Opinion: There were a number of winners in December’s Democratic debate — but only one clear loser

Other than being the least diverse debate so far this year, last night’s presidential Democratic debate was more of the same. Indeed, with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders leading the polls , it seems America is convinced that only a white man can beat Trump but hasn’t yet decided which one it should be.

Last night’s lineup included Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former VP Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and billionaire Tom Steyer. Former governor of New York Michael Bloomberg, the other billionaire in the race, wasn’t at the debate but he remains in the running. And even though former Rhodes scholar Sen. Cory Booker didn’t make the DNC’s polling cut, he’salso still in the race and is trying to get the DNC to change the rules which left him out last night.

The event at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles almost didn’t even happen because of a labor strike. California has traditionally held its primary in June, when the Democratic candidate has all but been picked. But this year it will hold its Democratic primary on March 3rd, Super Tuesday , making it one of the earliest states to do so.

One major takeaway last night was that, without Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris — who dropped out of the race — to draw attention to important issues facing black people in America, those issues quickly fall by the wayside.

Bernie Sanders stuck to his own favored issues with intense focus, but made a major misstep when he was asked about race inequality and instead insisted on bringing the conversation back to climate change. When Sanders was asked about the growth of illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, however, he had the courage to call out Israel for its actions against the Palestinian people. Buttigieg on the other hand shied away from giving a direct answer and instead muttered something forgettable about Trump’s foreign policy failures.

Except for Elizabeth Warren’s stellar response to a comment by moderator Tim Alberta about her age, most of the evening’s jokes fell flat. When reminded that, at 71, she’d be the oldest US president ever inaugurated, Warren retorted that she’d be “the youngest woman ever elected president of the US” as well.

If Buttigieg hadn’t been criticized by Sanders and Warren for holding expensive fundraisers, and Klobuchar for his lack of experience in elected office, his appearance at the debate would have been entirely unremarkable. His off-the-cuff remark about being a “gay dude” was the best part of his night, because he gave the audience a rare glimpse of his personality. Surprisingly, Buttigieg wasn’t called out for his questionable consulting work for McKinsey , or his racially problematic, paternalistic comments about a lack of role models in black communities .

Billionaire Tom Steyer had an overall solid performance for the amount of airtime he got, although he doesn’t have much of a platform. Steyer’s presence on last night’s stage was a harsh reminder, however, that like fellow Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg and President Donald Trump, being a white man with deep pockets will get you far in US politics, even if your experience and qualifications don’t.

Andrew Yang came across as clever and genuine, but still naïve. His Freedom Dividend plan to give $1,000 a month to working families has worked in other places like Stockton, California . But aside from that, his campaign lacks the concrete plans Warren’s camp presents for the immense challenges this nation faces in the years to come.

Yang’s claim that “we have to stop being obsessed with impeachment” showed the smart and successful tech entrepreneur isn’t ready to be a member of Congress, let alone president. In spite of its political unpopularity with middle America, President Trump’s actions with Ukraine met a legal threshold and triggered a Constitutional responsibility for the House of Representatives to hold the president accountable. Period.

Former prosecutor Amy Klobuchar seemed emboldened by her continued presence in the race and appears more and more confident in each debate. But her attempt to engage Buttigieg on his lack of experience in office largely backfired.

Unsurprisingly, Biden provided the evening’s three major gaffes. His first was when he interrupted moderator Amna Nawaz to question her pronunciation of “Afghanistan”, a word she pronounced correctly in spite of his insistence on using the Americanized pronunciation. The moment reminded me of when Arizona news anchor Vanessa Ruiz correctly pronounced Spanish words with a Spanish accent and received racist comments about it.

The other part of the night that made me want to bury my head in my hands was when Biden, responding to the moderator’s question about reparations for the descendants of slaves, began to ramble about immigrants, which had nothing to do with the question. The final “yikes” moment for Biden was when he imitated a child with a stutter — though it’s worth bearing in mind that Biden himself grew up with a speech impediment, and tweeted after the debate that he had “worked [his] whole life to overcome a stutter” (Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had mocked Biden for this moment during the debate, ended up having to apologize .)

Aside from those moments, the frontrunner was generally bland. He harped on how Sanders and Warren would pay for their healthcare plans: issues which, by now, both candidates have explained to death. In response to some criticism, Warren has even backtracked her plan somewhat, saying it would include a transitional period of three years with a public option to join if people wanted to.

So what was the final takeaway from December’s Democratic debate? Well, l ast night there was a clear winner and a clear loser. Warren again proved that she’s not only an expert debater, but also the most prepared candidate to tackle all the challenges facing this nation after one of the most destructive presidencies in modern history. From housing for people with disabilities to how to ease Americans into Medicare-for-All, she really does have a plan for everything. Her story about trying to stretch an insulin prescription between three people was touching and showed that she remains in touch with everyday Americans, that she remembers their stories and has contemplated their needs.

In the other corner Biden, yet again, made a compelling case as to why he isn’t the candidate to unite Americans and beat Trump at the polls in 2020. He’s not just awkward; he’s ignorant. And many Democratic voters, especially people of color, simply aren’t going to blindly support an ignorant, racially tone-deaf candidate — even if that candidate wins the Democratic nomination.

Originally published at https://www.independent.co.uk on December 20, 2019.

IHRL attorney & writer. Bylines in: PBS, USA Today, Independent UK, Al Jazeera, Romper, Ravishly, & National Catholic Reporter.

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