To the extent Joe Biden is capable of actually formulating coherent sentences — always a questionable proposition — he challenged Bernie Sanders in Thursday night’s Democratic nomination debate in Houston in a way that Sanders has never really been forced to grapple with during either of his presidential campaigns.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s position meant that she didn’t need to aggressively attack Bernie. Had she tried, she would’ve almost certainly brought up the fact that he is a self-described ‘socialist’. That’s common knowledge by now, of course, but it’s a salient point for Bernie’s rivals to press him on. Democratic voters generally like Bernie, but his ‘socialism’ could give them pause — especially given that the overriding issue Democratic voters are concerned with is ‘electability’, or who can defeat Donald Trump in the next election.
That doesn’t mean Biden himself is inherently ‘electable’. It’s a good night for Biden when he makes only a few babbling misstatements and manages, as he appeared to manage on Thursday night after some struggle, to open his mouth without his dental plate falling out. But with November around the corner and the minds of Democratic voters increasingly concentrated, the question of whether Bernie’s self-professed ‘socialism’ has mass appeal is going to become more prominent.
The severely overrated moderator Jorge Ramos clearly sensed this vulnerability when he goaded Bernie into distinguishing himself from Venezuela, only a half-step from the lazy GOP talking point that conflates all notions of ‘socialism’ with a particularly troubled case study. Oddly, Ramos forgot to mention that the US has been attempting to overthrow Venezuela’s government for the past eight months, which would seem like a relevant factor to consider.
Biden’s continued dissembling on the Iraq War merited further probing, but the genius moderators opted instead to ask the candidates to opine on their vision of ‘resilience’ — basically an invitation for them to deliver canned stump speeches. Last week, Biden told me, ‘Yes, I did oppose the war before it began’, which is so totally false that it almost defies comprehension. He repeated similarly disingenuous claims tonight. But if you thought George Stephanopoulos would be the man to challenge the polling leader on that incredibly significant point, you were sadly mistaken.
The DNC decided it was more important for the nation to hear a non-entity like Amy Klobuchar explain how authentically Midwestern she is for the 800th time than to hear Tulsi Gabbard’s robust foreign-policy critique. Tulsi beats Klobuchar in most polls, but the DNC’s transparently arbitrary debate-inclusion criteria meant that the only military veteran on stage was Mayor Pete. And his novelty wore off sometime last spring. Pete’s rolling in the dough though, so we have many more months of his platitudes to look forward to.
Who won? Who cares. The public looks at these made-for-TV events with deep and well-earned cynicism. The point is not to inform voters, but to entertain in service of the ratings. If you found yourself genuinely entertained tonight, though, you should probably seek clinical help.