The debate kicked off just as we expected — with way too many people. NBC seemed to get a handle on the shoddy camerawork in the first debate but Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd couldn’t get a handle on managing this group of ten Democratic presidential hopefuls with something to prove following Wednesday’s initial debate. This particular debate did not disappoint.
Senator Kamala Harris is a beast. For those who haven’t been paying attention to the Congressional hearings or media interviews, they learned last night what those of us who have been paying attention for years know — that Kamala is the real deal Holyfield. She is bright, spirited and in control with interesting ideas. Harris is unafraid to speak her truth or ask the hard questions. After gathering up her fellow debaters, she quickly gathered up former Vice-President Joe Biden by challenging him on his segregationist past. In a moment that will live forever in media history, she reminded him and viewers she was the little black girl affected by the pact then Senator Biden made with the Southern segregationists. Instead of falling on the sword, Biden did what Trump would do, failed to apologize and pretended the problem was hers. Kamala humbled the party frontrunner and let him know again that this race is not his to lose but hers to win.
Biden, who seemed to be caught off guard by Harris’ question, seemed to be off all night. The usually vibrant, funny, outspoken orator appeared to be disconnected and out of it yesterday and sounded more like Bernie Sanders – yelling and grumpy — which is typically not Biden’s way. Biden was surprisingly unprepared for this debate and was rudely awakened by those like Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg who came ready to battle. Harris joked that Biden had proven he was a good vice-president but hadn’t proven his viability for being a good president and Buttigieg reminded Biden of his prior promise to pass the torch and let someone else lead. Buttigieg is smart and thoughtful with his answers and is clearly informed. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s command of the healthcare system and how the world actually works was impressive, but like Klobuchar the night before, the Junior senator had a hard time getting into the debate.
Senator Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders – an irritable man with great ideas and still not playing nice with Democrats or moderators. While he is attempting to distance himself from his third-party roots this election and calling himself an actual Democrat, Stevie Wonder can see he’s still third-party to the core and is a de facto Socialist. HIs brilliance is always on display, but so is his disdain for this country and our antics which is refreshing and disconcerting at the same time. Senator Sanders was looking like he had somewhere else to be and had tired of these shenanigans — literally ten candidates talking over each other, some of which was due to the number of candidates on stage and some of which was due to uneven moderating by Maddow and Todd.
The strangest moment of the debate came when new-agey author Marianne Williamson, who was radio-silent the first 30 minutes of the debate, started chiming in and talking about the country’s need for — wait for it — “a return to love,” the title of her 1992 best-selling book of the same name. I died a thousand deaths and as my generation says, “Was rolling.” Between Williamson’s breathy delivery and dramatic airs, she offered perfect comedic relief from a pretty intense debate. But when she said, “Sista gurl…” and Rachel Maddow saved Williamson from herself by cutting her off, I literally fell out the bed (I meant out the bed, not out of the bed). I was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and say we were being Punk’d, but viewers weren’t so lucky. Williamson sounded like she was starring in a blaxploitation film and Roger Corman was calling the shots. I literally heard Black Mama/White Mama playback in my head and Eddie Romero yell, “Cut!” It was a mess. I know it’s early, but she needs to go ahead and take it to the living room. Throw in the towel. Get gone. I know Radio Raheem said the answer to hate is love, but not like that Ms. Williamson. Take your stacks and go.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennett did okay. I like that he challenged Biden’s assertion that Mitch McConnell would be willing to work with Democrats. The best predictor of past behavior is future behavior. You know it’s bad when you’re quoting Dr. Phil, but I digress. Bennett was pretty impressive and stood out despite his lack of notoriety among the candidates prior to this debate. Oh, I almost forgot to write about all-around badass Andrew Yang and that is because he was forgettable. He never found his footing or made any significant contribution to the debate. He seemed tapped out and like he would rather be making millions and giving it away than try to tangle with this heavy-hitter crowd. Add Rep. Eric Swalwell to the forgettable list because he was meh. Pass the torch. Pass the torch. Okay we got it. Now, what? Here’s a suggestion: Swalwell needs to pass the torch and go sit down and let someone else be president. Besides, I don’t trust anyone whose name rhymes with Falwell.
The second part of this first debate was more lively than the first part of this first debate, but I felt I learned less about the candidates. Other than Harris, who literally trounced everyone else, if you didn’t already know anything about the candidates, then you didn’t learn anything new, except for Biden of course. Harris is demonstrating she’s ready to go to the mat for the presidency and will hopefully be ready to answer for what many perceive to be her past sin of being a prosecutor during the age of mass incarceration. Biden, a former public defender, used that fact to hit back at Harris, after she roundhouse kicked his ass by telling the world Biden was segregationist-lite which is why the Northern Democrat got along with Southern Democrats who were staunch segregationists. Biden and Harris are going to have to figure out how to side-step the certain landmine of Millennial driven cancel culture which wants candidates to have been perfect people in their early years while simultaneously asking forgiveness for the tomfoolery millennials are actually doing now — you know in their early years. Uncle Joe better wrap his mind around apologizing now or he can start planning for a second retirement. Harris still has an uphill battle because — ovaries — oh and that one thing she couldn’t control — parentage, but she showed and proved and will continue to do so until the very end.
Buttigieg was polished, thoughtful and seemed ready for primetime. His willingness to pushback on religion is bold and impressive and shouldn’t be dismissed. Unlike Biden who didn’t have a good answer for his problematic role in segregation, at least Buttigieg fell on the sword and acknowledged that what happened in his city was horrible and that he’s doing something about it. Other than Americans needing a group discount for hooked on phonics to figure out how to properly pronounce his last name because we insist on speaking one language, he may still be in it. Oh, but that other thing he has no control over – his husband. Back to Senator Sanders.
Sanders should take pride in the fact that his 2016 candidacy has led to a spectrum of candidates who share some of his ideas on the economy and education, but the presence of those candidates makes him seem less exceptional than before, which may pose a problem down the line. He’s still grumpy as hell, seemed disconnected and “got got” by Maddow on gun control. When he wasn’t repeating himself and fussing, he was checked out. Sanders needs to lighten up and get ready for this big group of contenders or go sit down and let his offspring do his bidding for him in the 2020 presidential race. That’s all I got.
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This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.