Five insipid moderators sat there like dowagers declining to catch the eye of the shrieking nutter on the Piccadilly Line as Elizabeth Warren ate up all the opening airtime with charges that Michael Bloomberg would make you kill your babies (she's not concerned about the baby-killing, only that it shouldn't be Bloomberg ordering the hit). Realizing that the show was in danger of degenerating into Screech White and the Six Dwarves, her comrades belatedly began screaming along, shredding the alleged "rules" even as the hopelessly inept moderators gamely persisted with all the usual bland over-formatted props of leaden telly debates - like making a big deal about interactively selecting random Twitter-submitted questions about the besieged Syrian city of Idlib.
Mayor Pete looked earnestly into the camera and declared, "I stand with the people of Idlib." Which, translated out of of Demoblather, means: You guys are screwed. Still, the ability to adlib a line about Idlib is not to be disdained.
In other news, Joe Biden got tough with China: "They must play by the rules. Period. Period. Period." Actually, I think "period period period" is an ellipsis... Which is oddly Bidenesque. But he was assessed by the experts to have delivered a killer performance - if only because he appeared to know what state he was in and which office he was running for, and did not claim to have been arrested on the streets of Soweto while trying to see a South African prisoner in a gaol cell nine hundred miles away. Great job, Joe!
On the other hand, he did assert that, thanks to Bernie's crazy pro-gun Second Amendment absolutism, 150 million people had been killed since 2007. Which would be half the population of America. And is 149,997,230 people more than the coronavirus, and roughly a thousand times the entire population of Idlib, so you'd think somebody would have noticed it.
More generally, Joe's response to any question on what he would do to solve this or that pressing crisis was that he'd already solved it during the Obama Administration or his previous half-century of public service. "I took the lead in..." well, pretty much everything: Barack apparently spent two terms playing golf and watching "Leave It to Beaver" reruns while Joe looked Mao Tse-tung in the eye and said, "Cut it out, pal - or it's B501(c)3 bombers over the Straits of Vermouth at dawn. Period. Period. Period..." As his mountain of accomplishments piled up, Amy Klobuchar said, over one claim, "No, you didn't." "Yes, I did." "No, you didn't." I forget what it was - Joe's assertion that he'd taken the lead on Magna Carta, slapping around that punk King John and herding those sissy barons into line.
People wonder why Joe's minders continue to put him through this. But they're missing the point. To the minders, he's the perfect candidate. That's why all the professionals - the Consultant-Industrial Complex - hated Trump last time round: He had no minders and he just did what he wanted. Biden instead goes where they tell him, to get shoved out on stage in New Hampshire and announce he's in Iowa, or Guam, talk gibberish and threaten to give some petite coed the thrashing of her life. From the minders' point of view, a mindless candidate is a godsend. The last thing the entourage want is a guy with a mind of his own. Who knows who'd be running a Biden presidency? But it certainly wouldn't be Joe, who'd be lost in rhapsodic dreams of when he rappelled into Robben Island to bust out Nelson Rockefeller.
What takes even more guts than Soweto Joe leaping from the Voortrekker Monument onto Hendrik Verwooerd's passing landau, ripping a wheel off and necklacing the guy?
Mike Bloomberg telling jokes. The only attempts at humor on a fabulously humorless night were delegated to the fellow least suited to try them. His team of lavishly remunerated gag-writers had provided the Designated Bomber with some duds about how he'd won the last debate and was really six foot tall, and he delivered them in his I-speak-your-weight-machine voice in the touching belief that the army of extras he'd hired would be splitting their sides and slapping their thighs. For the first time in his life, Bloomberg had come across something you can't buy:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get away from Open Mic Night at Bloomberg 2020.
How many Bloomberg joke-writers does it take to change a light bulb?
The leaden self-deprecating one about Mike standing on a very tall step-ladder doesn't quite work, so we're leaving that till the afternoon shift comes in.
Who was that lady I saw you with last night?
That was a pregnant employee who told me I killed it.
The other billionaire? Wossname? At least Mike's Open Mic Suicide-Bombing routine revealed a poignant vulnerability. The other guy's just a nosebleed.
The Cherokee Dominatrix? The re-scalping wasn't as much fun as the original. And, to be honest, the unvarying wardrobe of those cardigan-jackets is beginning to irritate me. Interestingly, unlike the others, she declined to clobber Bernie on policy or dictator suck-uppery. Which suggests to me, along with the relentless Bloomberg-bashing, that she's running for veep.
Buttigeig and Klobuchar? They're both bloody boring but in different ways. Amy is boring yet in a not unappealingly normal way - as in her acknowledgement that she's perceived to be boring but, honestly, she isn't really. Pete is boring in a deeply weird way - as in his acknowledgment that he's perceived to lack passion and his explanation that his measured super-controlled manner is in fact proof of his passion, or whatever it was he said. He was undoubtedly the most super-controlled at talking over the others without flapping his arms and abandoning complete sentences. Which is itself deeply weird. At one point he remarked, re Bernie's insistence that the socialism he has in mind is Scandinavian, that the Sanders plan wouldn't fly either in Denmark or in Denmark, South Carolina.
Denmark, South Carolina is a town of three thousand people. It's about two-thirds the size of Norway, Maine. Why would he know its name? Because someone thought it would be a cute line for a gotcha moment. But it's too cute - and, rather than revealing anything about Bernie, it confirms he's just the fakey-fakiest guy on the stage. Bore-wise, I'd stick with Amy - who was, almost spectacularly, the acme of uninterestingness last night.
That leaves Bernie - the original arm-flailer before all the others began doing it. Last night he turned on the audience for failing to be impressed by Fidel's adult literacy program - not something the crotchety old Marxist expected he'd be reduced to doing. But in a parade of losers all he had to do was survive, and he did. South Carolina and Super Tuesday will winnow the field, and, when it does, Bernie will still be in the lead. Absent a stunning performance on Saturday by Biden or on Tuesday by Bloomberg, November is shaping up to be a choice between a populist nationalist and a populist socialist. Very European, as it happens.
If you watched on CBS, you'll have noticed that the entire debate was brought to you by something called "Mike", the new miracle product that will "get it done". As seen in these lavish slickly-edited messages, Mike is confident, assured, professional, on his game... If only there were someone like that on stage...
Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.