Thursday, August 01, 2019

Biden straddles the line

He opened with a flurry, sustained some momentum, but eventually got worn out and by the end of the evening looked like he just wanted to wander off the stage and lie down.

Joe Biden didn't wait until the debate even started to remind people how grandpa-esque he is.

"Go easy on me, kid," he said to Kamala Harris, as he shook her hand. Though a hot mic could have been to blame, Biden certainly didn't take long to use a condescending moniker -- just weeks after being critiqued for saying that a segregationist senator "never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son,'" invoking what many, including Cory Booker, considered to be a reference to a racist term.


(He also) appeared to fumble on the specifics of his proposed healthcare plan. He seemed to confuse a $1,000 deductible cap with a $1,000 copay. Jokes were had.

Cillizza at CNN called Joe "barely" a winner ...

Boy, was this a tough call. I went back and forth on Biden's performance throughout the two hours. On the one hand, Biden was WAY more active, energetic and forceful in this debate than in the first debate in Miami. But that alone doesn't make him a winner. The truth is that this was a deeply uneven debate for the former vice president. He was, in places, quite strong -- particularly when he was going after Harris and Booker. But Biden was much less confident when he was under attack -- especially, again, when the topic turned to race and criminal justice reform, though as the frontrunner, he did withstand fire through the entire debate. Biden also struggled in several answers to spit out the right words at the right time. And he continued to stop himself in mid-thought and immediately stop talking when his time ran out. Add it all up and I believe that Biden wound up doing *just* enough to quiet -- if not silence -- questions about whether he is up to the job. That, plus Harris' struggles, get the former vice president into the win column. Barely.

... but most other pundits weren't as charitable.  Carl Gibson at Grit Post threw up the 'L'.

As he did in last month’s debate, Biden frequently hid behind President Barack Obama’s name as a shield, counting on the former president’s popularity among Democrats to carry him through. However, Sen. Booker and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro exploited this defense by pointing out the ways in which Obama’s presidency fell short -- particularly on immigration.

There are two of the victors; we'll come back to them.

While Biden spoke, protesters with the group Movimiento Cosecha shouted “THREE MILLION DEPORTATIONS” to call attention to Obama’s record of deporting more undocumented immigrants than any other president -- including Donald Trump. Movimiento Cosecha previously stormed Biden’s campaign headquarters earlier this month, and demanded the former vice president apologize for the deportations that happened under Obama’s watch. He not only refused to apologize then, but still offered no apology on Wednesday night.

Biden seemed unable to recover the rest of the night, and wasn’t able to effectively communicate how America would fundamentally improve if he was president, except that he would “restore the soul of America.” As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pointed out after the debate, Biden wants to return to the “good old days,” but “the old days weren’t good for everybody.

And it’s here where Biden seems unable to get over the hump: For the families of the three million deported immigrants, for people who were still unable to get health insurance after the passage of Obamacare, for people who are still having to work multiple low-wage jobs to make ends meet after Obama’s failure to raise wages as well as lower unemployment, four more years of Obama-like policies aren’t good enough.

If that wasn’t enough, Biden failed to make a coherent closing statement to convince those not on board to support him. Not only did he make a gaffe in saying “eight more years of Donald Trump will change America in a fundamental way,” Biden also misstated his campaign’s text message ask as a website, leaving many on social media wondering what the hell he was trying to say.

Was this performance enough for him to keep going?  Of course.  Will he lose some ground in the polling?  Not much if any, and he'll gain it back by the time they come to Houston.  Unless, you know, his staff can't keep him away from reporters and hot mics for the next six weeks.

This sums it up:

They're probably not drunk but they are very, very old and they have landlines exclusively, so -- like their presidential choice who reminds them of their goofy, handsy brother-in-law -- they don't understand the "text 30330", either.  They're also scared by words like socialism -- they fought that shit in WW2, the Big One -- despite the fact that the US Postal Service brings them junk mail that is the highlight of their day, Social Security and Medicare pays their bills, Meals on Wheels feeds them when they can't, etc., etc.  (Yes, that was ageist and mean. Sorry.)

Kamala Harris had a worse night than Biden.  Cillizza again:

The California senator learned on Wednesday night how much harder it is to be the target rather than the targeter. From the start, Biden came at Harris on her record as California attorney general. But so did Gillibrand and Sen. Michael Bennet (Colorado). And boy oh boy, did Tulsi Gabbard come after her -- dropping the opposition research book on Harris on her record in California. Harris at times effectively parried those attacks, but she didn't do it enough. On health care and criminal justice reform, she struggled to defend repeated attacks on her record; she wound up simply saying that everything everyone else on stage wasn't telling the truth about her record. Really, everyone? Harris didn't perform badly; she simply didn't live up to the high expectations that she set for herself in the first debate.

Wrong-o.  She blew it.  Gibson again:

What may have been Gabbard’s biggest moments was exploiting one of (Harris’) weaknesses. In a tense exchange, Gabbard accurately pointed out that while Harris was Attorney General of California, more than 1,500 people were incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. Gabbard also accused Harris of blocking evidence “that would have freed an innocent man from death row” until the courts demanded it.

