The Corner

Politics & Policy

Debating Points

Candidates in a Democratic presidential debate, Atlanta, Ga., November 20, 2019 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

While watching the Democratic presidential debate last night, I jotted some notes. FYC (for your consideration). (Everyone is doing initials these days.)

• If you’re a Biden staffer, or a Biden fan, you must hold your breath every time Biden speaks. Will he get through it? Will he make sense?

Don’t tell anyone, but a lot of us Reagan fans felt the same way. He was the “Great Communicator,” sure — that was mainly in teleprompter speeches. When he was ex temp — we all held our breath.

No one remembers that anymore, because myth has taken over, as it does.

• Here’s the rule: You must never, ever criticize a woman’s voice. That is out of bounds. That is furthering sexist stereotypes. I really don’t care. I am a writer, and a critic (of music, mainly). I comment on women’s voices, men’s voices — aliens’ voices. I’m not running for office, thank heaven. (I will if you ask me to, but nobody ever does.)

One of Marianne Williamson’s gifts is a beautiful voice — a beautiful speaking voice. That is not one of Elizabeth Warren’s gifts. Hers can be quavery and oddly beseeching. Almost desperate. Again, it is not an asset. (She has others, many of them.)

Sue me, as a good American would.

• Warren is playing Santa Claus — giving away, or proposing, free stuff. Yet she is not jolly, not merry.

• She speaks of “greedy billionaires” and “free-loading billionaires.” Really? They pay a ton in taxes, do they not? Who are the billionaires that free-load? Off of whom?

This is pinko demagoguery (to which Left and Right are prone, these days).

• I don’t remember a candidate with a thicker accent than Bernie Sanders’s. That includes Michael Dukakis, from Massachusetts, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, from Austria. It is honking, Bernie’s accent. Interesting that he made it as a Vermont politician, with that New York accent.

I’m glad that American speech has not been entirely homogenized yet.

• Tulsi Gabbard speaks of “the military-industrial complex” — of course. I once wrote a piece about Eisenhower and that phrase. Would you like to see it? Glad you asked: here.

• Our national debt is now more than $22 trillion. The federal budget deficit is more than $1 trillion. An entitlement crisis looms over us. None of this is an issue in either party — which is strange.

Not so strange, actually, because the public don’t want to hear about it, nohow (as a southern friend of mine would say). To address our fiscal crisis would take leadership, which politicians are loath to provide. They essentially follow.

• Andrew Yang has waited a long, long time to speak. Other candidates have been called on, but not him. This takes tremendous discipline, to stand there, waiting, for you are bursting to speak.

• Swiping at Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar says, “I don’t come from money.” This makes me look up Steyer’s background: Does he come from money or did he simply make money? Both.

His father, Roy, “was a partner in the New York law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell,” according to Wikipedia, “and was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.”

Huh. Interesting.

• Mayor Pete goes for an anti-Washington theme. You get to do that if you haven’t made it to Washington in your political career. (Sometimes you do it even if you have.) He also defends his mayoral experience, against those who belittle it.

I think of Sarah Palin, who in her acceptance speech (2008) said, “Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involved. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.”

One of the best lines I ever heard.

• Biden stresses his experience — ain’t gonna cut it in our current political environment. At least that is my impression. The less experience, the better. Experience is icky. It means that you are tainted.

When my friend Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016, I was worried that his newness would work against him. Really, he was elected to the Senate in 2012, and now he thinks he can be president? What chutzpah, what audacity! As it turned out, the fact that he had any experience at all was something of a liability. He was tainted, you see. Ooh, Washington, the Senate — icky.

Of course, a disdain for experience is the least conservative thing in the world, but here we are.

• Sanders is a really good performer, I must say. Lively, sharp, forceful — even at his age. If I were a socialist, I would appreciate him as a representative.

• Biden calls for civility. Is there anybody in America who wants that? Instead of “He fights”? I have a feeling that civility is as unpopular as experience.

• On this family-leave business: Politicians in both parties assume, casually, that government can simply dictate to employers. They promise to “give” people things. But politicians are not going to pay for them. Employers are.

And that is seen as perfectly normal.

• Pete says “one of the key pillars.” Oh, Pete! Pillars are key! And you’re the one who can talk!

• Yang talks about choosing to stay at home with your children. Sounds suspiciously conservative . . .

