Actually, the Debate was Perfect

Because I hate myself, and I want myself to suffer, I watched Joe Biden and Donald Trump do whatever it was you call what happened on that stage last night, every single excruciating minute of it. Why would I do such a thing? Same reason as about fifty-nine percent of my fellow Americans: I wanted to see Joe Biden, happy warrior, take our cowardly bully of a President out back behind the woodshed, at least metaphorically.

It will not surprise you to hear I was disappointed. 

Donald Trump is a loudmouth asshole, the kind of guy who thinks you win arguments by talking over the other person and just wearing them down til they give up in disgust, who’ll say anything at all, even contradict what he just said five minutes ago, just to keep his flatulent filibuster going. We’ve all dealt with that guy, the one who knows how to walk just up to the line where you either cross over to their side or throw your hands up in disgust. The one for whom the rules of debate, the norms of politeness, are meaningless save as things to throw back at you once you’ve been provoked and react. It’s a power play, plain and simple.

The thing is, for people like that, who recognize only raw and immediate power, the only way to deal with them is on that same level of raw, immediate power. Think I’m wrong? Ask Chris Wallace, who was even more of a chump and a punching bag, no matter how much he tried to appease his ideological fellow traveler. Joe Biden sold himself as the guy who could stand up to a bully. Who could throw a fucking punch when he needed to. And what did we get? Snarky asides to Wallace about the abuser they were both failing to manage and a passive ‘Will you just shut up, man?’ in the half second Trump needed to draw a breath between lies.

I know, I know. They’re trying to be the adults in the room. And had they been dealing with an actual toddler, that would indeed have been the appropriate response. But they were not. They were dealing with what should, by now, be a grown-ass adult, one who is not smart but is certainly clever enough to know exactly what he was doing, even if what he is doing is transparently stupid and demeaning to everyone involved.

It may sound like I’m saying you can only fight toxic masculinity with toxic masculinity (cues the Dicks, Pussies, and Assholes speech from Team America). And while I certainly would have understood — and, let’s be honest, applauded — if Joe Biden or even Chris Wallace had stopped, donned a mask, and then walked up and slugged Donald Trump right in his bloviating dog’s asshole of a mouth, either man could have done more than just haplessly sit by and let this demeaning fucking nonsense keep happening. 

Sometimes you gotta cut a motherfucker’s mic. Whether you get the sound guy to do it or just bust out the pair of wire cutters you brought just in case. You gotta deal with the guy on a level he’ll understand. If you don’t, you get what we got last night, in which a whole fuckton of people conspired to bring an abuser into the living rooms of the country so he can traumatize its citizens and wear down their faith in their own agency to vote the abuser out of office and into the legal and financial morass being President lets him keep his head (barely) above water in.

If there was one good thing about last night’s debate, it was that it was such a perfect metaphor for American history since Reagan (since the Boomers, giant age cohort they are, came into their own electorally), in which the country — in particular the Democratic party and the media — are in an abusive relationship with the Republican party and the conservative movement that drives it. It’s been obvious for decades that the American right considers power to be its God-granted prerogative — they probably get that from the evangelicals, who’ve made Donald Trump their Golden Calf —  and does not recognize the legitimacy of anyone to their left, no matter how resoundingly they were elected. They can’t win democratically anymore, haven’t really believed in democracy in the sense of rule by (all) the people for a long time, if ever. For a while they were able to game the system — thanks, especially, to liberals largely staying home in 2010, which event is proof that liberals are not smarter than conservatives, no matter how many of us like thinking so — but now those maps are being overturned and the demographic wave against their whitest-of-the-white base is about to swamp them. They’ve seeded the courts as a stopgap but they’re primed to take it further. Donald Trump as much as ordered the Proud Boys to do voter intimidation where they could, and Satan knows how many people in American law enforcement are sympathetic. Keeping certain people down is like the whole job of some police departments, and always has been.