According to a New York Times op-ed by Loyola law professor Lara Bazelon, Harris did indeed block death row inmate Kevin Cooper from seeking advanced DNA evidence that would have exonerated him until she was called out for it -- prompting her to reverse course on Cooper’s case. Bazelon pointed to another inmate, George Gage, who is currently serving a 70-year prison sentence due to a technicality exploited by Harris’ office when she was California’s chief prosecutor.

When confronted with this, Harris angrily responded that Gabbard was only capable of making “fancy speeches” and never had to be in the position to make significant decisions on prosecution. However, she did not refute the individual examples Gabbard brought up. The Root reporter Terrell Starr -- who interviewed Harris last year -- said Harris was incapable of defending herself from Gabbard’s attacks because they were “all true.”

Like Biden, Harris was unable to break through in Wednesday night’s debate in any meaningful way, and was confined to playing defense when attacked whether it was in defending her healthcare plan, or her record as Attorney General. Harris is already assured a spot in the September debates given her polling position as one of the top five candidates and her fundraising haul, but she’ll have to prepare even harder for the next debate this fall.

The 'Kamala is a cop' label has been sticking to the senator from Cali like toilet paper on her shoe for quite some time.  It's preventing her from breaking out with the voters bulwarking Biden's numbers: African Americans.  I hate making short-term polling predictions but I'd be very surprised if she didn't slide down a bit.

This was also a very bad look.

Harris' press secretary and assorted sycophants were so enraged by Gabbard that they briefly got "Assad" to trend last night.  Now that's a smear.  Gabbard's network -- probably more Harris' critics -- clapped back with "KamalaHarrisDestroyed".  These are the food fights CNN's debate moderators have been stoking with their ridiculous questions.  I noticed many Democrats objecting to this, FWIW, whether it was directed at Biden or others.

So with that blogged, hand out some blue ribbons to Booker, Castro, and Gabbard.

... Booker became the breakout star after taking Biden to task multiple times on Wednesday night, particularly during the criminal justice reform portion of the debate.

In one exchange, the New Jersey senator laughed when Biden brought up his record when Booker was mayor of Newark, New Jersey. This gave Booker an opportunity to delve into Biden’s highly problematic record of supporting so-called tough-on-crime legislation when Biden himself was in the Senate.

“Mr. Vice President, there’s a saying in my community, ‘you’re dipping into the Kool-Aid, and you don’t even know the flavor,” Booker said.

Booker's charm and easy grin is a winner.  He encouraged unity by dissuading attacks, saying it helped Trump, even as he blasted away at Biden.  His 'happy warrior' style should get him a polling bounce, especially from those jumping off the K-train.

Castro was methodically devastating, just as he was at the end of June.

Two times is a trend. And it's been two straight debates where the former San Antonio mayor has stood out -- in a good way. He probably had the line of the night, hitting back on Biden with this hammer: "It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't." Castro was forceful and effective on immigration and really stuck it to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on how to handle the officer who choked Eric Garner. The challenge for Castro now is to qualify for the September and October debates, which could be a heavy lift given his polling thus far. If Castro can make these next two debates, he could really make noise in the race.

If I were to ever so slightly consider voting for a steaming moderate, of all the people on both stages it would probably be Castro.  But I do not find him strong enough on M4A or the Green New Deal, my two signature issues.  His public statements are vague and conflicting on both, reminding me somewhat of the vacuousness/cloaked deception of Beto O'Rourke.  I have long considered both Castros far too plodding in their personal calculus, weighing every single twitch against their nebulous future viability.  They've squandered more opportunities between them with their Hamlet-esque dithering than most aspiring politicos would get in ten lifetimes.  Both men are competent and confident but too hesitant to make bold decisions.  That's not a good leadership quality.

Perhaps if they had inherited a bit of their mother's radicalism.  Oh well.  I still think that Castro's support is seriously under-polled.  He's bound to be doing better than 2-4 % in Texas, as this week's two most recent polls say.

Tulsi Gabbard -- the focus of Bernie-ish hate from the establishment -- will be, I sincerely hope, Secretary of Defense in a Sanders Administration.  The Assad bullshit is exactly that, and so is the ad hominem of her upbringing by religious homophobes.  She was a rising star in the Democratic Party until she spoke out against Bernie getting shafted by the DNC in 2016.  Now she is mocked, slammed, smeared, ridiculed and endures it all with the poise of a debutante and the quiet fury of a gunnery sergeant leading an assault on a machine gun nest.  I hope she gets some payback, of the fuck-'em-and-feed-'em-fishheads variety.

Another loser: Gillibrand.  She blew her shot against Biden by calling it too soon.

The New York senator needed a moment. And she might have had one with her opposition research hit on a Biden op-ed in which he expressed concern about the deterioration of the family if a woman was working outside the home. But she telegraphed it six days ago! And so Biden was completely and totally ready for it -- and gave a solid answer, citing his own personal experiences as a single dad and noting that both his deceased wife and his current wife had and have always worked outside the home. I'll never understand why Gillibrand told Biden what she was going to hit him with days in advance. Giant missed opportunity for a candidate who can't afford one.

Another winner: Yang.

Also a loser.

Talk about being glued to your message ...

Last night was almost everything I hoped for.  Biden showed out a second time as less likely to defeat Trump in a general election than the polls are telling us, but far too many centrist Democrats aren't paying attention.  There's still plenty of time for them to snap out of it.

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