As primary season draws ever closer, the requirements for the Democratic Debates increase. Only ten Democratic nominee hopefuls took the stage in Atlanta to sell the American people on their visions of the future. @Balshumet gives insight into the night, with a particular focus on Andrew Yang.
On November 20, ten democratic hopefuls crowded onto the stage studio for a debate at Atlanta, Georgia’s Tyler Perry. Missing were three candidates from the last outing, with one—Beto O’Rourke—having dropped out of the race entirely. As the first all-female moderated debate began, opening statements were skipped in favor of jumping right into the two-hour affair.
The first subject of the debate was one that dominated the headlines: President Donald Trump’s potential impeachment. The sitting senators on stage were asked if they would try to convince their Republican colleagues to vote for impeachment, and how they would get it done. The question aimed to quiz the candidates with government experience on their ability to bridge gaps and work across the aisle. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom the question was aimed towards, answered in the affirmative and even chastised her Republican colleagues, saying “they should have read the Mueller report.” Warren believed that the report contained ample evidence of President Trump’s misdeeds. Sen. Bernie Sanders cautioned the field on focusing their entire campaigns on Trump, noting that the impeachment proceeding mattered, but not to the point of ignoring the needs of the working class Americans who were their constituents.
Warren’s wealth tax, and the Medicare for All plan she intends to fund with it, came under fire once again. This time, the habit of Warren, Sanders and the farther left wing of the Democratic Party of suggesting higher taxes came under attack by Sen. Cory Booker. He spoke on the desire he had seen among the black community to engage in entrepreneurship, and that the Democratic Party, especially the people represented by Sanders and Warren, seemed to be less focused on fostering small business and more focused on punishing the wealthy. Warren attempted to bring the conversation back to what her wealth tax intended to fund, but Booker’s objections were to the methods, and not the goals, and so her refutation fell a little flat.
At this point the two senators engaged in a heated back-and-forth that demonstrated the difference between the moderate and radical sides of the Democratic Party. While more left-leaning liberals preferred solutions involving wealth redistribution, the more moderate branches of the party, represented by former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others advocate for either a “return to normal,” the status quo before President Trump, or milder reforms of existing structures.
More than thirty minutes into the two-hour debate, Andrew Yang was asked his first question: How he, as an outsider without political experience, would handle terrorism or a major disaster. Yang highlighted the government’s current inability to counteract modern terrorism, bringing up AI and technology as one of “the true threats of tomorrow.” He also pointed out that the United States was “24 years behind on technology” and “losing the AI race to China,” and that he would focus on these modern threats.
The moderators moved on to discussing paid parental leave, asking how Yang would ease the financial burden of new parents. Yang noted that we were one of two countries without paid maternity leave, commenting “we need to get off this list” and explaining how his Freedom Dividend would help. This is unfortunate because he has a robust series of policies surrounding paid leave, including nine months leave for couples after the birth or adoption of a new child. It would have been a good use of time for him to highlight these proposals and dismiss concerns about being a “one-trick pony” candidate.
The moderators followed up by asking Sens. Kamala Harris and Klobuchar about their approaches to paid parental leave. They reiterated the field’s commitment to universal Pre-K and paid maternity leave, and discussed their contrasting plans.
The conversation then moved on through the trade war and climate change, before settling into foreign policy. Harris took a moment tout her foreign policy experience, proclaiming that “Trump got punked” to the amused laughter of the audience, before launching into an explanation of what she would do differently as president.
Sanders was then asked if he was “willing to cut a deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan, even if it collapsed the Afghan government?” He answered in the affirmative, reiterating his original votes against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in contrast to Biden, and extolling the virtues of rethinking the War on Terror. Building onto Yang’s earlier statement, Sanders’ point was that the way we fight terrorism now is outdated and a change will be needed to keep us competitive with our potential enemies.
Yang did get a flurry of laughter late in the debate in his answer about Putin. When asked what he’d say on his first call with Putin, he replied “I’m sorry I beat your guy.” He further asserted that “The days of meddling in American elections are over” and that American democracy was not to be trifled with.
As the debates wound into their final half hour, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Tulsi Gabbard engaged in verbal fisticuffs over comments the South Bend mayor made about cooperation with Mexico to stymie drug cartels. This turned into a discussion on racial insensitivity, and in an attempt to empathize with black voters, with whom he currently polls 0%, he commented “while I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country.”
As the debates closed, we were treated to the overarching vision of the candidates still on stage. While several, including Yang and Booker, have yet to qualify for the December debates and so their closing statements included calls to action to the polls, others were more focused on the road ahead. There is one exception to be made for Biden’s closing statement, which was oddly backwards looking and spent the majority of the time seemingly berating the listeners for not believing in America.
In the near fortnight that has passed since the fifth debates, a change in the polls has become more clear. Harris continues to fade, and in her place, Buttigieg has surged in both early voting states and national polls. All is not rosy in mayor town however, as his lack of authenticity with the black community and history of racially insensitive comments relating to that very same community have brought him under fire. As pundits are fond of saying, there is no path to the Democratic nomination without the black community, and unless Buttigieg finds a way to appeal to them and overcome or properly address his past statements, the surge is likely to stall out before it gets started.
As for the soothsayer of the fourth industrial revolution, Yang is still one poll short of attending the December debates, but has finally curried favor with some of the larger media outlets. Despite an open feud with MSNBC over the their so-called “media blackout”, the general punditry was impressed with this latest showing. With coffers flushed with cash from the previous quarter’s funding, and increased short-term funding goals in the millions being hit regularly, Yang’s candidacy is far from over.