Conventional wisdom said Joe Biden won last night because he’s winning the race and Donald Trump didn’t do anything to change that. That’s not good enough. Because there are no conventions in the last days of the America that was, the America Joe Biden thinks he still lives in. One way or another, we’re gonna be a different country going forward.

For its whole existence, America has split the difference between two irreconcilable ideals. Call them the Founding Factions. On the one hand you have ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’. On the other you have the Three-Fifths crowd, a burgeoning aristocracy founded on the bedrock of chattel slavery, in which some people have no rights at all. One side is in a fight for its life, and knows it. And because one is, both are. Because we’re stuck in the house together. There’s no getting out. Certainly not for the people who’ll suffer worst if the Three-Fifths crowd wins the day.

How do we stop them? Step one is fucking swamp them at the polls. Vote as early as you can, and make sure your vote’s counted. And for fuck’s sake, vote Democrat all the way down the ticket, from President to Assistant Dog Catcher. I know, I know. The Democrats have broken my heart for, like, decades. But right now they’re what we’ve got, and if we come out in big enough numbers then maybe they’ll grow a little spine. They’d better — and we’d better make them — because we not only have to unwind the mess the last four years and/or decades have gotten us into, we’ve got some serious historic injustice to right while also dealing with the increasingly existential threat of climate change. That starts with the White House and flipping the Senate — nothing gets done without a Senate majority, nothing — and strengthening the majority in the House. But it’s governors and state legislatures that will be drawing congressional districts — 2020 being a Census year, and I can’t stress enough how important that is — and running elections, and mayors and district attorneys and sheriffs that will decide how or if the law is enforced where you live.

I’m not gonna lie. That may not be enough. In fact it won’t, it can’t be. Because what’s needed to save democracy and America and the Earth is gonna take a lot of us rowing in the same direction for a long, long time. But it’s a better place to start than the alternative.

And Joe? Next time you get the chance two hundred million of us would kill for, to look Donald Trump in the eye and speak truth to the world’s biggest asshole? Remember who and what you’re dealing with, and take that motherfucker out back behind the woodshed.

At least metaphorically.

I’ve Thought This Myself, but Here’s a WoC Explaining Why African-Americans Prefer Joe Biden

“Let me explain something to you about Joe Biden and why some of the shit that he’s done in his past doesn’t matter. This old rich white man played second fiddle to a black man. Not just any black man, but a younger black man, a smart black man. Not just for a day. Not 1, not 2 but eight years.

He took his cues from this black man who had more power than him and was virtually unknown when he took the presidency, and Joe Biden had been around forever. He was willing and proud to be his wing man. Not once did he try to undermine him, this black man. Instead Joe walked in lockstep with him, he respected him, he loved and trusted him. He was led by him and he learned from him. And Joe did not have a problem with it.

You tell me what 40+ year “establishment” white politician has ever done that. Joe Biden is cut from a different cloth. And black folks understand that and for good reason. He has shown it. This is what showing up and being an ally looks like. When black people say they know Joe, this is how we know.”

– Laurie Goff”

The Limits of Political Revolution

In 2003 or so, in the height of the Bush II era, when you were ‘with us or with the terrorists’ and the Iraq War was in its first Friedman Unit, I went with my friend Jonny to an event called Drinking Liberally. As you might expect, it was held at a bar, and the idea was for liberals and progressives and so on to gather together and drink, bond, commiserate, and strategize. George W Bush was at the height of his power and popularity, and the various candidacies to replace him were in their beginning stages. I remember we all sat around a big table, with another rank of folks standing behind us. At one end of the table were these two dudes in sweaters doing their absolute best to hijack the conversation, talking over people and extolling their liberal-than-thou bona fides.

Their main point, aside from smug self-satisfaction? That the key to the Democratic party getting back into power was to get rid of all these centrists and DINOs, so the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party’, i.e. its most liberal faction, could ascend to power. By some sort of Underpants Gnomes calculus, this was supposed to lead us to victory in 2004.

Let me say that again: shrinking the party to its hardest hard core of (let’s be honest, white, mostly male) progressives would somehow lead to electoral victory, where the key is to convince the most people to vote for you.

