It’s been a while. – Staind.
Before we discuss what happened last night, a simple point of protocol. These are the only serious candidates from the first Democratic Debate:
That's it. Everyone else on the stage can be written off. When it looks like the rich tapestry of human civilization will end in our lifetime, you don't get a free pass. Climate change is the issue.
There are only so many ways I can write or say this before I repeat myself, and sound like the backing vocal on an EDM track. As someone pointed out, NBC gave more time to technical errors than they did to environmental apocalypse. That's awfully brave of them, considering Miami will be underwater by 2040. Let's give a big hand to Stephen Burke, CEO of Comcast, for focusing on the real problems.
You want to know who “won” the debate? The rising seas did. That's who. The network didn't want to mention them, the Democratic Party couldn't be bothered to have a full-on climate debate, and half of the people on the stage are naive enough to think that China and Russia are bigger threats.
About the people on the stage. There are roughly 40 billion Democratic candidates for the presidency, and some of them can be distinguished from one another. Of those, 20 qualified for two evenings of debate. Wednesday night, ten of them fought it out on TV. The second ten will talk over each other Thursday.
The debate was in Miami. I live in Atlanta. Manuel's Tavern was clearly the place to watch the fight. The place has been a Dem Party staple in Atlanta since the late Paleolithic, and there's a brown picture of John Kennedy over the bar with a winsome grin, like he's about to send you Hoffa's body courtesy of airmail.
Two-and-a half-years ago, Donald Trump won the Presidency. The laws of the calendar make it quite clear that the presidential campaign season is here. But none of us are ready for the political brawl, in any sense: mentally, emotionally, financially, carnally, or legally. It seems certifiably weird that the hunter's moon has risen and that we're going to begin this all again.
I'd downed a Monster Energy drink before the event. Was one enough? If I couldn't stay awake, who knows what I might do? I could see myself leaning over to random strangers and whispering, 'You know, this is is how events were in Russia before they decided to kiss off Rasputin.” However, political events were on track to provide me with all the adrenal energy I so craved.
The Miami debates were genuinely strange, like watching a troupe of gifted regional dinner-theater actors try to remember lines to Public Enemy songs. There were two ghosts on the stage, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Donald Trump of Impeachment. You could see the high-power tension wires stretching between every line.
There was one viable honest-to-God candidate on stage last night, Elizabeth Warren. She was the only member of the cast who was fully present in 2019. The rest were broadcasting from Windows RealPlayer circa 1996. Everyone except Liz was trying out for the Democratic Party in the Age of Obama, and it didn’t fly. God, it was like watching your aunts and uncles try to speak in lolcats. Warren had a plan for everything, including the pretenders on stage.
Senator Liz has made mistakes, that’s clear. But she groks a simple truth: the world is never going back.
Not to how it was. Not ever. As Jeff Stein pointed out, the left’s ideas ran the debate. They asked Beto twice if he would raise the marginal tax rate to seventy percent, and he wouldn’t say. Klobuchar didn’t want to support free college, and was called on it. They asked Booker why he was so shy about naming bad corporations. Who would have asked these questions in 2015, 2016? The national media doesn’t like to talk about who owns the country. But their hand has been forced.
Say, after all of this, a normie Democrat somehow wins the nomination, and runs against Trump. Say it’s Biden, or one of the junior varsity Bidens: a Booker, a Klobuchar, a Delaney. Or some other bland-as-Blue’s-Clues vanilla-flavored timesharer. Say they run on the old Democratic platform of tech-fetishizing, war-mongering, prison-building middle-core bipartisan dullardry. Say they win. Boy, are they in for a surprise.
Let me say this again: things are never going back the way they were. None of the mainstream Dems understand this yet. Most of the press doesn’t quite get it. The leadership in Washington doesn’t comprehend it. But they will. Presidential races will never be the same. Politics will never be the same. None of this snaps back. Never ever ever.
You want proof of Donald J. Trump’s lasting influence on history? Gawk at the number of people running for the Presidency. Celebrities, mayors of small towns, rich guys—whoever has free time and a sliver of name recognition. After Trump, running for President has almost no downside. In the past, it was a riskier proposition—you might look like an idiot. Your dark history, if you had one, might come out. You might be scorned by the Establishment. You might be a laughingstock.
Trump is already all of things. And he still won. So, why wouldn’t you run? Your brand-value increases. You get famous. And, if you’re very lucky, you get to be the most powerful person in the world. Trump was the Unserious Candidate who won Serious Office. There are no limits now. You don’t have to hug Clinton-era triangulation anymore. The old norms are dead, they’re done, they’ve joined the choir invisible.
