Primary Debates: It’s Time to Stop the Idiocy and Get Serious

Debate cartoon by Isaac Cruikshank
By Isaac Cruikshank

What is wrong with our Democratic candidates?

In Las Vegas on Wednesday night, three Democratic primary candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar, could do no more than try to drag down the others. Two, Mike Bloomberg and Joe Biden, stood there contributing little. And one, Bernie Sanders, simply said what he has said over and over, contributing nothing new, nothing useful.

There were no winners in the debate, no matter what the news media say. Only losers.

Primarily us.

The United States is in the middle of a crisis of governance. No candidate addressed it. The United States is whirling like a child’s top losing its spin in relation to the rest of the world. No candidate addressed that. The United States is gutting its education system. No candidate addressed that. The United States is seeing its infrastructure collapse. No candidate addressed that. The United States is doing nothing about the changes in climate that are altering our lives as we watch. No candidate addressed that.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

The six candidates on stage Wednesday night looked like a bunch of lost or willful children. Not a single one appeared able to lead us out of the greatest crisis our country has faced since the Civil War.

Not a single one was even willing to squarely face the danger that is Donald Trump. Which should have been the main topic.

What is wrong with these people? What is wrong with us that we let them, and a clueless news media, divert our attention from what is killing us to a series of gotchas?

We need to be examining the candidates in terms of who best can govern what is becoming a mess of a country, including whether or not they can work with opponents. Barack Obama, no matter how much I like him, was unable to find a way to do that. It doesn’t help simply to blame Republican lock-step opposition, which was real and destructive, for we are past the point where blame has any efficacy (if it ever had). What, I wanted to hear the candidates say, can they do about that.

Here are issues I would like to hear candidates address, not in pie-in-the-sky terms but practically, outlining realistic steps, that is, ones that could actually be taken even in the face of Republican control of at least one house of Congress:

  • Immigration reform with an eye toward basic human decency and the need for low-level workers in the United States.
  • Health-care reform that can actually happen—not grand visions, but steps that can remove stress and burden now.
  • Care for veterans. This should be a no-brainer. Why is the VA still such a mess?
  • Homelessness. This isn’t simply a problem for California or our large cities, though these are the places the homeless drift to.
  • The opioid crisis. We haven’t been hearing of it as much—why? It has not gone away; we’ve simply gotten used to it.
  • The ‘reform’ movement has gutted our public schools and we are underfunding our colleges and universities. How are we going to rebuild what was once the finest and broadest system of education in the world?
  • Infrastructure. We are approaching a crisis, here. Are we going to wait for greater bridge and tunnel (and other) disasters before we do anything? That would be foolish.
  • The federal government. How are we going to return it to a position of serving the people and not the President?
  • The Justice Department. How are we going to ensure that it is never again a political tool?
  • Climate change. It is upon us. We need a national initiative to address what is happening now and what will happen in the future.
  • Foreign affairs. How do we best participate in management of a world so interconnected that a virus arising one place affects economies ten-thousand miles away?
  • The courts. Can we make them independent again?
  • Voting rights and gerrymandering. Can we manage to make one-person-one-vote an agreed-upon ideal once again?

I could go on. We all could. All of us, that is, except our Democratic candidates in their debates–the very people who should be leading us. Sure, they have ‘positions’ outlined on their webpages on many of these things, but they need to be talking about them, especially when on stage with each other, letting us know what they would do and how, practically, they could start getting it done.

Candidates: Don’t argue about how much any version of healthcare-for-all would cost, for example, but argue about what steps toward removing healthcare burdens from American citizens could successfully be taken. Keep the vision, but let’s focus on what we can actually do and how. And, please, stop tearing down competing visions and simply advocate for your own.

I’m losing patience with all six of the candidates who were on the stage February 19. Unless they start focusing on leading and not simply on winning, we are all going to lose.

And not just the election.

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