With the dust now settling from the first set of debates for the hoard of Democratic presidential hopefuls, we are beginning to see the initial reactions to the first debates subside. On debate night, the viewing public and the professional pundit class review the drama-infused question of “who won” by assessing who scored the most perceivable imaginary “points”. The media – in their unyielding pursuit of a “story” to sell to consumers – builds up the hype that “winning” a debate is crucial for the future of a campaign. Truth be told, the debate “victory” is only absolutely critical for the campaigns receiving little to no attention in the mainstream. Based on that measure, the soap opera winners of the debates so far were Senator Harris and Former Secretary Castro, with Harris stealing the show out of the two combined nights.
Castro managed to be the dark horse candidate of the two nights because he managed to permeate the circus of the first night with his sincere advocacy for humane immigration policies. Harris – a brief establishment favorite from earlier this year before Beto stole her thunder – became the most aggressive participant over all as she lashed out primarily at Biden; the primary target of everyone on the second night stage (except Bernie, who did his best to stick to the issues, even when he pushed back against Swalwell’s “generation” argument). The biggest moment of both nights was when Senator Harris attacked Former Vice President Biden’s stance on bussing. Her most powerful moment came when she noted that she was a young – history-making – beneficiary of the programs Biden had opposed as a matter of national policy. It was widely portrayed as damaging for Joe Biden.
Over the next week – as the pundits were swooning over their rediscovered champion – Kamala Harris walked back her scathing critique of Biden and it came to public attention that the viral moment of her attack had been a prepared cheap shot made for printing T-Shirts. While planning an attack in a debate is hardly new, the fact that they had a shirt design ready to go within hours left a sour taste in the mouths of many. As a result, the bump for Harris was limited to a few points in the polls whilst Biden took a slight plunge. What’s frustrating about all of this is that this dramatic “horserace” is all that the media focuses on, issues be damned. Again, this is nothing new, and it is why the current success of the revolution forcing an issues-centric campaign is understandable and why its ultimate victory is vital.
One thing to note about the race so far is that every time issues are forced to the forefront of the circus act, it is likely one of a number of progressive issues which emerges as the point of conversation. All Democratic candidates not named Bernie who discuss issues go out of their way to emulate Bernie by adopting policies which he has promoted in the past. In some cases, they have even gone further to the “left” to out-flank him; like with Castro’s very “radical” idea of decriminalizing migration (something we should all get behind). While it may seem that this is part of a coordinated effort to push Bernie out of the picture it is actually proof that his 2016 campaign and his current – still viable – campaign this time around are forcing the party to pay attention to issues which matter to the working class and the voiceless over all. That means we – the revolution – are winning and the establishment knows it.
The ongoing victory of our progressive revolt via the issues is the most important thing to remember in this campaign, but we aren’t just winning the policy arguments. For everyone watching the first debate it was clear from start to finish that the dominance of progressive issues throughout was connected to the long, wild-haired shadow of one candidate: Bernie. His name was the ONLY name of any Democratic candidate not present at the first night which earned a mention. While candidates like Castro, De Blasio, Warren, Tulsi, and even Booker did relatively well for themselves that night, it was obvious from the get go that Bernie Sanders was on their collective minds and they were all scrambling to catch him by latching onto his coattails all night long. Yes, Bernie won that debate in spirit, because the standard he has set since 2016 led the way and was never successfully rejected on either night.
Harris may have appeared the strongest candidate on either night, but she never even attempted to contrast herself with Bernie (most serious candidates avoided doing so, in fact). Instead, she made an appeal to be the favorite character in the soap opera. In terms of entertainment, she won both nights. On the issues-oriented comparison, the victory belongs to the revolution and its favorite champion, Bernie Sanders. From watching the debates it was clear only where one candidate stood on every issue as everyone else danced around the questions about which they were most uncomfortable.
The one moment of weakness for Bernie came to the viewer’s attention when moderator Rachel Maddow presented Bernie with a challenge to address his stance on guns, but the ONLY candidate who attacked Bernie with the red meat the moderators gifted them was Congressman Swalwell who harmed his case by presenting and beating up all of his opponents with a politically-suicidal and unrealistic proposal of forcing citizens to give up the weapons they already own. Make no mistake, Bernie has a real problem in confronting this issue – at least in terms of his past statements and votes in Congress -, but the establishment attempt to bludgeon him with it fell flat. The reason is that there isn’t a single candidate on that stage who hasn’t “evolved” on a wide variety of issues, and they know it. At this moment and ever since 2016, Bernie has taken a solid position on guns and has run on being more pro-active in addressing the root causes of the gun violence crisis, in spite of the NRA. Since we are not a cult of blind followers, we can acknowledge where Bernie made mistakes in the past on this and pressure him to be better. Out of everyone, we know Bernie is listening to our criticism and that he will be better here and elsewhere with ample public pressure.
In assessing the state of the race, it is clear that the vast majority of candidates on the Democratic side have chosen to adopt a piece of the stances long upheld and recently popularized through Bernie. It is also clear that everyone not named Bernie has taken it upon themselves to try and out-perform everyone else on the stage in the political show being broadcast by the mainstream media in partnership with the Democratic Party’s elite. It is a contest not to demonstrate to the working class who will best serve them, but a scramble to become the party’s chief entertainer. One of the gravest mistakes in this model is to – again – underestimate Donald Trump come November 2020.
Donald John Trump – for what it is worth – is the most entertaining president in the history of our country. To go further, he is the most entertaining political leader in the history of the world (I challenge anyone to dispute that). The ability to entertain the audience (i.e., victims) is how every con man has been successful, because the show distracts from the crime. Especially at this moment, it is essential to avoid gambling with putting Trump up against a mere standard political entertainer. The only way to assure defeat of the con is to contrast it with the genuine article, and everyone reading this should be clear as to what that means. It means we must scrap the soap opera and bury it with the issues if we hope to overcome the Trump Era and the best candidate at our disposal for that mission is Senator Bernie Sanders.