Thoughts on the marathon ‘debate’ last night?

NYT debate graphic

Or perhaps I should say, further thoughts, since some of y’all have started the discussion on the previous thread. Which is cool.

As a conversation starter, I thought I’d post an image of the graphic the NYT ran this morning to go with a piece they had about winners and losers, featuring some of their opinion writers.

I read that this morning, and several other accounts of the night, and the consensus of what I’ve read — and I don’t strongly disagree with any of it — goes kind of like this:

  • Warren had the best night. That’s the consensus. I thought she started strong — I liked her Mayberry approach, with talking about her Aunt Bee instead of her usual intense ranting — but wasn’t as great the rest of the time.
  • Bernie seemed more and more to observers what he has always seemed to me — the cranky uncle who puts people off.
  • Yang embarrassed himself right out of the running with his money-giveaway gimmick. Too bad. I liked him.
  • Castro was second-worst, they say. Personally, I’d put him dead last and move up Yang. Basically what he did was the equivalent of blowing himself up with a grenade, in the hope that he could also wound Joe Biden in the process. Most thought it was bad; I think it was worse. He hasn’t learned what Kamala Harris learned belatedly: In the end, Democrats won’t like you for attacking Biden — and, by extension, Obama.
  • Kamala Harris was too scripted and rehearsed. Pretty much everyone thought she came across as phony.
  • Klobuchar did fine, but it wasn’t enough. And as one writer said, she remains irrelevant as the moderate alternative, unless Joe blows up. I still think she did better than the graphic above indicates.
  • I liked what Gail Collins said about Cory Booker: “So intense he kind of runs you over.” He’s like a younger, slightly (but only slightly) cooler, version of Bernie.
  • Buttigieg did OK, I thought. But others seemed to think he had an off night.
  • Beto was Beto. Most seemed to think he had a strong night. He continues to seem the callow (but earnest) youth to me. In that age bracket, Buttigieg still outshines him.
  • Consensus seems to be that Joe did all right — not great, not badly. He’s still the front-runner — with Warren breathing down his neck.

That’s about it. What did y’all think.



47 thoughts on “Thoughts on the marathon ‘debate’ last night?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and during my reading this morning, I was reminded of this, and tweeted about it, risking everyone thinking I’m really slow on the uptake:

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and while there WAS a certain amount of consensus, it’s also interesting to see how intelligent professionals can look at the same thing and see it so differently.

    I mentioned what Gail Collins said about Booker: ‘So intense he kind of runs you over.”

    But Maureen Dowd said, “Not much of a presence.”

    For my part, I thought his best moment was when he said “No” to something, then announced he was going to translate it into Spanish: “No.”

    I thought that was a great way to gently mock Beto showing off with the Spanish…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Basically, observers went into this knowing that the one big question is whether Warren or Bernie would pull away and become the uber-left alternative to Biden.

    And the answer most came up with was: It’s Warren…

  4. bud

    Consensus seems to be that Joe did all right — not great, not badly. He’s still the front-runner — with Warren breathing down his neck.

    I guess we all see things differently. I thought Biden actually did ok, not great, but ok in the first 2 debates. The punditry world saw it differently. But I found him just dreadful last night. His education answer was Trumpesk in it’s meandering incoherence. And what was that insisting on talking on after his time was over? Now that was clearly rehearsed. Not a good moment at all. I didn’t get what he was saying about healthcare either. Castro got dissed for his attack, and it was overly harsh, but he did have a point. Does it cover everyone automatically or not? Seems like millions will still be uninsured. But I dunno. And he seemed tired near the end. I’m not picking on Biden for the sake of picking on him.

    I tried to grade this as though I had no preference and merely looked at their performance. I really like Warren but I found her performance mediocre. Bernie was Bernie but in this format that is not a good thing. But others seem to be grading Biden on a curve.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    FYI, I listened to some podcasts while taking my usual walking break this afternoon — NPR’s politics podcast and the NYT’s “The Daily” — and they didn’t diverge much from the consensus of what I’d read this morning…

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    Speaking of consensus on what happened…

    An interesting thing has happened since the first debate back in June.

    At the time, it was held by tout le monde that Kamala Harris had kicked Joe’s butt with her busing thing, and she got a bump in the polls from it. Everyone was saying she was headed for the front of the pack.

