I leave it largely to others to deliver detailed content analysis of last night’s Democratic debate. I want to make a few general observations.
First, the questioners did as well as could be expected. There was no way to make a 10-person “debate” fair and comprehensive. Complaints that this or that topic wasn’t covered or wasn’t covered sufficiently are disingenuous. The event was a combination meet-the-candidates opportunity and a minor trial-by-ordeal.
No candidate said anything stupid. (Everyone passed the trial-by-ordeal.) This outcome is not a given in such events, and the absence of serious gaffs was gratifying. It did not help narrow the field, however.
That said, I think the overall sense of the answers offered by the candidates showed Democrats to have genuine concerns for the welfare of the vast majority of Americans, as opposed to those of the rich, the powerful, and the corporations. I hope that Republican voters were watching last night with open minds.
Many analysists have remarked on the scarcity of criticism of Donald Trump. This surprised me not at all. It is given that Trump is anathema to all Democrats. Last night’s participants were concerned with introducing themselves to the electorate and differentiating themselves from one another. Debating who hates the president more would not have advanced those objectives.
I was offended when Beto O’Rourke began an answer in Spanish. Because Telemundo was broadcasting the event in Spanish, this struck me as simply showing off. Spanish-speaking viewers, therefore, understood everything that was said; English speakers, not so much. Julián Castro and Cory Booker also throw in some Spanish, although it isn’t clear whether they were just trying to one-up O’Rourke.
Moderators did not always maintain control, through some of the most interesting moments came when candidates spoke out-of-turn. Again, at some level, the format was hopeless for serious dialogue. Among my suggestions in 2015 was that the microphone of anyone who talks too long should be cut off.
Without offering any justification, I will say that I was impressed (and expected to be) by Elizabeth Warren and (contrary to expectations) Bill de Blasio. I was unimpressed by O’Rourke. Candidates sometimes ducked a question, and I wish that moderators would call them on it.
My biggest disappointment of the evening was with NBC technicians. The video went black for several brief instants, and an unscheduled commercial break was needed to allow time to fix an audio problem. The stage was attractive, but I would have liked the name of a candidate always to appear on the screen below his or her image when the candidate was talking. I still don’t think I would recognize all these people were I to encounter them on the street.
I hope that tonight’s debate runs smoothly. It seemingly includes more heavy hitters and might therefore be expected to be more interesting. (See my earlier post on the assignment of candidates to debates.)