The Corner

Elections

An Eerie Debate between Biden and Bernie

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Democratic candidates debate in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Tonight’s debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders was eerie in a number of ways: no audience, no handshakes, and yet the candidates moved on swiftly after an early coronavirus exchange to beat each other up about votes 15 to 30 years ago, as if they were not addressing a freaked-out nation living under quarantine. (Bernie: “You remember that bill, right?” Biden: “Yeah, I do.”) CNN, to its credit, did not ignore the elephant in the room: the very advanced age of these two candidates in a time of a disease that targets the elderly. Biden coughed to start the debate. Bernie sniffled.

The debate was an advertisement for the kind of substantive arguments you can get with just two candidates and no crowd, reminiscent of the gravitas-off between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman in 2000. It showcased Biden’s common touch as an old man who has seen a lot of grief, and it handed him a ton of easy debate points where he could paint himself as a practical moderate in contrast to Bernie’s radicalism — like driving home the fact that Italy (whose health-care system is breaking under the coronavirus strain) has single-payer health care. He got Bernie to admit that he voted against Russia sanctions because John Kerry didn’t want him undermining the Iran deal, a point that Obama-administration flacks would not have wanted said out loud.

There were also a lot of “senior moments,” with Bernie saying, “America, go to the YouTube right now” and Biden constantly backtracking to correct himself. Biden kept reminding himself to change “Bernie” to “Senator Sanders,” undoubtedly a tic from his 36 years operating under the debate strictures of the Senate floor.

The biggest news that comes out of this debate is that Biden absolutely ruled out a male running mate, which will come as a disappointment to Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg. My own assumption is that Biden, who has spent the bulk of his life in the Senate, will choose a senator, and perhaps this elevates several of those as contenders: Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Tammy Duckworth. Biden certainly went out of his way tonight to embrace Warren and her “plans” even on issues such as bankruptcy, on which she was acidly critical of Biden’s own record. Biden also pledged to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court.

But this debate may also haunt Biden. Bernie is, in practical terms, finished, and he plainly knows it. His clear goal in this debate, in the vein of issue and movement candidates since time immemorial, was to push his agenda on the party. Biden, though he came onstage wearing a red tie, took the bait. He bragged about his shifts to the left on abortion and immigration. He promised “no new fracking,” committed to crackdowns on oil drilling, and pledged himself to the “New Green Deal.” Some of those lines were delivered in gift-wrapped sound bites for the Trump campaign. All of which is why Biden, though he looked better than usual in this format, probably won’t want to debate Bernie Sanders again.

Most Popular

World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More
World

How to Make China Pay

One of the big questions facing the international community today is how to hold China legally and politically accountable for all its dishonesty and harm to people around the world. According to reports, U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed to the White House that China has deliberately understated the ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More

The Trail Leading Back to the Wuhan Labs

It is understandable that many would be wary of the notion that the origin of the coronavirus could be discovered by some documentary filmmaker who used to live in China. Matthew Tye, who creates YouTube videos, contends he has identified the source of the coronavirus — and a great deal of the information that ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More
World

WHO Failed

Since its inception 72 years ago almost to the day, the World Health Organization (WHO)  has been credited with the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of other devastating illnesses, including leprosy and river blindness. This record of success makes the current corruption of the organization ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More

The Eeyore Syndrome

In A. A. Milne's classic Winne-the-Pooh children’s tales, Eeyore, the old gray donkey, is perennially pessimistic and gloomy. He always expects the worst to happen. Milne understood that Eeyore’s outbursts of depression could at first be salutatory but then become monotonous. The outlook of the pessimist ... Read More