MIAMI — The first Democratic debate hasn't even begun, and the streets are already teeming with horse s—t. A fratty bro in a Jeep cruises the heavily-secured, heavily-horsed corridor surrounding the venue. His windows are down, and he's blaring a song, the title of which — if I had to guess, judging by the (perhaps only) lyrics — is "F*ck Donald Trump." It seems trite when recounted in print, but if you'd been there to witness it in person, in the proper context, you'd surely have been moved, as I was, by this meaningful act of resistance.
Many Americans had been looking forward to the debates, not so much because of the candidates participating, but rather because President Donald J. Trump was expected to provide live commentary on Twitter, the popular social networking website. Trump was uncharacteristically subdued in his assessment of the debate, but as usual he managed to provide a flawless summary of the proceedings.
Political debates, like most aspects of the political culture these days, are mere spectacle. Moderators ask questions, the candidates nod, and proceed to talk about whatever the hell they want to talk about, deploying rehearsed talking points, or answering a different question altogether, occasionally in a different language.
Each candidate puts his or her own unique spin on this well-worn tactic. For example, here's how the candidates responded, in essence, to some of the moderators' early questions:
- Elizabeth Warren: "The 71 percent of Americans who say the economy is doing well are wrong."
- Amy Klobuchar: "What Elizabeth Warren said, but different."
- Beto O'Rourke: "I speak Spanish."
- Julián Castro: "I don't really speak Spanish, but you'd never know it by the way I pronounce Hispanic names and Latin American countries."
- Tulsi Gabbard: "9/11."
- Bill de Blasio: "I have a black son."
- Cory Booker: "I am a black son. I also speak Spanish."
- John Delaney: "Obama gave me an award."
- Jay Inslee: "I'm a governor. Unions are good."
- Tim Ryan: "Youngstown, Ohio."
There's a reason why the candidates spend so much time preparing for these debates. They need to construct and memorize a handful of catchy quips, zingers, and soundbites designed to whip the audience into a frenzy and titillate the easily-impressed political press corps. Here are a few of the most memorable lines from Wednesday night:
- Inslee: "[Trump] says wind turbines cause cancer. We know they cause jobs."
- Booker: "Health care — it's not just a human right, it should be an American right."
- Castro: "But let me tell you what: Section 18, Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Title 21 and Title 22, already cover human trafficking."
- Klobuchar: "If billionaires can pay off their yachts, students should be able to pay off their student loans."
- Klobuchar: "We should not conduct foreign policy in our bath robe at 5 a.m."*
*Late-night, bath-robe foreign policy was actually a central tenant of Hillary Clinton's (first) failed presidential campaign, when she was desperate to portray Barack Obama as too naïve and inexperienced to lead the country.
A few additional thoughts:
- "Woke" Lingo: Elizabeth Warren was hot out of the gate with a reference to "Latinx" families, the preferred term among the woke. The official NBC News transcript, however, quotes her as saying "Latinos," a term that most viewers have actually heard before. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, by no means an unwoke moderator, repeatedly used "Latino," as did Julián Castro, although he pronounced it "Lah-TEE-no," obviously. [UPDATE: The NBC transcript now shows Warren saying "Latinx."]
- Politics Is Stupid: At one point, Tulsi Gabbard bragged about being a member of the "Equality Caucus" and voting for the "Equality Act." Cory Booker chimed in, arguing that supporting the Equality Act, of which he was an original co-sponsor, by the way, wasn't enough to achieve true equality in America. You don't say.
- Green New Deal: For all the talk of climate change and how to solve it, this signature proposal didn't receive a single mention. Weird.
- Pobre Beto: Despite being one of the most underwhelming, underperforming candidates on stage, Beto was attacked on multiple fronts as though he was still the formidable candidate he appeared to be in the hours after Vanity Fair hit news stands. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, the highest-polling candidate on stage, went largely unscathed. The guy can't catch a break.
- John Delaney, Bless His Heart: He needs to find a new profession. In his closing remarks, the former congressman stressed the importance of addressing America's political challenges "with real solutions, not with impossible promises." LOL what an idiot.