    This happened despite the fact that anyone who analyzed what she said (as some did, starting a day or two later) was likely to go, “Huh?” She didn’t make an argument about busing. She just played the “legitimacy of my experience” card so popular in Identity Politics circles (“I was that little girl.”) She didn’t present evidence that the busing had been beneficial or demonstrate that Joe was wrong to have opposed it. She just trotted out an emotional anecdote.

    I don’t know if it was because people slowly realized that, or what, but the thing is that her gain in the polls has slipped away from her over the last couple of months. It seems highly probable that this is less about her lack of substance, and more about the fact that Democrats — including the black Democrats who might have been expected to like what she did — don’t like people picking on Joe.

    And you’ll note that now, rather than attacking Joe, she follows Joe’s playbook — making it about Trump. Because she’s smart.

    Anyway, going into this debate, some of the commentary I was hearing was about what a mistake she had made back in June. The conventional wisdom had completely changed.

    Apparently, Castro didn’t hear any of that revised conventional wisdom…

  7. Dave Crockett

    I admit it. I couldn’t bring myself to watch yet another Democratic debate. I DVRed it and I’ll try to force myself to watch it later.

  8. bud

    It seems highly probable that this is less about her lack of substance, and more about the fact that Democrats — including the black Democrats who might have been expected to like what she did — don’t like people picking on Joe.

    If Biden is so fragile he can’t handle a few soft balls from his fellow Democrats then he really doesn’t deserve to be the nominee. What this tells me is that people really do consider him old and losing it mentally and feel a certain compassion that calls for an overly strident defense of him. But this is about who is to become president not a compassion for an old person playing Bingo at the assisted living facility. And Joe Biden is looking less and less fit for the job. Let’s not forget Biden had surgery for a brain aneurysm back in the 80s and he’s at a high risk for another. Given Brad’s obsessive defense of the man I think deep down even he understands how mentally and physically unfit this man is becoming. It is a sad truth but a truth nonetheless that people slow down as they get older. That is not ageism it is biology. Biden scares me more and more with each passing day. It’s time for the Democrats to wake up and smell the Geritol. This man is not up to the job. Heaven help us if he becomes our standard bearer.

    1. Doug Ross

      If Joe Biden can’t take the heat of one question from Julian Castro, I don’t even want to think about what it will be like when he on the stage one on one with Trump.

      If it ends up getting down to Warren, Bernie, and Joe next summer Trump will be able coast to victory.

        1. bud

          Are you sure? Yes Castro hurt his own cause, but he did have a point and the pundits noticed. All this whining and hand wringing by the Biden supporters is not reflecting well on him. Does he really want to be perceived as a helpless victim? That is what eventually caught up with Sara Palin. Little by little Sanders and especially Warren are gaining on Biden in the polls.

      1. bud

        No matter the Democratic nominee Trump will NOT “coast” to victory. All 3 of the people you mention are polling ahead of Trump in most head to head polls. Sometimes substantially.

          1. Doug Ross

            Are you sure Bernie or Warren can win Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan? Are you sure Joe is up for the type of campaign that will require him to be going state to state everyday from June to November? I’m not.

            Right now I’d say Trump has a 55% chance of winning re-election. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he will lose. Democrats focusing on immigration, reparations, and gun confiscation will not find a lot of crossover votes from people who care about jobs and the economy.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              “Are you sure Bernie or Warren can win Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan? Are you sure Joe is up for the type of campaign that will require him to be going state to state everyday from June to November? I’m not.”

              Neither am I. I’m never sure about anything in the future. I mean, I have as much confidence as a reasonable person can have that Joe is up to it — I’ve seen him on the stump recently. But pretty much anything can happen — Joe could have a stroke, as Trump could also do, and in fact even that young fella from South Bend could have a stroke — and all we can do in the present is try to shape that future as well as we can.

              Which makes me wonder, as I do with many of your comments: So, in light of all your questions, what do you think we should do? What is your recommendation? What is the way forward? What is the course that offers the best chance for a good outcome?

              I have my own answer to that, and y’all know what it is. But I don’t know what yours is, Doug…

                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  So you’re sure he “can win Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan?”

                  I know he’s tried to position himself as that guy. I don’t know if he’s been successful or not. Personally, I think Joe would be stronger in those places, especially Pennsylvania.

