When talking about the state of American politics to my friends or family, I often describe the current Democratic field as getting “lost in the weeds” of real societal progress. Last week’s Des Moines debacle serves as further evidence for that sobering reality.
Firstly, I genuinely believe that productive dialogue was sullied by moderators’ insistence on pressing on issues irrelevant to Democratic voters. A recent Gallup poll found that the most important topics to these voters are, in descending order, healthcare, gun policy, climate change and education. While healthcare (rightly so) was colorfully discussed at length, the latter three topics were a distant afterthought in this debate.
Another issue of time concerned a recent allegation that candidate Bernie Sanders told fellow candidate Elizabeth Warren in a 2018 closed-door meeting that he did not believe a woman could be president. Personally, I’m frustrated that valuable time was spent on this petty fight in lieu of an actual policy discussion. Sanders and Warren both tried to shut down this line of questioning as quickly as possible; the former asked, “how could anybody in a million years not believe that a woman could become President of the United States?” while the latter added, “I disagreed [when Sanders told me his belief that a woman couldn’t be president]. Bernie is my friend, and I am not here to try to fight with Bernie.” Creating infighting is the opposite of what should happen if those on the stage have any intention of beating the incumbent.
Candidate Joe Biden is always a hilarious character to watch competing for the nomination, and last week’s debate was no exception. Not only was he subject to his signature gaffes and self-timeouts but there was also a consistent focus on his own mistakes as a senator and vice president. The very first words uttered by Biden last week were, “I said 13 years ago, [giving authority to go to war] was a mistake.” Biden’s consistently terrible debate performance continues to drain my hope that the former vice president can survive should he become the nominee. Also caught floundering was candidate Tom Steyer, especially on his signature topic of climate change, and candidate Amy Klobuchar, who struggled to remember Kansas’ female governor, adding, “her name is … I’m very proud to know her, and her name is… Governor… Kelly. Thank you.” Smooth.
Candidate Pete Buttigieg, in my opinion, stood his ground as a good debater but undermined himself by reminding us of his lack of policy ideas. In fact, his campaign is so bland that he, offstage, earned the name “Mayo Pete” (which I think is absolutely hilarious) for the whiteness of his support base and generic nature of his policy. Putting those aside (along with a whole host of other issues with his campaign), he came off as mostly strong and relatable.
Also worth discussing is who was not on the stage last week. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang, whose admittedly surprising candidacy has beat every single mainline expectation, trended on Twitter above half of the candidates actually on the stage. His absence was further noted by CNN commentator Van Jones’ after-debate comments. After setting his expectations for “the best of the best” out of the candidates, Jones said, “it felt like a big bowl of cold oatmeal, and I got to say this: I missed Andrew Yang tonight.”
I tend to agree with Jones in this — I was genuinely expecting real constructive dialogue and strong, new policy plans to break out of the noise, dipping below the tip of the iceberg, just this once. I wanted to gain insight into issues that Americans can see in their lives: education, climate change, and our electoral process, to name a few. Such discussions of pressing future issues as well as those our nation currently faces are, through my research, solely characteristic of one unlikely campaign: Yang’s. I genuinely hope that he returns to the debate stage soon. In a political era characterized by short-sighted band-aid solutions and recurrent mudslinging, to have Yang’s positive solutions breaking through the average noise is truly a breath of fresh air.