I believe the technical term for that is magical thinking.

I’d love to forget those two smug assholes. Hell, I’d love to forget the whole Bush II era, when conservatives started trying on their brown shirts and jackboots in earnest, and fucked shit up so bad these racist-ass United States actually elected a black man President. And it seems I’m not alone in that. To be honest, it seems like half the damn left forgot the lessons we should have learned back then, which is a big part of what made Donald Trump possible.

Which brings me, sigh, to Bernie Sanders and his ‘political revolution’.

In 2016, I was a Sanders guy, right up til it became mathematically impossible for him to win the nomination. I was thrilled to see someone bring the kind of deep progressive policy and political goals and rhetoric I, a lifelong progressive, had been wanting to see in mainstream discourse ever since I was old enough to vote and engaged enough to pay attention. Even when he didn’t win, I was thrilled when his rhetoric and platform did indeed cross over into the mainstream. I was less thrilled than the candidate himself, who crossed the line somewhere from someone whose goals and interest were driven by principle to someone whose principles were driven by his goals and his self-interest. But that seems to be most politicians, so it’s if not forgivable then not a deal-breaker on its own.

But Bernie Sanders political revolution’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: it’s an insurgency defined as much by its opposition to the institutional Democratic Party as it is by its positive political and policy ambitions. Which, if you’re running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to be President, with the institutional backing that comes with it for a general election, is kind of a problem.

Yes, the party leadership has probably coordinated in response to Sanders’ rise. Which is, you know, their job and all that, conspiracy theories aside. But so, apparently, have the voters, who yesterday — and much to this Warren supporter’s chagrin — coalesced around Joe Biden, FSM help us all, as the last man standing/consensus choice.

Turns out snake emojis and sneering contempt for people you’re going to need later on isn’t the best strategy for building coalitions.

Look, temperamentally and policy-wise, I’m firmly aligned with Bernie Sanders (I’m even more so with Elizabeth Warren; the misogyny and deliberate erasure that handicapped her campaign will have to be a whole other post, though). We do in fact need radical change, even radical-er than Bernie himself calls for (ain’t a goddam thing gonna pass as long as there’s a filibuster in the Senate). But you know what we need to get that radical change passed into law? A great big fucking coalition, not all of whom are going to be hard core progressives who only identify as Democrats in Presidential election years.

I told those two guys all those years ago that much as I agreed with them on policy, you can’t get shit done if you don’t have a majority, and you don’t get a majority by telling people they’re sellouts or assholes if they don’t believe just as you believe, just as hard as you believe it. Almost twenty years on, looks like I’m still over here in the corner, saying the same goddam thing.

The Samurai and the Millionaire Socialist: Liz and Bernie at the Nevada Debate

Oh, how I’ve longed to see the side of Elizabeth Warren who came out last night. All campaign long, I’ve understood as she held back, aiming to be the one who could unite the disparate wings of the party and so not throwing elbows at anyone, for the most part, so that when the general election came, progressives and moderates and everyone else could stand and fight together against the creeping oligarchy and nascent white christian nationalist fascism that threatens democracy, the future, and the viability of human civilization on our rapidly warming planet.

In a perfect world, that would be the campaign for President everyone should want. Ideas, passion, and a relentlessly positive message.

But we do not live in that world, nor, likely, do we deserve to, at least collectively.

For all their bespoke suits and expensive coiffure, the mainstream media are basically wrestling announcers. They want drama, a good fight. And they love the bad guys, the badder the better, because they make for good TV. And while once upon a time news might have been firewalled from the ratings game, a ‘public good’ provided by the networks to justify their use of our national airwaves, that time is long past, and it’s all about them eyeballs for advertisers. ‘Nice lady makes good point’ doesn’t rate much attention next to ‘Presidential candidate brags about penis size’, which is an actual thing that happened four years ago. Never mind their paymasters — and accountants, because these people are decidedly not middle-class — freaking the fuck out because Warren knows how to unrig the game, and published her plan for doing so on the internet.

