Notes on the Democratic Presidential Debate in Iowa, January 14, 2020

Candidates at the Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 14, 2020 (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)

Watching the Democratic debate last night, I made some notes, and here they are, FWIW — or should that be FWTW (the “T” standing for “they’re”)?

• No one will defend the Iraq War — on left or right. Everyone denounces it as a disaster, the worst mistake ever. My guess is, this will change, as time goes on.

• I am not an expert — I’ve lived in Manhattan for 20-plus years — but I don’t think anyone in Brooklyn has a Brooklyn accent thicker than Bernie’s.

• When I was in college, Wolf Blitzer published a book on the Middle East: Between Washington and Jerusalem: A Reporter’s Notebook (1985). How young he must have been!

• Joe Biden brags that, as vice president, he organized our pull-out from Iraq. I wouldn’t brag about it.

• Bernie Sanders says that Bush 43 and his team lied and lied about Iraq. Donald Trump said the same thing, of course, in an interview with . . . Wolf Blitzer. 2008.

Blitzer: “Nancy Pelosi, the speaker?”

Trump: “Well, you know, when she first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot. But I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.”

Blitzer: “Impeaching him?”

Trump: “Absolutely, for the war, for the war.”

Blitzer: “Because of the conduct of the war?”

Trump: “Well, he lied. He got us into the war with lies. And, I mean, look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. [Republicans did, of course, impeach him.] And yet, Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.”

Blitzer: “Their argument is, they weren’t lying, that that was the intelligence that he was presented, and it was not as if he was just lying about it.”

Trump: “I don’t believe that.”

There you go.

• Pete Buttigieg talks about cyber threats — which reminds me of an interview I had with John McCain in 2015. He said that he had recently been briefed on cyber threats, and this briefing was the most alarming he had ever received. This got my attention. McCain had received a lot of briefings — on terrible matters — in his career.

• These candidates are talking about Trump as if he were a reckless interventionist!

• Pete’s story about “shipping out,” and the guy who couldn’t turn around to pick up his toddler? Gag-making, in my opinion. Maybe I don’t have standing to criticize — but I dislike the infantilizing and sentimentalizing of soldiers.

• Biden always says that he was elected to the Senate as “a 29-year-old kid.” Kid? Well, maybe from his perspective now . . .

• I must say, Elizabeth Warren gets off a very good line, re Afghanistan: “We’ve ‘turned the corner’ so many times, we’re going in circles.”

• When Tom Steyer looks directly into the camera — often imploringly, beseechingly — I am a bit creeped out.

• Often, Biden is a garbled mess when he speaks — without the entertainment value that Trump (sometimes) offers.

• I am a strong believer in alliances. But these guys talk about “allies” so vacuously — evincing so little understanding of U.S. responsibility — I’m tempted to go unilateralist.

• Bernie and Trump talk about trade in basically the same way — with one exception: Bernie laments the conditions of workers in foreign countries.

• Sanders, I think, is Jeremy Corbyn. But will the American electorate agree?

• I cannot believe that the American people will elect a socialist. But then, the American people have surprised me a lot, so . . .

• Bernie says he will raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. I hear Bill Buckley in my head: “Why not $16?” If I were a questioner in this debate, I’d ask Bernie that, I swear.

• Say what you will about the old Bolshie, he has impressive vigor and sharpness.

• I should not say this, but, you know? I’m a writer — an opinion writer — so what the hey (hay?). Senator Warren is an amazing-looking 70-year-old.

• The candidates assail the “greed and corruption” of the health-care industry. I wish Milton Friedman were around to say, “May I talk to you about the greed and corruption of government?”

• Amy Klobuchar on her dad: “He got married three times, but that’s a whole ’nother story.” I loved that — especially the “’nother” (which I grew up saying, in the Midwest, and still say, of course).

• On health care, Pete pushes choice — consumer choice. Whoa, sounds suspiciously Republican.

• He talks about the federal budget deficit, and the national debt, too. Wait a minute, is that legal, in politics?

• Of the Affordable Care Act — a.k.a. Obamacare — Biden says, “It was a big deal.” He left out his adverb! (Actually, I’m not sure what part of speech that word is.)

• Pete says things like “writ large.” Uh-oh — the electorate will never go for that, will they? The demotic is where it’s at, baby.

• Watching this debate, I think, once or twice, “I wonder how Bloomie would do.”

• I can see him saying to Pete, “I realize New York is no South Bend, but . . .”

• Biden refers to Hunter Biden as “my surviving son” — very, very canny. Cheap, maybe, but canny.

• Klobuchar’s invocation of Joseph N. Welch and McCarthy? Shrewd, effective, and even moving.

• As they go on about climate, I think, “I wonder whether Al Gore is watching, and, if he is, what he thinks.”

• Most of the time, I think Joe Biden should be at home, enjoying his grandchildren. Maybe writing his memoirs. Not stumbling along like this. Embarrassing.

• That question to Pete, about black voters? People always act as if black Americans were of one mind — voting in a bloc, with no diversity of views among them. Is this fair?

• One of the questioners to Amy: “How are you going to inspire voters with a message of pragmatism?” A damn good question. They want them their bread and circuses (especially the latter, I think).

• Oh, my gosh, Amy said her name! I’m so glad — because I’ve never really known how to pronounce it. She says “KLO-buh-shar.” (Not “boo” for the middle syllable, and not “char” for the last — as in “charcoal.”)

• Sanders calls America “the richest country in the history of the world.” Huh. Wonder how it got that way. Also: Is this a good thing, in Bernie’s view?

• Biden says that eight years of Trump would “fundamentally change the nation.” I think that both the Left and #MAGA believe that.

• The Dems have roughly half the country, of 320 million people, and these are their final six, when it comes to putting up a challenger to Trump? He is a lucky man, as he was in ’16. Hillary last time. Biden, Bernie, or Warren this time?

• I got more, but this is — these are — enough, surely. God bless America.

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