The first night of round two is over for the Democratic debates. Candidates and moderators touched on important issues Democrats are grappling with like Medicare-for-all and illegal immigration. It is too early to say of course who won or lost this debate, you can’t determine that right afterwards based off of who had the best applause line. But I do think there was a broad trend that highlighted how the primary is, and in my opinion should be, shaping up.
A debate between the Center-Left and Progressives.
After 2016, it seemed like all the momentum was on the side of the Bernie Sander’s wing of the party. The Democratic Socialists of America were gaining members, AOC took out Joe Crowley, and every major presidential candidate signed up for Medicare-for-all or tried to initiate their own piece of progressive legislation. Fast forward to the 2019 Democratic debates and I think more moderate candidates are starting to make their own case. People like John Delaney, Michael Bennet, and Joe Biden are Democrats too, and they want to be clear that there are more options than just a hard left turn on every issue. These candidates see that there are still a significant number of older, more moderate Democrats in the party. They are also looking towards a general election where independents are much different than the average Democratic primary voter.
Bernie Sanders’ exchange with Congressman John Delaney over critiques of Bernie’s Medicare-for-all plan is an apt example of this dichotomy. One of his questions was about how hospitals, especially ones in rural areas, would stay open if, under Bernie’s Medicare-for-all system, the hospitals would be getting paid at current Medicare rates. If Bernie’s Medicare-for-all plan does continue to pay out healthcare at current Medicare levels, which Delaney indicated are 80%, that would mean hospitals would be getting less revenue and the result of that would be less healthcare and possibly hospital closures or staff firings.
Another issue Delaney brought up with Medicare-for-all is that it would create a two-tiered healthcare system. In a single-payer setup, people who can afford better healthcare will buy it with their own cash outside of the public program. Others, who aren’t so lucky since they can’t afford to pay more for healthcare, will get less quality healthcare than the wealthiest Americans.
In terms of pure debate performance, it was evident that Bernie did much better than during his first round. Clearly, someone lit a fire under him. His only shortcoming, as has always been the case, is exchanges like with Delaney when he is pressed for details on his plans. As much as I want to be swept away by Bernie’s utopia, I don’t think moderate voters do as well or he doesn’t have answers to satisfy their concerns.
Regardless of the disagreements, these are important debates to be having before the general election. During the Democratic debates, candidates should be staking out why their position is best and how they are going to make it happen (i.e. what are you going to do about the “devil” with the keys to the Senate…I’m looking at you, Mitch). That’s what these debates are and should be about. I don’t think the way the media covers these debates is true at all. They are not ‘fiery exchanges’ or some kind of battle. They are policy discussions that will make whoever the eventual nominee is stronger and better equipped to take on Donald Trump.
Other points from last night’s debate
Marianne Williamson received a few significant applause lines last night and that makes me nervous.
I don’t think measuring applause for one-liners is a significant indication of who did well or even won. My assumption is, the people who attend these debates are hard-core Democratic primary voters. Are they reflective of the voter in Iowa or New Hampshire? How about South Carolina or California? Wait to see what changes happen in the polls.