They all but erased her from their coverage (only three tickets out of Iowa, says the CW, and then the third story is Biden coming fourth, and don’t get me started on the WSJ poll literally leaving her out), til the erasure became a story in its own right.

Then last night happened.

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Liz Warren can’t believe these two poll ahead of her.

 

Remember the first debate, back in approximately 1975? When Warren cracked and stuck a shiv in John Delaney that bled him out on live TV? I’ve been waiting to see that again since then, and boy howdy, did she deliver last night. She was like a samurai: the drawing of the sword and the killing blow one smooth, graceful motion.

It helped, surely, that she had Mike Bloomberg — who is as literal an embodiment of everything she’s stood and fought against her whole adult life as it is possible to be — and she broke out the katana first thing, cutting his heel tendons so he couldn’t run away and then eviscerating him for two hours. It was a great preview of how she’d take on Trump, who is a lesser and thinner-skinned version of Bloomberg, and I’m pretty sure half the country (and some dudes, too) are salivating at the chance she might get to share a debate stage with him.

She bled Pete and Amy some, too, on the health care thing, and more subtly by being the only one standing up for people of color, who make up a majority of the Democratic base and don’t seem much to care for the folksy Midwesterners so keen to invite folks from the other side to the table. She even gave Bernie a few well-placed pokes, on his M4A plan but also for the way his campaign deals with even the hint of criticism of the man, the myth, the legend.

It was a tour de force performance, and I for one can’t wait til the next one.

Bernie had a pretty good night, too. Mostly by not having a bad night. Conventional wisdom holds that when you’re the frontrunner you’re best off staying out of the way and letting the rest of the field fight it out. And despite the bombast and revolution-talk Bernie is, at the end of the day, a pretty conventional politician, even if his views and ideals have been a little left of the Overton Window for most of his career.

There were a couple of moments, though, that did not bode well, I think.

[As always, the caveat: Bernie’s my second choice, I supported him in 2016, and will gladly support him come the general if he’s nominated.]

First was at the end, when asked about the prospect of a contested convention (which personally I think is pretty likely and even desirable, but that’s another post). Everyone but Bernie said let the process play out. There are rules and procedures in place for just this eventuality, so we should follow them. Bernie alone — and for obviously self-interested reasons, since right now it’s likeliest to be him — said whoever had the plurality of delegates ought to be the nominee. It was not a good look. I mean, maybe if you’re a Bernie-or-buster and you want your guy no matter how he wins it. I know there’s a segment of his support motivated by his uncompromising stances on, well, you name it. If that’s your jam, okay, I guess. But I saw a guys who’s in it at least as much for his own ego as he is for enacting a progressive agenda. I’m not questioning his convictions — I believe he believes in what he says he believes — but it was pretty clear four years ago he got a taste for the spotlight and being the man and it’s been pretty clear since it’s a good chunk of his motivation. Maybe not a majority, but possibly a plurality, to make a politi-nerd lol out of it.

The second thing, though, worries me even more.

I haven’t seen anyone else notice this (I think he’s gotten Warren’s exceptional performance to thank for it). But there was a moment toward the end where Mike Bloomberg, of all people, scored a hit with an attack I’ve been waiting for.

“The country’s best-known socialist is a millionaire with three houses.”

Bernie was flustered, he stumbled to explain (CW: If you’re explaining, you’re losing). Something something Vermont, something something, DC, something something woods camp. And here’s where the especial vitriol of Sanders’ supporters is hurting him: they’ve kept him so comparatively insulated from the slings and arrows of a political campaign that he’s forgotten he’s got vulnerabilities. The other Democrats in the race are too worried about alienating his supporters to have brought it up, but I will bet you all the money I have that Republican ratfuckers have a great big goddamn file of opposition research with the words ‘Millionaire Socialist’ stamped on the front. How could they not see this coming? Not have an answer prepared for this blindingly obvious line of attack? For fuck’s sake, he’s running to run against Donald Fucking Trump, a man with not zero but negative compunctions about doing or saying any- and everything to get what he wants. If it was someone else, I might give them a pass, since running for President takes a lot of time and money and it might not make sense to devote resources to that kind of thing til later. But Bernie only stopped running between June and November of 2016. There wasn’t any doubt he’d be back. So the lack of preparation for an obvious, if cheap, line of attack?

