My reactions to the July 30, 2019 Democratic primary debates (night 1 of 2)

In no particular order, except perhaps chronological:

  • The opening statements were interesting but not as useful as I was hoping for.
  • The first half hour or so of the debate had candidates debating the nuances of their health care plans. It’s important to keep in mind that unless Democrats keep the House (likely-ish) and win back the Senate (which is less likely), there’s no way they’re getting any major legislation passed. Given that, their answers are more useful to helping us discern their personalities, governing styles, thinking processes, etc. Where the candidate falls on the private vs. public healthcare policy preference spectrum may not be a good indicator of what will likely become law when they win, but is more useful to inferring what their theory of political change is and what they view to be the problems/solutions in the political system.
  • This was repeated on a number of issues: immigration, gun control, climate change, infrastructure, etc. etc. Candidate after candidate said over and over again “as president I will ensure that…” as if the need for bicameral Congressional approval wasn’t a thing. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good to hear their policy positions and I’m glad they have priorities and desires. BUT the odds of them passing any of these ambitions plans is slim to none unless Democrats win the Senate and nuke the filibuster. Then if they do that, though, they’ll likely lose Congress in the 2022 midterms because historically midterms are negative referendums on the incumbent president’s party.
  • Foreign policy was not addressed until more than two hours into the debate. This is a shame, given that presidents have much, much more leeway in foreign affairs than they do in domestic lawmaking. In my view, the increasing popularity of nationalist populism in democracies around the globe, democratic backsliding, and “illiberal democracy” is one of the single most alarming political trends of the last decade. I want to hear the candidates explain their thoughts on this issue: what has caused it and what can be done about it?
  • Bernie Sanders regularly uses populist rhetoric, similar to that of Trump, in framing his policy proposals. Bernie makes an enemy out of the 1% and “special interests” while Trump makes an enemy out of immigrants and a free press. Populism is not always associated with illiberal democracy and soft authoritarianism, but if often is. I hope, hope, hope that Democrats resist the urge to fight nationalist populism with quasi-illiberal economic populism. For her part, Elizabeth Warren didn’t go near as far as Bernie Sanders, but she regularly says that companies seeking to maximize their profits is “corruption.” I think it’d be more responsible to say “unfair” rather than “corrupt” as the latter implies “illegal” and that flirts with illiberalism, although not quite as strongly as does “enemy of the people” from Pres. Trump.
  • Congressman John Delaney likely won’t be in the next debates, but he played an important role in today’s debate: being the primary foil to Sanders/Warren’s economic populist proposals and idealist-yet-unrealistic proposals.
  • I’m glad that the requirements for the next debate will be tightened up a bit. Trying to get 10 different candidates to be able to discuss important issues to any degree of useful detail in under two hours is nearly impossible.
  • I didn’t really see anything that I think will shake up the race in a fundamental way in this debate. I’ll be surprised if polling numbers for any of these candidates budges much.
  • That said, these debates are useful in campaigns because they’re educational. They help voters think about issues and deliberate on their political preferences and opinions. That’s a good thing!
  • If you’re on Twitter, I also often live-tweet debates: @benjaminknoll28

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