PSA: This post is written from the perspective of one black women. Deal with it.
Yesterday, ten of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominee hopefuls took the stage for the first debate in Miami, FL, which is the first mistake. Ten people on stage at one time doesn’t allow people to get quality and genuine responses from candidates. You also shouldn’t have more people than camera people because you get lots of fast pans, poor shot selection and continuity errors galore as evidenced by NBC’s coverage last night. To be a fly on the wall in the control room. Pushing that aside, immigration was the dominant issue of the night while the environment and economic equality were also discussed. Glaring omissions included deep discussions about social justice including racial profiling, police brutality and mass incarceration, women’s rights, partisan gerrymandering, the rise in hate crimes and education — the latter of which was barely addressed during the 2016 presidential election once the party nominees were chosen.
Senator Elizabeth Warren did not disappoint coming off as smart, informed, rational and passionate in discussing the issues. Those referring to Julián Castro as a “breakout star,” based on his performance last night, must not have paid attention to his spirited speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC or his record as mayor of San Antonio, TX or HUD Secretary. Castro was bold, smart and passionate about issues, most especially immigration which he pushed back on against Beto O’Rourke, who kicked off the Spanish-speaking Olympics by speaking in Spanish and English. Other candidates followed O’Rourke’s suit including Senator Cory Booker, who also told great stories and injected his track record of creating much needed change in Newark, NJ and Congress.
The breakout star of the night, in my humble opinion, was Governor Jay Inslee who doubled down on the importance of saving the environment, while showing his mettle on other topics like immigration and the economy. He is an unafraid progressive who believes that nothing else matters if the world ceases to exist as we know it. He comes off as he is not playing with you, while not being a bully, which is what America needs. Conversely, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio came off as bullish, interrupting all of the candidates at one point or another, while raising important issues and pointing to his experience running the capital of the world and understanding issues of race because he is raising a black son in America, which sounded way too much like the new, “I have black friends.”
Surprisingly, Beto O’Rourke seemed a bit out of sorts and as the kids say, like he was “trying too hard,” during the debate. His brilliance, ability to make important points on the issues including immigration which he believes must be studied comprehensively, was obscured by what appeared to be a case of the “OMG, I’m in a presidential race,” jitters. He seemed out of sorts and out of his league, even though I still like him, because he’s Beto. Senator Amy Klobuchar was not as impassioned as the others, but gave solid and informed answers and threw down the biggest gauntlet of the night stating she is the candidate who can beat President Trump. Despite that challenge, she really never seemed to be in the debate, much like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who owned foreign policy based on her experience in the U.S. military, but came off as a one-topic candidate; if Gabbard is not a Republican, then she felt pretty GOP-adjacent which is not going to help her with registered Democrats.
Democrats need to learn from past mistakes, one of which is taking black voters in general and black women voters specifically for granted. To not address with any earnestness issues that are important to the black community is unacceptable. The same way that Julián Castro can passionately advocate for Latinos, should be the same way that black candidates can advocate for issues that disproportionately affect black folks. There is no way that Cory Booker should have to stand on a stage and not be able to champion issues affecting black folks because it might upset white folks and have to stand by and allow DeBlasio and Castro own those issues. Booker lives in freaking Newark. If he can’t talk about issues impacting black folks, then who can? Democrats got away with silencing black candidates on black issues for the good of the party — see President Obama, but quite frankly, that shit has to go.
Dems have gotten away with continuing to frame the working class as white and completely disregarding the millions of black and brown working-class folks, which is a slap in the face to black and brown working-class voters. Since black women voters have been keeping Democratic candidates in office in local, state and national elections, some time and attention needs to be paid to issues impacting us. Period. Not addressing issues directly impacting the black community with any earnestness or depth is not cool and will not make black people who actually vote happy. I hope to see Booker lean into those issues in the way Castro leans into issues directly impacting Latino communities and Warren leans into issues directly impacting women. We’ll see what happens in tonight’s debate when Senator Kamala “Am I Black Enough for You” Harris, Senator Bernie “What Do You Mean I Helped Elect Trump” Sanders, Peter “Wayment, I gotta go pay attention to black people who aren’t gay” Buttigieg and former Vice-President Uncle Joe “That was Eons ago” Biden takes the stage.
Finally, put education on the agenda and not just student loans. We know America is obsessed with student-centered learning and folks who want degrees but don’t want to pay for them, but there are other issues. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand that wench named Sallie Mae, but there are other issues in education (civil rights protections, food issues, teacher certifications, classroom size, resource deficiencies, teacher pay, adult violence against children, etc.) so address some of them please.
Another debate with too many candidates – 10 people. The heavy hitters will be in the room tonight at 9 p.m. EST. I’ll be watching. Will you? Let us know on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.