On Oct. 15, 12 candidates took the stage for the fourth Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2020 electoral season. CNN and The New York Times hosted the extensive three-hour debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Needless to say, I have several thoughts after watching it.
Before I dive deeper, I must express some frustration. For one, there were no designated opening or closing statements on account of the record number of candidates onstage. But I’m even more infuriated that critical issues like climate change, immigration, housing and LGBTQ rights were neglected entirely. As I’ve argued previously, we’d benefit tremendously from winnowing our current candidate pool. Any active candidates who didn’t qualify for this debate should put themselves out of their misery, but who of the onstage candidates should follow suit?
Let’s start with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who, after threatening to boycott this debate, gave a performance I’ve largely boycotted from my memory. Billionaire and activist Tom Steyer’s first appearance, while inoffensive, also felt superfluous and Sen. Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro’s limited speaking time signals their bleak prospects, too. Although these candidates present respectable viewpoints, they’re occupying time that would be allotted more judiciously among the true contenders.
For a politically inexperienced individual with inadequate speaking time, Andrew Yang’s words had remarkable staying power. While he remains a longshot, I appreciate his tech savvy and support of universal basic income. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke stepped up his game yet lost me with his vague mandatory assault weapon buyback policy and insinuation that his peers lacked the courage to support it. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar never been my top choice either, but she offers levelheaded, rational discussion and a plethora of witty soundbites.
Sen. Kamala Harris stuck to her identity as an enforcer of cold, hard justice and performed largely as expected. However, her incessant, futile attempts to garner Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s support for a ban of President Trump’s Twitter account didn’t come off well. I understand Harris’s desire, but as Warren noted there are simply more pressing matters to address. Refreshingly enough, former Vice President Joe Biden finally gave a more inspired performance. I like him much more when he goes off script and showcases his innate charisma and passion. He particularly shined when addressing his son’s involvement with Ukraine–speaking with conviction and boosting himself by citing Trump’s fear-induced emphasis of this controversy–and his old age, proposing that his extra wisdom and experience would benefit him. Although, Biden wisely laid claim to several accomplishments, he perhaps overextended himself when touting himself as “the only one on this stage that has gotten anything really big done.” Meanwhile Warren, one of my favorite candidates, arguably had one of the most middling performances. She finally suffered “frontrunner syndrome,” i.e., her ascendance in the polls incited an influx of attacks from her straggling onstage peers. She handled some critiques, namely of her aggressiveness and old age and of her plan to protect consumer data from big tech companies well, and others, particularly of her ambiguous stance on raising the middle class’s taxes in the event of Medicare’s universal enactment, poorly. While Warren’s performance fell slightly below my expectations, I can only hope that such adversity will benefit her moving forward.
On a positive note, Mayor Pete Buttigieg consistently raised salient points–his openness toward Supreme Court reform and depoliticization was especially thought-provoking–and masterfully exploited his peers’ faulty arguments. Initially I’d dismissed him as someone who wasn’t quite ready yet, but he certainly appeared presidential and thus merits closer consideration. Then there’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, another of my favorite candidates. Unlike Warren, he easily combated the constant barrage of attacks levied against him, passionately and candidly defending his “radical” healthcare and economic proposals and expressing a sense of urgency in fighting social injustice. Although he suffered a heart attack recently, Sanders’s vibrant performance should put to rest any concerns about his age and health –and let’s not downplay the significance of electing our first Jewish president, either. He and Warren have been fighting neck-and-neck for my primary vote, but Sanders clearly won the night and now sits atop my pecking order.
Of course, don’t take my words as gospel. Regardless of your political affiliation and candidate preferences, I urge you all to watch or track any upcoming presidential debates and think critically about the candidates and ideas being presented, and engage in our democracy.
Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.