So it was hilarious, and sad, and sadly hilarious, to watch the good-resume crew misread the age they were living in. If you wanted a metaphor for our era, the Democratic Party trying to sell late-capitalist exploitation in Spanish is damn near perfect.
Besides Warren—in terms of who came the farthest—turn your eyes to Castro. He walked into the debate at a one-percent share. Most voters hadn’t heard of him. He’ll leave with a greater chunk of attention. Aside from Warren, Castro had the best night of the entire klatch. In matters of compassion, decency, and racial justice, Castro made a name for himself.
What can I say about the rest of the stage-dwellers? They were trying hard for a cabinet position. Somebody rambled about Trumbull painting Washington’s portrait. Why was Manhattan Mayor Bill DiBlasio squawking against rich people? He spent last year trying to hand New York over to Jeff Bezos. Does anyone besides Chris Matthews buy his transparent bullshit? O’Rourke was out of his depth, and it showed. If there was any big money headed his way, it has turned around by now. Beto looked great when he was running against nausea-inducer Ted Cruz. With real adults, he seemed less inspiring.
The award for barely-concealed psycho goes to Senator Amy Klobuchar, who I expect will try for Senate majority leader. She came across like a vaudeville bath-salt salesman. There was also a clout beast named Jay Inslee onstage; I understand he’s king of some region of America but it was background static to me, frankly. Booker was Booker, more impressive on Twitter than in meatspace. He’s probably got a bright future in the party, sad to say.
Tim Ryan of Ohio also tried for the throne. The man screamed “befuddled uncle,” and was just patently full of it. Tulsi Gabbard, who was really proud of her history invading other countries, owned him hard on his bluster. The tea was piping hot, sis.
Look at Ryan—really look at him. This is a man who probably wants two things; endless war and buffet soup, and he’s probably going to get one or the other, but he’ll never be president. He squawked about the Taliban and began speaking in tongues during his feud with Gabbard. I know I should care, but I’m convinced he has some Victorian disease with a long name. The Fear swallowed him up early. Pelosi beat him for Speaker back in 2016 and the man was still broken.
That said, the only people in the debate that I truly loathed were the members of the press. They made John Delaney look treatable. As David Doel said in a tweet, “These people are from a different world.” They have no idea that Trump won. The world’s dullest bipedal animal, Chuck Todd, would simply not shut his mouth. Todd’s goatee and Joe McCarthy understudy Rachel Maddow used the most cutting-edge time travel technology to bring in questions from 1996—way to go, gang!
The candidates may not understand the young people, but they understand that Trump is president, and they get how elections work. They weren’t performing for the Face the Nation crowd, any more than the Westminster Kennel Thanksgiving dogs care about the rest home viewers in Peoria.
All of the candidates were selling to the Dem voters at home, and to the donors. Nobody else matters to them right now. Most Americans are oblivious to any politician above the rank of Jon Stamos. Until the general, when TV money becomes possible, the majority of the Democratic candidates could cameo on NickToons with little recognition. Indeed, most Americans only know who Bernie is because he fought Clinton in 2016.
So when Liz Warren speaks directly at the camera, this is her debut. That’s why she used her 45 seconds at the end to deliver her life story instead of a policy pitch. As far as Florida and Indiana know, Liz Warren literally did not exist until yesterday. This is the way most Americans will come to know her, in the same way that I learned about Bible stories through Precious Moments figurines.
Look, everybody has a troubled Facebook friend who earnest-posts inspirational quotes and is sort of vague about what they’re going through; it’s understood in the group chat that they are in the middle of a breakup, or an audition, or they’re buying a van.
That’s the Democratic Party now. They let Beto, America’s single most impressive teenager, into the debates, so that’s something. The entire evening was a marriage between deep cringe and slight hope. In another world, maybe I’d be impressed.
But half of these people are living in a fool’s paradise. A genuine progressive heroine named Tiffany Caban won the Democratic nomination for Queens D.A. earlier this week. How shabby, how sad, how Clintonian and centrist she makes all of these seat-warmers look. A gang of cowards calling themselves the Oregonian Democratic Party just let a Republican militia dictate climate policy. Somewhere between Caban and the Oregonians lies the future of our country.
The real mindset experts (Bernie, Marianne, and Uncle Joe) will be on tonight. Our lives will never be the same.