In the run-up to Sunday’s debate, I surely wasn’t alone in wondering why it was being held. The coronavirus pandemic is rattling the world and daily life in America is changing at the blink of an eye.
Does anything else matter? And do we really need to hear what Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have to say about it?
It turns out we didn’t, because neither man said anything significantly new or insightful on the topic. Nonetheless, the debate turned out to be important and anyone who sat through what often seemed like the longest two hours in television was rewarded. The pain was not in vain.
By the end, Biden had proved decisively why he’s more deserving to be the Democratic nominee. It was far and away his best debate yet.
Sanders, meanwhile, proved why he’s got a cult following and will never have anything more. At every opportunity, he saddled up his hobby horse of Medicare for All and rode it into the ground. He’s obsessively single-minded, and that’s not a compliment.
Even worse, he made no attempt to hide his hatred for a nation despite the fact that we are under siege. At one point, Sanders said the current crisis proved we had “rethink America” because we are rotten with “greed and corruption.”
He also made the extraordinary charge that there’s a “bunch of crook running the pharmaceutical industry” and that they are saying, “Oh, what an opportunity to make a fortune.”
It was a despicable attack on the American companies that employ hundreds of thousands of people, and are pitching in to help save lives.
Has Sanders ever helped anybody but himself? I find nothing admirable in a man who has spent his entire adult life denying the greatness of America while getting rich in the process.
For his part, Biden made only a few minor gaffes and there were no obvious brain-freeze or cringe-worthy moments. It had to be reassuring to his supporters and donors that he was focused and consistently made solid, relevant arguments.
Overall, he played it safe while still drawing important contrasts. He repeatedly chided Sanders for bringing up Medicare for All, saying this was an emergency and we needed to do things quickly to help people, not try to fight a “revolution.”
“This is like a war and being attacked from abroad. This is like a war,” Biden said.
Another time he noted that Italy had a single-payer system of the kind Sanders wants, and was still suffering one of the worst outbreaks of the deadly scourge.
In an obvious appeal to Sanders’ supporters, Biden said they both wanted the same things, starting with beating President Trump. They only differed, Biden said, in the details, and cited Sanders’ support for the gazillion-dollar Green New Deal as another example.
No doubt the Trump campaign will make sure voters know that Biden thinks he and Sanders share the same policy objectives, including on fracking.
The best news of all is that we likely won’t have to endure another Democratic debate. If Biden, as expected, sweeps the table in the four big primary states voting Tuesday, Sanders will have no argument for continuing his campaign. The delegate lead would be insurmountable and four more defeats would prove that Sanders has not expanded his base.
Yet even as Biden closes in on the nomination, the political atmosphere, like everything else, is turning on its head. For one thing, Trump looked to have a solid advantage with the expanding economy and low unemployment, but now a recession is looking more likely than not.
Thus, the election could then turn on an epidemic and an economic stall, two things nobody expected or planned for. That’s what the pros mean when they say that a week is a lifetime in politics.
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