• “America can’t fix everything,” say politicians on left and right. “We are not responsible for the world.” But according to Democrats, we are responsible for the climate — for making it right.

Geez. The indispensable nation (to coin a phrase)?

• Apparently, no one will argue that staying in Afghanistan is important for U.S. national security. And there is an argument to be made. (I addressed this issue recently, here.)

• Biden says that China has put more than a million Uyghurs in concentration camps. And that Beijing is threatening to crush Hong Kong.

Geez. I didn’t think anyone had noticed . . .

• Sanders is talking against dictatorship — which is a little rich. The Sovs? The Castros? The Sandinistas? Please . . .

• Pete links gay rights to black rights. Hmmm — how’s this gonna play?

• When he speaks of “working shoulder to shoulder” in this context, I think of Allen Ginsberg, and one of the greatest closing lines in all of poetry: “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.”

You see why I can’t run for anything? With my paper trail? I am so grateful to be a writer, and to be working at National Review. “Sweet freedom, shine your light on me,” as a song goes.

(Of course, readers now consider writers pols, because writers, all too often, act like pols, which is a huge problem.)

• Elizabeth Warren is excellent on the border — I mean, children in cages and all that. She is impassioned and she has her rhetoric down. If her view is your thing — she scores here.

• A question: When Biden makes gaffes, do people think, “Oh, that’s just Joe. His heart is in the right place even if his tongue is not”? Or do they think, “Man, he’s not up to it”? I suspect the former but am not sure.

• Rachel Maddow asks damn good questions — such as the one about whether the Louisiana governor, pro-life, has a place in the Democratic party. I say this as someone she has knocked and mocked on air. She asks damn good questions.

I see no reason that debate moderators and questioners should not have strong opinions, by the way. We can all ask good questions. Why don’t the sumbitches ask me?

• All my life, I have heard this line, and it duly makes an appearance in this debate: Conservatives say they want government out of the way, and yet they want to rule women’s own bodies, when it comes to abortion. (Usually, they don’t say “abortion,” but I am just being clear.)

Everything hinges on what you think of the unborn child. Are we, indeed, talking about an unborn child, deserving of protection? We don’t own people as chattels, you know. Or are we talking about something more like an appendix? Because an appendectomy is no big deal. No one calls for appendectomies to be “safe, legal, and rare.”

• A language note: Most Americans, when they say “years,” say “yearz.” Mayor Pete says “yeerss” — rhyming with “Pierce.” So did Obama.

A strain of Midwestern speech? (It does not come from my part of the Midwest — the Detroit area. More of a Chicago-area thing.) (Yes, I know that Obama grew up in Hawaii, but he spent many yeerss in Chicago.)

• They love to wave the bloody shirt, where Stacey Abrams is concerned. She wuz robbed. Was she?

• Hailing John Lewis, who is in the audience, Cory Booker cites a Lewis line, a phrase associated with him: “good trouble.” It is right to cause “good trouble.”

Nice. Appropriatable.

• Tulsi Gabbard may have some ugly views, but, man, what a beauty. Can I say that? Well, I have.

• More on political experience, especially as it relates to Mayor Pete: Richard Brookhiser always said, “The presidency is not an entry-level political job, unless you have won a war,” à la Grant and Eisenhower. Trump upended all of that.

So, experience, shmexperience, I guess.

• Reciting a string of “justices,” Kamala Harris uses the phrase “reproductive justice.” Gross, Orwellian.

• Warren is impassioned — in a way that is helpful to a candidate, I think. If you are inclined to side with her, she juices you up.

• Biden says he was first elected to the Senate when he was “a 29-year-old kid.” At his age, I suppose, 29 is kid territory. But he surely did not feel that way when he was 29.

• The Constitution, of course, requires that a senator be 30. But Biden was elected when he was 29, sworn in after he turned 30. In fact, the day of the debate — November 20 — is his birthday.

Someone could really have played the age card on him by saying, “Happy birthday, Joe. What is it now, 81?” (Biden is 77.)

• When Bob Dole lost the Republican nomination to the first Bush in 1988, someone said, “There’s always ’96.” Dole quipped, bitterly, “Yeah, that’s how old I’ll be.”

Dole, in fact, won the nomination in ’96, when he was 73. He is 96 this very year.

• In his closing statement, Biden went rah-rah pro-America. Will that play in his primaries? I don’t know.

To be continued, all of it.


The Latest