                  He has experience winning in those places. He and Obama won all four of those states in 2008 AND 2012….

                2. Doug Ross

                  I think he would have the same shot the rest have with the added possibility of energizing a lot of young voters and voters who are tired of old politicians.

                  Obama won those states, not Joe. Joe has no history of winning any state in any attempt at the presidency.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    I don’t want voters getting “energized” — young ones, old ones, what have you.

                    I want everybody to calm the bleep down….

                    As I’ve mentioned before, I want to Make America Boring Again…. So do lots of other people, which is one reason why Joe continues to lead in the polls. We don’t want someone who will excite us, the way the lefties get excited about Elizabeth Warren and such.

                    Promise me normal, and show me you know what normal looks like, and I’ll take an interest in voting for you…

                    1. Bryan Caskey

                      Top 5 “coolest/calmest” (under pressure) movie characters:

                      1. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan.
                      2. Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) in The Hunt for Red October.
                      3. Hilts (Steve McQueen) in The Great Escape.
                      4. Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) in Unforgiven.
                      5. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) in Godfather I and II.

                    2. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Hagen was probably THE coolest, intentionally and systematically. That was one of the main things he had learned from the Don — don’t ever let anyone outside the Family know what you’re thinking (something Sonny could not seem to absorb). Probably the best illustration is when Woltz is doing his best to curse and insult him, and he says, “I have a special practice; I handle one client — Now you have my number; I’ll wait for your call — By the way, I admire your pictures very much.” I don’t think anyone but Duvall could have pulled that off.

                      But even he had his moment of weakness, when Sollozzo told him the Don had been killed. It shook him, badly.

                      Munny was tormented. Capt. Miller, as good an infantry leader as he was, was on the verge of a crackup all the way through.

                      Ramius and Hilts were probably the most consistently cool… although, I now recall, Hilts had that moment of pure emotion when Ives was killed and he attacked the guard holding the Schmeisser.

                      So that leaves Ramius. I can’t think of a point at which he cracked…

                    3. Bryan Caskey

                      This is excellent analysis. Now that you point it out (and I think about it) maybe Munny isn’t really a good fit for cool. He’s maybe more like burned out, cold-hearted. It’s more like he’s beyond caring, which is similar, but in a melancholy way. Cool isn’t melancholy.

                      Cpt. Miller was certainly scared, but you would have to be crazy not to be scared on D-Day. His cool came from how he defused tense situations with a bit of humor. His line of “Pay attention, now this is the way to gripe” is great. When his men were arguing and fighting with each other later, he changed their focus by finally telling them where he was from, starting with “What’s the pool on me up to?” His ability to lead men came from both actual fighting and the ability to bond them together. His coolness was part of that.

                    4. Brad Warthen Post author

                      I don’t mean to denigrate Miller in any way. His leadership abilities were unassailable. It’s not only gripes that go up rather than down; it’s also showing your fear and stress. He kept his game face on in front of the men.

                      But he wasn’t “cool” in the sense that Hilts was. Hilts was a Hollywood fiction, and the ultimate expression of Hollywood cool. (He was, in fact, totally a marketing strategy for American audiences, an American star superimposed on a real-life story about what British officers did.)

                      Miller was a hero because he led his men ably and bravely even when he was falling apart inside. I’m thinking less of his hand shaking in the Higgins boat on the way to the beach than when he hid in the bomb crater and broke down sobbing after they took the machine-gun nest (at his insistence, when they could have avoided it) and Wade was killed. He was on the ragged edge. And note that that was within a moment or two of the “What’s the pool on me up to?” thing. He rose to his duty despite what was happening to him on the inside.

                      The two characters were bookends, in terms of Hollywood’s portrayal of the war.

                      I had a bit of a shock a few years ago when I persuaded one of my daughters to watch “The Great Escape” with me. In the scene in which Hilts and Ives are sent to the cooler for the first time, she suddenly said, “What’s with the sprightly music?” I had never noticed before, but yeah, the filmmakers made sure to keep the mood light — a couple of our brave lads cocking a snook at the Hun, totally unconcerned about what would happen to them.

                      That’s the way the war was portrayed 20 years after the fact, as the men who fought it entered their 40s. It was a lark! We beat them and stayed cool doing it! This music wasn’t as bad as “Hogan’s Heroes,” but my daughter had a point. She knew that her grandfather spent the latter part of the war in a German prison camp, and there was nothing funny about it.

