Friday, February 21, 2020

That Debate

My former Mayor, Mile Bloomberg, made his much anticipated first appearance on the debate stage Wednesday night, and the result by all accounts was disastrous for him. Perhaps that should not have been such a surprise. He hasn't had to do this since the last time he ran for mayor in 2009. Maybe more to the point, in private life as a rich person he probably has seldom had to deal with anyone directly disagreeing with or challenging him. Voters should be grateful that the rules were changed to make him eligible to debate. Otherwise all most voters would have to go on would be his very attractive ads, which undoubtedly deserve much of the credit for his surprisingly high standing in the polls. 

Like most mayors, Bloomberg's record was mixed. He should have been better prepared to answer the inevitable questions about the negative aspects of that record - e.g., Stop and Frisk. That he was so ill-prepared to do so and to deflect the discussion to the more positive aspects of his record, as well as to his commendable contributions to the campaign against guns and climate change, speaks at minimum to his unpreparedness to compete against other candidates who have been already campaigning seemingly forever. 

The terrible irony of the debate was that, if Bloomberg was supposed to be the party's savior from Sanders, his presence on the debate stage and the fact that most of the others' attacks were directed against him, instead of against Sanders, seems only to have strengthened Sanders' position as the putative front-runner - an outcome desired by no one else, except Sanders' fanatical followers. 

Pete Buttigieg was almost alone in seriously challenging Sanders, not that it did Sanders much harm or Buttigieg much good. He did effectively summarize the party's dilemma with both former-Republican Bloomberg and Independent Sanders, when he suggested that the party ought to nominate a Democrat. Of course, in the good old days when conventions functioned as they were intended to, and candidates were selected there by real party leaders, this would not have been a problem.

So, far from saving the party from Sanders, Bloomberg has just become one more divisive figure among the would-be 'moderates' all competing against each other instead of uniting against Sanders - in effect, replicating the error Republicans made during their nominating process in 2016, when they competed against each other instead of against Trump.

Of course, candidates' records need to be challenged. But our seemingly perpetual obsession with finding faults in candidates' pasts and minor mistakes in the present gets in the way of offering voters the attractive alternative needed to inspire them to vote. There really are more important tests of a candidate than knowing the name of every foreign leader.  

Above all, the greatest failure of the debate was its inward-looking focus. A proverbial space alien watching the debate would hardly have become aware of the threats posed by the incumbent Republican President to everything from election security to the rule of law to accessible health care, all of which the candidates should be talking more about and offering an attractive alternative to.

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