Arvanitakis on American politics: The third Democratic debate

| September 14, 2019

The question of any primary debate is whether the contest will change anyone’s mind? Will someone – particularly one of the front runners – fumble so badly that they will see their hopes go ‘up in smoke’? Alternatively, will someone do so well that they become an ‘unlikely’ favourite?

In the first Democratic Debate, Senator Kamala Harris did so well in her attack on the record of former Vice President Joe Biden – the candidate favoured to take the 2020 nomination – that she was considered a front runner. In the second debate, however, Senator Harris performed relatively poorly and has seen her support plateau with some of her financial backers losing confidence.

The third debate was held Thursday night here in the United States and it was the first time the ten main candidates, including Joe Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris were all on the same stage together.

This was by far the most fiercely contested of the debates so far and watching it unfold, four things became clear.

Biden leads the pack

The first is that Joe Biden is likely to remain the favoured front runner. He has firmly taken the centre left and is selling himself as the candidate to continue the Obama legacy – something that remains very popular within the Democratic base. Biden has this uncanny ability to ‘stand with Obama’ when discussing all the progressive achievements while somehow distancing himself from the more reactionary moments of the Obama Presidency.

‘Obama’s reactionary politics?’ you ask.  Well think deportations! Under Obama, deportations were above 385,000 annually (between 2009-2011) and hit a high of 409,849 (2012)numbers that ‘outshine’ the Trump Administration’s record.’

Warren and Sanders tussle for the reforming banner

The second point is that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are falling over each other to be the main reformers. While for Biden, it is all about progressive incremental change, Sanders and Warren want more and want it faster! Both Sanders and Warren are trying to find ways to capture the Obama legacy, but simultaneously argue that it is time for more aggressive progressive change.

This is highlighted by their varied positions around healthcare. For Biden, his position is clear: ‘Well, I’m for Barack — I think the Obamacare worked.” For Sanders and Warren, they have argued that it is time for a single public medical insurance provider which has been titled, ‘Medicare for all’.

To make the point, Warren argued that her position (as well as that of Sanders) is about building upon Obama’s “fundamentally transformative health care” legacy rather than unravelling it.

Biden draws fire

The third point is that Biden is increasingly the target as the contest gets closer to decision time. Biden was reminded by Julián Castro, one of the ten candidates on stage and who served as Mr. Obama’s housing secretary, that he was 76 years old when he made a quip about the former Vice President’s memory.

Bernie Sanders also reminded the audience that Biden believed Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush about weapons of mass destruction and supported the war in Iraq: something Biden expressed regret for.

It was left to Kamala Harris to remind everyone that the focus should be on Donald Trump. During the heated exchanges around healthcare, Harris stated, ‘At least five people have talked, some repeatedly on the subject, and not once have we talked about Donald Trump.’

Harris did not stop there, however, stating directly into the camera:

‘You have used hate, intimidation, fear and over 12,000 lies as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises. And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News.’

And later Harris jibed Trump by stating, ‘He reminds me of that guy in The Wizard of Oz — when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude.’

Same old, same old

The fourth lesson learnt is that generational change is unlikely this time round. Kamala Harris did not do enough to again be considered a front runner.

Meanwhile, the rest of the candidates, with the exception of Castro’s attacks on Biden and Cory Brooker’s assurance that as a vegan, he would not push Americans away from eating meat, made little impact.

Returning to the question, will anyone change their minds?

Having watched the debate and taken a straw poll from Democrats and Republicans alike here in the state of Wyoming, the answer is, ‘I do not think so’.