Despite all the craziness resulting from the Paris attacks, there were actually two Presidential debates last week. One was on Tuesday night for the Republicans, and one on Saturday night for the Democrats. I confess that I didn’t watch the Republican debate, although I did see a few of the “highlights” – such as they are. And, I did read some of the commentaries. On the other hand, I did watch the Democratic debate even at its awkward Saturday night time, and have some observations on that.
The Republican Debate
The best commentary that I read on the Republican debate was probably Michael Cohen’s review of it in the Boston Globe. From what I have seen of previous debates, it sounds to me like he pretty much got it right. Here are the highlights of what Cohen had to say:
- Ben Carson is devoid of “any semblance of coherence or a keen grasp of major public policy issues.” Carson “might be a brilliant doctor, but he doesn’t have the basic skills, intelligence, or qualifications needed to be President.” What’s worse is that he appears to be “completely unaware of it.” That about a quarter of Republicans are currently supporting him for president is pretty much “everything you need to know about the state of intellectual discourse in the modern Republican Party.” Amen to that.
- Donald Trump is just plain mean, but probably won. Trump was “his usual blustery self, but one exchange was particularly remarkable.” In explaining his plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants he praised a program initiated by Dwight Eisenhower to deal with illegal Mexican immigrants. “Operation Wetback,” is generally considered “one of the cruelest moments in recent American history.”
- Marco Rubio only talks in platitudes. Rubio’s answer to every question is to return to his campaign stump speech and deliver platitude after platitude. According to Rubio, we need an economy for the “21st century,” we need to make the “American Dream” real, “the world is changing faster than ever,” and “being a parent is the most important job in the world.” When pushed by Rand Paul as to how he can propose a massive tax cut while also spending billions more on defense, Rubio “retreated to the hoariest of campaign trail declarations,” that “the world is a safer place when America is the strongest military power in the world.”
- Ted Cruz, who is “trodding over much of the same political ground as Rubio,” also talks in platitudes, but he’s better at aiming his message to conservative voters. There’s a harder edge to what he says; a better facility at hitting conservative sweet spots, like in his constant bashing of the media.
- Jeb Bush is sad. “Every time he tried to assert himself by interrupting one of his fellow candidates, he got shouted down and meekly backed away.” At one point, Trump “stood up” for him and told John Kasich “you should let Jeb speak,” which “only served to make Bush look more ineffectual and weak.” Jeb simply doesn’t have the fire in his belly or the political chops to stand out in a group of bomb-throwers. He’s got lots of money to spend and a lot of establishment support, but it increasingly feels like he’s just playing out the string.
- Republicans do not care about the working class. There was an exchange when Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto asked several candidates if they supported increasing the minimum wage to $15. Donald Trump responded that wages in the United States are “too high.” Remarkably, Carson followed up by agreeing with Trump and Marco Rubio chimed in and called the minimum wage a “disaster.” The way GOP candidates do talk about delivering a “helping hand” is through cutting taxes, a policy prescription that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy and provides meager benefit to those at the bottom of the economic ladder. If you get “past the platitudes and hosannas to the American dream what you have is an economic ideology that would be a complete disaster for American workers.”
The Democratic Debate
A number of people have commented on the fact that the Democratic debates have been scheduled at times when it seems likely that not many people will watch them. The website Mediaite has kind of a furious piece by J.D. Durking, laying the blame for this with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is essentially accused of being an acolyte for Hillary Clinton and of trying to “aid in [her] perceived coronation.”
It is a little curious, I must say, but I don’t think Hillary is going to need all that much help for her upcoming coronation. My observations from the debate:
- Martin O’Malley really did not get any fair share of time from the moderators, and when he did have some time it felt like he was rushing to make his points, since no one knew when he would get another chance. Still, he’s doing a fine job, and preparing himself for whenever he runs again four or eight years from now. He’s getting good practice in now.
- None of the candidates had strong disagreements with each other. Bernie and Hillary had some disagreements around the Affordable Care Act – Bernie still wants to go the “single payer” route, but let’s face it, that is just not going to happen while we have a Republican Congress – and Hillary was much more in defense of the Affordable Care Act and making modifications to it. Hillary only wants to increase the minimum wage to $12 instead of the $15 that Bernie and O’Malley want, but again, no one is going to get $15 with a Republican Congress. Even if the Senate returns to Democratic hands, $12 will be a stretch.
- Hillary does have some vulnerability that she receives such large political contributions from Wall Street. Bernie, as is well known, doesn’t actually have a Political Action Committee. And Hillary’s explanation that she was the Senator in the state where Wall Street resides is clearly not enough of an explanation. Bernie is right – Hillary’s Wall Street contributors know that they are going to get something from her. And generally what they get is access. It was Hillary’s husband, after all, who was very much part of the deregulation of Wall Street which led to the crash of 2007. Glass-Steagal was largely repealed in 1999, in the last year of Bill’s 2nd Would restoring Glass-Steagal make a big difference. It’s beyond my scope of expertise to know whether it would or would not.
- Bernie is correct: under General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the top effective tax rate was 90%. Ike was arguably more of a “socialist” than Bernie. But still, he’s going to have to put some flesh on the bone, and put a number to the top tax rate that he would like to impose. It doesn’t matter anyway, because it’s not going to happen.
- Bernie really does sound like Larry David. He’s going to have to stop waving his hands around so much.