BREAD AND CIRCUS – but mostly circus.

I am still processing the two nights of Democratic presidential debates. Trump is already regaining his usual prominent place in my thoughts with fresh assaults on anything decent in the world. Still, there are a few things I want to remember about the debates, especially because I disagreed with some of the analysis.

There is relatively little daylight between our candidates, and many have pledged to support whoever the eventual nominee is. The ways to stand out from the pack are few: you can spectacularly defy expectations or attack a frontrunner.

  1. A long time ago I studied theater. One of my professors used to say: “I want to see blood!” We do not tune in to debates for policy papers. Conflict is what makes for good theater, and TV adores conflict.
  2. In that light, Castro spectacularly defied expectations by demonstrating the competence we knew he had (section 1325, anyone?) while unleashing a fiery attack on his fellow Texan. Inslee also defied expectations by delivering an impassioned defense of labor unions when he was expected to talk about the environment, his signature issue. Castro was pronounced one of the winners of night one.
  3. On night two, Harris was pronounced the victor after attacking frontrunner Joe Biden on his civil rights record – which many thought was his strong suit. She managed to show emotion and strength at the same time while evoking biography. Biography usually looms large in debates because it is a bridge to various segments of the electorate. Booker, Bennet and de Blasio among others also used biography. I am not being snide, just trying to be dispassionate. While I agree that both Castro and Harris achieved their ends, the befuddled look on Beto’s face or the hurt on Biden’s may linger in some voters’ minds. Politics can be cruel.
  4. Gender still matters. Women must still be a relative novelty on the stage? Although Warren was the frontrunner among the first debate candidates, nobody laid a glove on her. After Harris attacked Biden over his civil rights record, he reacted in very muted fashion, muttering that she chose to become a prosecutor while he became a public defender. It got lost in the fray, and was interpreted as a lack of sharpness.
  5. The age gap between the youngest and oldest candidates was more striking than in previous cycles. Swalwell’s refrain of “pass the torch” made painfully evident, in my view, the twin worries of having an older president or having a president with limited experience. Biden will continue to be attacked on his record. It is inevitable – but we must be careful not to judge past behavior by contemporary standards. Just as inevitable is the instinct to pounce on the young’uns as soon as they make a mistake – which is why it was wise of Buttigieg to eat humble pie on the debate stage when he was attacked for his reaction to the fatal shooting of a black man by a white officer in his city of South Bend.
  6. Last but not least, can we please all say together that “socialism is a spectrum”. The best run societies are a combination of both. Capitalism without regard for social concerns becomes “nature red in tooth and claw”. A purely socialist regime stifles individualism and creativity. Both eventually crush the soul. We need a careful balance of both.
  7. That’s my own take on things. I have my own favorites among the candidates but I have tried to remain objective – and I hope not to have lost any friends.

Marie-Anne wrote this post. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of all Rockwall Democrats or of the organization itself. She is solely responsible for content.

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