Thursday night was the 2020 Democratic primary main event, so instead of having only one candidate polling above ten percent as for the previous night’s undercard debate, the debate hosted two — Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. That sentence reads as uncanny, given that there were several big names on the stage last night which have been featured prominently in the media for several months. But names like Kamala Harris have been in the media mostly because of her drop in polling, and even though Pete Buttigieg has been getting a lot of press for his rapid rise through the ranks he started at basically zero, so even with a significant increase in his numbers he’s still tied with Harris at around seven percent.
Harris and her team apparently took the poor polling numbers to heart — she came to this debate with a plan. Early on when it seemed as if all the candidates were speaking at once and none of them intended to stop, Harris waited for the right moment to drop a zinger and pivot swiftly into her opening remarks. From start to finish she had the strongest performance, taking shots at front runner Joe Biden for his atrocious voting record and getting him to do something that no other candidate in any debate I’ve ever seen — not one single person — has ever done.
Amid a passionate and personal attack on his career, Biden’s only defenses were outright lies and blatant falsehoods. “I did not oppose desegregated busing,” he claimed, “I merely opposed the Department of Education forcing desegregated busing.“ Sorry Joe, when the blatantly racist school boards let it be known that they have no intention of desegregating, and you want to give them the authority to continue segregated busing, that’s opposing desegregated busing.
“I did not praise racists,” he stated indignantly. Actually Joe, you fucking liar, you did precisely that when you eulogized the famously racist Strom Thurmond at his funeral, and that’s not even counting the bizarre remarks about arch-segregationist and vocal racist James O. Eastland. Harris, motivated by her personal connection to the busing issue, put him into a corner so quickly that his only escape was to do the one thing no one could have expected, the thing no one does in a presidential debate: admit that he had gone past his speaking time and shut his stupid mouth.
But it wasn’t just Harris taking shots at Joe Biden. California representative Eric Swalwell took the opportunity to remark that it was time to “pass the torch,” an apparent dig at frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, both in their 70s. Just in case no one understood that it was a dig at the two elderly statesmen he repeated it a half-dozen times throughout the night.
Another powerful criticism came later from Colorado Senator Michael Bennett. While Biden extolled the power and virtue of his across-the-aisle dealmaking, using the example of him working with arch-goblin Mitch McConnell in late 2012 to raise taxes, Bennett rightly pointed out the fact that this move was a disaster for Democrats. The Bush tax cuts, a massive transfer of wealth to the already wealthy, were set to expire and Mitch McConnell, who is nothing if not cunning, used this opportunity to manipulate Joe Biden with the end result of having the tax cuts made permanent instead. “It was a great deal for Mitch McConnell,” Bennett said with what seemed like real anger in his voice. “It was a terrible deal for Americans.”
Without meaning to, Biden provided the perfect example of why he is, despite being the current front runner, a terrible choice for President of the United States: he has no real beliefs or goals but thinks compromise and working with the enemy both count as such. “Compromise” is not a goal in and of itself, it’s a strategy used to reach a goal. Biden doesn’t understand this, because to him it’s all been a big game of “Let’s Make A Deal” except you’re allowed to lie if you want. He is completely incapable, and more importantly, unwilling, to see politics as a battle for the control of the distribution of resources. He can’t see it that way, because by those metrics he’s been an absolute failure for the vast majority of his career of catering to the credit card companies that use his state as a tax haven. To ghouls like Biden, you’re not losing so long as you get re-elected, even if your constituents fall lower and lower into debt and misery.
We’re talking about a man who, in June of 2019, walked into a room of wealthy donors and assured them nothing would fundamentally change if he were elected. Anyone who can look around at the nation and think “don’t worry folks, I’m gonna keep this the same” is either delusional or psychotic. This is “America Is Already Great” all over again, a giant “Fuck You” to anyone being ground into the dirt by the material conditions of their lives from some out-of-touch millionaire. It is shockingly offensive, and when questioned about it Thursday night he uttered some pablum about how we can make life better for the “middle class” — whatever he thinks phrase refers to — while not blaming millionaires and billionaires for the immiseration of everyone else. He’s going to do some kind of alchemy and simply create more resources from thin air, so there’s no need to redistribute anything from the wealthy to the working class.
Joe Biden’s poll numbers have been shrinking slowly but steadily since early May, and after the harsh criticism and weak defense on Thursday, I don’t expect that trend to change any time soon. He’s a brazen liar who thinks everyone is as dumb as he is, and the country is better off with him riding an Amtrak train back to Delaware.
Also, for what it’s worth, his record on cannabis is abysmal.
The stage that night was a clear look into the rift within the Democratic party. Politicians like Joe Biden and John Hickenlooper, the Colorado governor who vigorously opposes the Green New Deal and once drank Halliburton fracking fluid to prove that it was safe, claim to want to work within the system to make whatever changes are necessary. They have each openly admitted that “the system” needs to be preserved, seemingly even in the case where the system is clearly broken and dooming a significant portion of the country, if not the world. A perfect example of such is Hickenlooper confidently stating Thursday night that he would enlist the help of fossil fuel companies in tackling the problem of climate change. He sees no drawback to relying on the corporations that have made trillions of dollars causing the problem and are at this very moment profit from delaying and destroying attempts to ameliorate the problem, in solving the problem. It’s so god damned dumb it almost gave me a stroke.
On the other side of the rift are politicians like Bernie Sanders and, to a point, Kirsten Gillibrand, who called out the very notion of compromise as a hallmark of a good leader, noting that she would never compromise on women’s reproductive rights. These two, at least understand that there is an enemy, and that to compromise and parlay with that enemy is to drift further and further into a morass where nothing gets done and any proposed action is either deconstructed into oblivion or watered down into impotence. In light of this, notions like Pete Buttigieg’s “the best way to move past an obstructionist GOP Senate majority is to call out their hypocrisy” is hopelessly foolish and naive and a proven failure.
Biden and Hickenlooper don’t see these things as a negative, though. To them, that’s just what politics is. It’s what it’s been all their entire life, and they don’t want that to change. But it has to change, and any liberal telling you otherwise is either a craven liar or medically stupid. You can’t reform ICE like Hickenlooper has suggested, because no reform is going to alter its fundamental purpose of rounding up brown people. Its purpose is the problem.
The simple, ugly truth that progressives have been trying in vain to show the moderate and establishment Democrats is that, ultimately, the people who rule us are beholden to the groups that fund them as opposed to the electorate. The system that Democrats like Biden and Hickenlooper are desperate to defend was built by those groups, and no system built by them will allow any energy to be directed against them. Some moderates claim to understand this but fear that progressive policies stink of “socialism” and thus are already dead in the water and that pushing for too much too quickly will lose the whole game. They’re wrong, of course; the game has already been lost, and we’re all on the losing team, but those frightened ninnies are still better than the others. The others know that idea for the horseshit that it is and simply want to preserve the structure that benefits themselves, but simultaneously realize they can’t just come out and say that.
Unless they’re Joe Biden, anyway.
The bleak truth, though, is that all the people on that stage are either on one side of the rift or the other, or even in the meaningless void between, and many of them are doing their level best to occlude where they are deliberately. Many of the people we’re relying on to keep the world from tearing itself apart are trying to have their progressive bona fides while maintaining enough vagueness to still have a moderate push in the general election, which is the strategy that failed in 2016.