                      With “Saving Private Ryan,” we had realism — not just in the action, but in how the men felt about it…

                    5. Brad Warthen Post author

                      On the subject of being cool…

                      Anyone ever notice that McCartney’s lyric in “Hey, Jude”…

                      For well you know that it’s a fool
                      Who plays it cool
                      By making his world a little colder

                      … is logically backwards?

                      Seems to me you make your world a little colder by playing it cool, not the other way around…

                    6. Brad Warthen Post author

                      When I was a kid, and “The Great Escape” was easily my favorite movie, I would have considered it an outrage for anyone to suggest that anyone was cooler than Hilts…

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      You and Doug seem to misunderstand what I’m saying. Doug writes, “If Joe Biden can’t take the heat,” and you write, “If Biden is so fragile…”

      That’s not the point I was making in that passage you quoted from me.

      My point is that Democratic voters remember the Obama and Biden administration quite fondly, and consequently they don’t like seeing our former veep disrespected.

      So it backfires on the people who do the disrespecting.

      I had already formed a negative impression of Castro. I can’t remember what it was, but something he did and said in a previous debate had made me think, “He’s kind of a jerk.” That impression became much firmer last night.

      Buttigieg gets it. As he said in response to Castro:

      “This is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable,” he said. “This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington, scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”

      That excerpt, by the way, is from a Frank Bruni column in which he called what Castro did “nasty” and “just plain crude”…

      1. bud

        My point is that Democratic voters remember the Obama and Biden administration quite fondly …

        True, but I would maintain they mostly remember Obama fondly. Biden can only tie his star to Obama so much. He has a whole history before his time as VP. Much of it is not aging well. That history along with his strange behavior is slowly coming across to the Democratic voters. His time as Obama’s VP can only inoculate him for so long.

        1. Barry

          With Trump as the nominee, many like me will vote for a pinto bean sandwich over Trump.

          If Joe is the nominee, he will gladly get my vote even if he can’t remember his name,

  9. Bill

    My late partner,Mike… HATED. AUNT. BEE!!!
    He had Holy Water(blessed,from,Lourde’s(!) to throw at the TV when we watched that show;Andy Griffith…,and she was on…Catholics…

  10. Brad Warthen Post author

    More on the “debate,” from Frank Bruni’s enewsletter today:

    I often wince at the insults traded during political debates, but Julián Castro’s intimation that Joe Biden had dementia actually made me cringe. It was a cruel and crude cut above — or, rather, below — the usual nastiness. I said so in my quickie post-debate analysis, and I feel that way still.

    I also feel that Castro’s attack was emblematic. We’ve entered an especially coarse chapter in American politics. We’ve also entered a spectacularly unsubtle one, in which what stands out and wins the day are big jokes, bold strokes and broad-brush moralizing. Tidy, intellectually facile dichotomies rule: good and evil; villain and victim; oppressor and oppressed. The least exalted real estate is the middle ground and, as I’ve written before, the most rapidly fading shade is gray.

    Over the days since the debate, as I reckoned with how unsatisfied it left me and as I thought more about why, I realized that the paucity of nuance was a big reason. Time and again, Kamala Harris swung for the emotional bleachers or lunged for a punch line. Beto O’Rourke wasn’t just fed up with legislative timidity regarding guns; he was coming for your weapons! (And he just might curse a whole bunch en route.) Andrew Yang was . . . raffling off money or something? And Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were going to wave a big, fantastically expensive federal wand and make your worries go away….


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Speaking of the pettiness and superficiality of our age.

      Jesus complained of the same nonsense. I share this from today’s readings in the Catholic lectionary:

      “To what shall I compare the people of this generation?
      What are they like?…

      For John the Baptist came neither eating food nor drinking wine,
      and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
      The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you said,
      ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
      a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
      But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”…

      Sounds kind of like the way people get ganged up on on Twitter, doesn’t it? All or nothing. Whatever you do, the mob is ready to condemn you for it…

  11. Doug Ross

    Which of the candidates will put an end to this?

    “U.S. drone strike kills 30 pine nut farm workers in Afghanistan
    JALALABAD (Reuters) – A U.S. drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State (IS) hideout in Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians resting after a day’s labor in the fields, officials said on Thursday.”

