I’m still trying to find a rhythm for responding to the primary debates. After watching so many of them over the years I simply don’t trust that my personal judgment means much anymore. So instead I’m trying to figure out how our average Joes and Janes might respond, but I doubt that I’m really much good at that either. It’s a dilemma.
That said, here’s my usual random collection of observations:
- Andrew Yang didn’t do himself any favors. He looked like a guy who knew he had no chance and wasn’t even really trying to persuade anyone.
- Julián Castro also didn’t do himself any favors. I agree with the conventional wisdom that his “are you forgetting what you said” crack to Joe Biden was so meanspirited and so transparent that it could end up being his death knell. For what it’s worth, it was also counterproductive. Biden will either demonstrate that he’s mentally sharp or he won’t. Castro’s crack probably did little except generate sympathy for Biden.
- As a general comment, I wish the candidates could all work on speaking English as understood by ordinary people, not lefty activists. Phrases like othering and systemic and intellectual property and communities of color are great for academic seminars but baffling to virtually all ordinary people.
- The foreign policy part of the debate was kind of a train wreck. It would be nice if (a) the questions were better and (b) the candidates actually sounded like they cared. For the most part, they didn’t.
- Kamala Harris seemed oddly distant tonight. She spoke mostly in monotones, with no sense of passion and nothing especially interesting to distinguish herself from the others.
- Amy Klobuchar did better than usual, but she’s got a tough job. She’s explicitly trying to sell herself as a moderate candidate, but it’s hard to see how she makes up any ground on Biden in that contest. Maybe she’s just hoping that Biden self-destructs at some point and she takes over as the champion of the middle.
- Nothing about labor, mostly because the moderators didn’t bother asking about it. Still, everyone on stage was in favor of teachers making more money, and the best way to do that is to allow them to unionize everywhere. It’s also just about the only leverage a president has over teacher pay, which is exclusively a state issue.
- Elizabeth Warren did well with the exact same routine she’s used in the other debates: avoiding attacks and being very clear about exactly where she stands and what she wants to do. What surprises me is that the other candidates are letting her get away with it. She’s a front-runner now, and they need to start taking some shots at her and forcing her on the defensive.
- I continue to think that everyone is blowing it on immigration. It’s fine to talk about DACA and paths to citizenship and all that, but is it really politically suicidal to also mention that, yes, border security matters and there are things we should do to keep illegal immigration down to modest levels?
- Some of the questions are getting old. Harris was once again asked to defend her record as California attorney general. Biden was once again asked to prove that he wasn’t a racist pig back in the ’70s. These are fair questions, but we’ve already been through them. Let’s move on.
- Everyone promised to pull out of Afghanistan immediately. No one was willing to acknowledge that the Taliban is pretty likely to run the place in short order if we do that.
- It annoys me that everyone implicitly jumped on the “education in crisis” bandwagon. In general, American schools aren’t crap and American students haven’t gotten stupider. Up through middle school they do better than Boomers ever did and even by the time they graduate they’re a little ahead. Nor are public schools “good” and charter schools “bad.” In both cases, some are good and some are bad. We should be interested in figuring out what makes them good and bad, not pretending that either of them is inherently superior.
- There’s one thing about American education that is bad, though: the black-white achievement gap. It’s a national disgrace, but no one on stage really even wanted to acknowledge it, let alone offer any serious solutions. It was just a long panderfest about lack of money and too few black teachers and systemic racism. Does that stuff go over well even in the black community?
Overall, none of the top candidates did anything so good or so bad that it’s likely to have a big impact on the race. On the bright side, the overall quality of the answers was better than before; the interruptions were less frequent; and there was a general coherency that was missing in the first two debates. The practice is doing everyone some good. A full transcript of the debate is here.