Sundowning-Relic-of-a-Bygone-Age Joe Biden telling bald-faced, easily debunked lies, and sure enough Uncle Joe delivered on that front.
Moderators of these debates tend to stay away from asking about Saudi Arabia. It’s an open secret that a big part of American foreign policy in the Middle East is the understanding that Saudi Arabia gets to do pretty much whatever they want: execute people for :witchcraft, atheism, homosexuality, belonging to the wrong family, having the wrong politics, being from Indonesia … the sky seems to be the limit. But it’s awkward and uncomfortable to acknowledge that fact out loud, so I was surprised to hear someone ask about the murder and subsequent butchery of Jamal Kashoggi. I was even more surprised to hear Joe Biden confidently declare that when he’s President of the United States ol’ Saudi Arabia won’t get away with those kinds of shenanigans anymore, you betcha.
Sorry, Joe, we know that’s not true because you didn’t say or do anything when Saudi Arabia started turning Yemen into a cratered moonscape. That was under the Obama administration, and I don’t remember you saying anything when Saudi jets fueled by US forces were killing ambulance drivers with triple-tap airstrikes and killing hundreds of civilians by bombing funerals. You had plenty of chances to give those Saudis hell, and you didn’t say a thing. Your political career is a sick joke, and most of the “big legislation” you tout as your bona fides was objectively terrible for the country. You’d be nothing if Barack Obama didn’t pick you for VP because you appealed to moderates and hadn’t had a sex scandal that wasn’t eclipsed by your weird son Hunter’s sex scandals.
For the record, Joe Biden still thinks cannabis is a gateway drug and shouldn’t be legalized — which led to the debate’s absolute best zinger, courtesy of Cory Booker.