Everyone on that stage except maybe the clueless Michael Bloomberg recognized that Sen. Bernie Sanders is the dominant front-runner, so they trained their sights on him, which is hardly a smart strategy for ingratiating yourself to the Democratic base responsible for his popularity. It's like trying to win someone's love by trashing his family. So right out of the gates, these contenders shot themselves in the foot. Not a good look.
Moderator Norah O'Donnell, herself a progressive and strongly rooting for the eventual Democratic nominee, fired the opening question to Sanders: How would he turn voters away from Trump when his economy is doing so well? "We haven't had an unemployment rate this low for this long in 50 years," said O'Donnell, probably with a little throw-up in her mouth. I'm sure Sanders and the rest of the hapless lot were thinking, "Thanks a lot, Nora. Thanks for undermining our entire reason for political existence. Whose side are you on, girlfriend?"
O'Donnell apparently got the memo that Sanders has to be taken out because, as a self-professed socialist, he will have a disadvantage in the general election. Maybe MSNBC's panicky Chris Matthews gave her a call.
The incongruous Tom Steyer sought to thread the needle with Bernie's Brigade by praising their idol for correctly identifying the problems facing the country but disputing his solutions. He violated several cliches here. He was too cute by half, and you can't give with one hand and take with the other — not with socialists, anyway, who are all about freebies. Try taking anything away from them and you'll pull back a bloody stub.
That would be a major problem for Steyer if he were remotely relevant in this campaign, but relevance is not his strong suit. With his failed criticism of Sanders, however, he raised the curtain on a major problem facing the Democrats. You can't — to invoke another cliche — cut the baby in half. You can't divorce problems that socialist Sanders identifies from solutions that socialist Sanders offers, for they are ideologically interconnected.
Sanders believes the problem facing the country is too much capitalism, which necessarily makes the solution socialism. Does Steyer not realize that? Must he be dispatched to the progressive woodshed? Leftists need to remind this billionaire that "he didn't build that." Please don't accuse me of overgeneralizing about Sanders' problems and solutions because I've read plenty of progressive critics who are crestfallen over Sanders' lack of specificity in the debate.
In fairness, the non-Bernie candidates shouldn't be sore at O'Donnell, because they undermined their own reason for political existence by failing to present an alternative to President Donald Trump. They offered no constructive solutions for the country. They just trashed one another. In this way they are a mirror image of their Democratic counterparts in Congress, who have offered nothing constructive for the country throughout Trump's term. They've only trashed, investigated and tried to impeach him. But in their defense, they have nothing, so what are they supposed to do? They have no answer for Trump because answers don't exist for nonexistent problems.
If you're a Democrat, you can't be pleased with much about this debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren basically endorsed Bernie's socialism but implied he isn't disciplined and detailed enough, as she is, to implement his wonderful ideas. Well, if you'll recall, it's Warren who's been unable to explain the math behind her proposals, and it's Warren who hasn't been forthright about her own socialism, though she came pretty close when identifying with Bernie.
The three Bs all went down barely swinging. Former Vice President Joe Biden loses more in stature with each appearance. He pandered to African Americans with his usual suck-up to former President Barack Obama and whined all night about being treated unfairly. Hardly presidential — or even vice presidential. Bloomberg was pathetic. He didn't lay a glove on Sanders or anyone else except himself. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a walking paradox: He defended himself against lacking passion with his enthusiasm for being boring. He passionately doubled down on being comatose and, in his wonderfully mild-mannered state, rudely walked all over a stammering Bernie.
Speaking of Bernie, he was most animated in praising Fidel Castro's communist Cuba while pretending not to — another not-so-good look.
All in all, it was a pretty good night for us bitter clingers.
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