Somewhat belated and highly subjective impressions from Tuesday's debate

Commentary about Tuesday's debate was delayed when a vicious cold laid me low. It began with a sore throat that came on Tuesday afternoon on the heels of my annual check-in with my doctor Tuesday morning. Wednesday was miserable, yesterday worse after coughing through the night. Much of the day passed in bed, reading a little, wishing I could drift off into sleep, no appetite, ate nothing until I made myself down a little soup in the evening. Better this morning. While at Fred Meyer to replenish stocks of soup, tea, and Kleenex, my trash can now a toxic waste dump, I suddenly found myself ravenous. I take that to be a positive development. Maybe the takeaway from this episode is to stay away from the doctor's office.


My doctor is a sixty-seven-year-old surfer dude who expresses amazement that I still run as much as I do, lamenting that he cannot run any more because of bad knees. Last year I asked with some trepidation if he had any plans for retirement. He said that surfing is his thing, and he can only do that twice a week, so he might as well keep coming in to the office. I don't know why surfing is restricted to twice a week, but I was happy to hear it. I like the guy.


Ah, but I digress. About that debate. Elizabeth Warren has been a personal favorite from the beginning. Tuesday evening her repeated failure to offer a passable response to questions about raising taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare for All was disappointing. In her defense, the issue is too complicated to be addressed by a simple yes or no answer to a simplistic yes or no question. Nonetheless, she needs to do better. She will be hammered if she doesn't. The same goes for many of her other plans as well. No matter how accurate her analysis of the problems and her proposals to address them, it counts for little if they are not enacted by congressional legislation. I want a president who will fight for big ideas as Warren promises to do and I believe she will. I would feel better if she conveyed some sense that fighting for big ideas is only part of the job. You also need to get things done, and what you get done will never be as much as you want to get done. Warren is good at maintaining her poise and sticking to her talking points. This can make her come off as dismissive of those who come at issues from other points of view, as if she and she alone is the righteous warrior in this fight. A show of graciousness, an acknowledgement that others may have honorable disagreement about issues and how to address them, would be welcome and if conveyed convincingly could make her more appealing to voters not yet on board with her.


I like Amy Klobuchar a lot, and she made her best debate showing thus far on Tuesday, and I like Mayor Pete, although I am not as infatuated with him as some are, but I have had enough of their blather about choice in health care. People tend to like the idea of being given choices, especially if the alternative is a government program, and telling them that you offer them choice and your opponent does not is effective politically, but it is way too simplistic. The conventional wisdom is that choice is always optimal, and the more choices the better. This morning I must have spent fifteen minutes in the damn tea aisle at Fred Meyer. More choices only made for more confusion. I know, tea is not health care. But here's the deal, as Biden might say. Much of the talk about choice in the context of health coverage is, deliberately or not, misleading. People who get health coverage through their employers get to choose among a small number of plans offered, and those plans can change from year to year. Even Medicare is confusing with its offerings of original Medicare, Senior Advantage plans, prescription drug plans, supplemental coverage plans, &c. There is also my conviction that the faith that the market is the best model for absolutely everything is a blind faith, but let's not wade into that swamp here.


Medicare for All would be my preference if we were starting from scratch, but the transition from our current chaotic approach would be more challenging than its proponents seem to believe. Much as I like Warren and Bernie Sanders, they can sound like they are promising to do everything for everybody. This is a fair criticism. Neither they nor others vying for the nomination are willing to acknowledge, it might be political suicide to acknowledge, that there are limits to what can be done on health care and other issues, from the climate crisis on down the line. That there are limits does not mean, as Republicans would have it, that we must abandon ourselves to the mercies of the market.

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Maybe Joe Biden's lackluster fundraising (Caputo and Korecki, 'They’ve got no margin for error': Biden cash crunch raises alarms, Politico, October 16, 2019) will force him to do the Democratic Party and the country a service by dropping out of the race. He would be far more valuable stumping for Democratic candidates and critiquing Trump from a place off the main stage. Good moments, and there are some, are negated by moments that, while maybe not outright clunkers, leave much to be desired. He could make a start with the acknowledgement that his son's foreign business interests in Ukraine and elsewhere did present a conflict of interest. It is not exactly a wild surmise to suggest that Hunter Biden got his position on the board of the Urkainian energy company because his last name is Biden and company owners and executives believed they could benefit from the association, with or without any corrupt action by the Bidens on their behalf. While there is no evidence, not an iota, not a scintilla, not a smidgin, that Biden or his son acted corruptly, the whole affair was, to put it charitably, unseemly. Biden's reluctance to criticize his son may be understandable, but it is not helpful.


I am getting to be a tad irked by Biden's repeated claims that only he got this done, he got that passed. This got tiresome a ways back. More than likely some other people had something to do with passage of legislation and diplomatic accomplishments even when his role was significant. The exchange between Biden and Warren about legislation that established the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau was annoying on both ends. There was Biden saying that he got that passed, and Warren peevishly refusing to mention Biden's name when she expressed gratitude to President Obama for his work in getting it passed. This was not a shining moment for either of them.


As for the rest, summing up as my energy flags, each candidate had good moments. Warren and Biden, Klobuchar and Buttigieg were all on the whole better than my earlier carping might suggest. Tom Steyer was better than I anticipated. Like Biden, he could be more effective and do the country a service by staying out of the race while still speaking up on the issues he cares about. Corey Booker and Julian Castro came off far better than in earlier debates. It might not be too much to say that Booker approached statesmanship on occasion. Amy Klobuchar gave by far her best showing. Buttigieg was Buttigieg, and at times that was quite good. Bernie was Bernie. I like the old guy but wish he were younger and wish I could envision him winning in the general election. His subsequent endorsement by Twitter celebrity Alexandra Ocasion-Cortez (okay, cheap shot, for which I apologize for being unable to resist) and Ilhan Omar is not apt to win him support from segments of the population he needs to reach. Kamala Harris continues to diminish in my estimation, maybe in part because there have been times during the campaign and during Senate committee hearings when she has been quite impressive. I feel she has more to offer than she has shown in the last two debates. But we have to see it.


Steyer, Tulsi Gabbard, Beto 'Rourke, Andrew Yang, and even Booker and Castro went long stretches without speaking. That falls on the moderators. It is not their fault that there were too damn many candidates on the stage. Nonetheless, they had a responsibility to see to it that each got a fair shot. They failed. The Democratic Party will do Trump and the Republicans a favor if they cannot find a way to limit future debates to at most six candidates, and fewer than six would be better. Here, too, more choices do not necessarily make for an optimal outcome.


Every candidate on Tuesday's stage deserves more extensive analysis than I have given here. All in all they are an impressive bunch. Elizabeth Warren is no longer my clear-cut preference. I still like her a lot. She is really smart, dedicated, passionate, and right about a lot of things. Much the same can be said of other candidates. I still like Amy Klobuchar and wish she could catch on a bit better even if she was tough on Warren. As I said, they are an impressive bunch. Can any of them beat Donald Trump next year? I don't know.


And as I said, I'm flagging, but I wanted to get something out. More anon.


Keep the faith.

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