    I know Tulsi will. I’m pretty sure Bernie will. Who else?

    I’ll put up with all of Bernie’s socialist ideas if he does one thing: stop the needless killing of innocent people in the name of a unwinnable undeclared unjustified unethical “war”. Killing 30 civilians means 30 families and their circle of friends NEVER accepting the U.S. as the great savior we proclaim to be. It does more harm than good.

    1. Harry Harris

      I think you are pointing out a problem that’s under-addressed. The euphemism “collateral damage” shows our need to justify horrible mistakes and ignores the value of that “damage” to recruiters of terrorists and American haters as you point out.
      We value the lives of our own troops, and continuously look for ways to “neutralize”enemy fighters without exposing ours to harm. That puts at risk more civilians and even friendly troops fired at from farther and farther away. A highly prized medal was even awarded to a drone pilot in Houston which infuriated many former American military who risked their lives fighting face-to-face. I think a separate medal was created subsequently. Ol’ crude loudmouth Bill Maher lost his TV show once for objecting to a statement that the twin towers suicide pilots were “cowards.” He pointed out that they died, while our favorite tactic was to “lob cruise missiles” from across the globe.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Doug, it doesn’t seem like I should need to point this out, but I’m pretty sure no one intended to kill 30 pine nut farm workers in Afghanistan. At least, no one on the U.S. side.

      The other side intends to do things like that all the time. That’s why they need to be opposed. And it’s why it would be unwise to abandon Afghanistan so that it can return to what it was in 2001 — a safe base for people who deliberately kill not 30 innocent people, but 3,000 — and more, if they can manage it.

      There’s the distinction.

      Do I know what the solution is for Afghanistan? No. It’s a knotty problem. But pretending everything would be fine if we abandoned it doesn’t make it so.

      And engaging in rhetoric like we’re going around killing innocents for the hell of it doesn’t help us find the solution…

      1. Harry Harris

        I find nothing in Doug’s rhetoric that suggests that our military goes around purposely or callously killing innocents. They certainly do try to justify it when it is discovered or uncovered. Doug’s oft-stated solution might well work, but it opens up other problems that can be worse. I favor a small residual force in Afghanistan – large enough to protect itself and focussed on training and developing leadership among allied Afghans but almost never exposed in direct fighting. Closely- placed strategic forces should stand in support of Afghan troops to ensure no disaster or buildup of extremist insurgents. Afghanistan is no place to be if we want nearby allies, so maybe the gulf would be the place to sit for several reasons. Our troops will never be 100% safe because of the nature of asymmetric warfare and insurgencies (insurgents don’t respect the rules of war – remember the American patriot/partisan fighters).
        Biden might suggest some sort of semi-soft partitioning in Afghanistan as he did in Iraq, because the dynamics there seam just as violent and unmoveable as in Iraq – where the hatred is still at a high level though its expression is suppressed.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, this is a big digression, but…

          “remember the American patriot/partisan fighters”

          I DO, and I’ve always had a problem with them. That is, I’ve always had a problem with Lexington and Concord.

          I’m a patriotic kind of guy, but that one has always bothered me. We had the duly-constituted legal authority — the redcoats — doing their duty enforcing the law… and we start SHOOTING at them?

          Had I been there, I don’t think I could have justified that.

          It was different later, particularly after the Declaration (more than a year later), which put things on a different footing. Or at least I tell myself that.

          But I don’t think I could have brought myself to fire the “shot heard ’round the world…”

    3. David T

      You would have really hated WWII when sides would bomb entire cities to knock out one target. Now we use laser and GPS guided smart bombs. It’s worldwide news now when 30 civilian casualties get killed, what would happen if that turned into 3000 which wasn’t uncommon large bombing missions.

      1. Harry Harris

        Yeah but that was WWII 70 years ago when Germany had this egomaniacal politician who took power by demonizing groups inside and outside the country, blaming the populace’s woes on ethnic and small religious groups. He compromised the church by getting backing from some leaders and appointing others willing to give up blindly the real underpinnings of their religion for access to political power – “one Lord, one church, one faith, one church, one Reich.” He ignored and changed the constitution and court system and appointed to power only those who would buy in to his dictatorship. He called the mainstream press enemies until they bent to his dictates. He called most of his opponents enemies of the state. Oh, wait a minute! I’ve got to quit thinking about this.


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