Say it this way: I hope he takes good advantage of the pass he’s got on this one. Because right now he looks likelier than anyone to be the one in the ring with Donald Trump and the worldwide plutocrat mafia backing him.

As for the others, Amy and Pete’s circular firing squad was hilarious, Mike Bloomberg should visit a dominatrix once in a while, and I look forward to Joe Biden stumping for whoever wins the nomination and then heading up blue-ribbon panels for the rest of his life.

Very much looking forward to next week in South Carolina.

Iowa Debate Hot Take

For what it’s worth, and in no particular order, here’s what I thought:

Elizabeth Warren had a *great* night. All her answers were sharp, cogent, and, I’m not afraid to say it, Presidential. She was the strongest candidate up there, and to my mind has the best chance of uniting the Democratic party’s sometimes disparate elements, bringing new folks into the tent/coalition, and inspiring people who don’t normally vote that it’d be worth it to elect her.

Bernie, well, Bernie was Bernie. If you like/love him, you probably thought he did well. If you have your doubts, he probably didn’t win you over (especially, I’m guessing, if you’re a woman: more on that below). He was his usual forceful, self-involved self (which came through when he mentioned he hoped it would be him who was nominated rather than saying what he was running to do, and his mansplainity when it came to whether a woman could win the Presidency).

Joe Biden stumbled and slurred and lost the thread at least a dozen times. He’s too far past his prime (a prime in which he made a lot of bad calls, see: Iraq War, Anita Hill, the 2005 Bankruptcy Bill) and seemed like he was up past his bedtime. But it won’t hurt him, because he’s graded on a curve like Donald Trump is, albeit a slightly steeper one.

Amy Klobuchar had a decent night, and makes a decent case for herself. Which no one seems to be buying, and is not particularly inspirational. I like her okay, but I don’t think she could have moved the numbers much even if she’d turned in a Warren-grade performance, which I don’t think she did.

Pete Buttigieg made a few good points, and is obviously doing some tacking left-ish now that his surge is done. I see him as a party functionary or pundit when all’s said and done, which I imagine will help him out with that whole ‘poorest candidate on stage’ thing he keeps talking about.

Tom Steyer wasted a hundred million dollars to go on that stage and tell everyone which others he agreed with. He also stole Kamala Harris’ donor list and seems to have some bobble-head somewhere in his ancestry. I wish he’d fuck off and spend his money supporting someone who’d actually be a good President.

Moderators were okay, I guess, though I wish they were more interested in policy differences than trying to get people to fight. Still, I thought the ladies did well enough to cover for Wolf Blitzer.

The big dustup between Warren and Sanders was, I thought, pretty instructive. I was particularly impressed with how Warren handled her anger and turned the conversation to the 800 pound gorilla of sexism. I thought Bernie didn’t do himself any favors, basically calling Warren a liar (a charge she pointedly did not respond to, though I saw what looked like a quick throwdown after the debate: I’d give good money to hear what she said to Bernie when she refused to shake his hand) and mansplaining the fuck out of sexism in politics. That they gave Joe Biden the last word was as sadly predictable as the rambling nonsense that came out of his mouth about the subject.

I was glad to see foreign policy take such a big role, since that’s a big chunk of what a President does. “We’ve turned the corner so many times we’re turning in circles” is a great fucking line. I was also glad to hear Warren on trade — another big chunk of what Presidents actually co — especially the notion of making labor and environmental standards a prerequisite for access to American markets.

Will it move any numbers? Convince any voters? Who the fuck knows? Debates aren’t that big a deal. But if you were watching to see which one looked and acted like a President, I think you have to say Warren walked away with it. Do I think the MSM will agree? Prolly not. They’re too invested in the status quo, and their bosses don’t want to pay a wealth tax.