America is in a national emergency. Will the Democratic debate ignore it?
Tonight, 12 Democrats will square off in the fourth debate of the primary season. Hopefully they'll get better questions than they have in previous debates from moderators, who have so far seemed more interested in ratings and conflict than in exploring the full range of issues facing the country today.
With the White House bent on unprecedented and illegal obstruction of the House's impeachment inquiry, and America's putative Turkish allies given carte blanche by the president to slaughter the Syrian Kurds who rolled up ISIS for us, there is absolutely no reason for moderators Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett, and Marc Lacey to fixate once again on modest and inscrutable policy differences between the various candidates' health-care plans. Not only does this incredible monomania about health care make for dull television, it has also framed the whole debate precisely the way that apologists for the status quo would like, with language designed to appeal to everyone's fear of a sudden disruption in their health care.
This obsession with whether middle class taxes will go up and who will "lose" their health insurance also prevents moderators from outlining for the audience why America's health-care system is inadequate in the first place. And it reinforces the misperception that a country currently running trillion dollar deficits during a peacetime economic expansion must suddenly break out the bifocals and the national checkbook and balance it conscientiously with a ballpoint pen once a Democrat is back in office. All of the candidates should confront that kind of drivel head-on, instead of taking these queries at face value.
More importantly, American voters need to hear the Democratic candidates address other substantive issues that have so far been ignored in previous showdowns. For example, there have been zero questions about voter suppression and voting rights. Climate change has gotten cursory attention at best. No one has had the opportunity to talk about the importance of the Supreme Court, let alone begin the arduous task of articulating a progressive theory of jurisprudence and helping the party's voters understand and fight for it. The candidates should also be forced to grapple with how their agenda will survive if the Court remains in conservative hands throughout their term, and what they might be willing to do about it.
And tonight there are even more pressing issues about which the public needs to hear from these candidates. The first is President Trump's astonishing and impulsive decision to desert the Kurds of northern Syria, who gamely and at great loss of life served as the front-line forces in the battle to dislodge the genocidal Islamic State from Syria and Iraq. America has a long and shameful history of using the Kurds, a stateless ethnic group spread out across multiple regional states which have been unceasingly hostile to their very existence, for short-term geopolitical gains, only to then abandon them once their utility expired. Even by the emotionless standards of realpolitik, and notwithstanding your views on America's misbegotten Middle East adventurism, what we just did to the Kurds is cold. What do the candidates have to say about it that could satisfy the general public's desire to be finished with interventionism in the region but also fulfills our obligations to vulnerable people who killed and died and sacrificed for us?
The leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination should also have the chance to make the case for impeachment and removal of Trump directly to the audience. Sure, most of the people watching are Democrats — but not all of them. The more independents and leaners can hear about the scope and depth of the president's insane plot to extort the government of Ukraine in exchange for incriminating information on Biden and his son Hunter, the more likely they are to tell pollsters they support Trump's removal, and the more likely it is that the Republican Maginot Line in the Senate will begin to crumble.
I would also think that CNN and The New York Times, tonight's co-sponsors, might want to ask about the Trump administration's vicious, years-long attacks on the free press, including the video recently shown at a conference at the Trump Doral, depicting the president murdering adversaries and journalists from leading outlets like Vox, NPR, and Talking Points Memo. Why has the president himself not forcefully condemned not just the video but the way that his supporters seem to take glee in imagining and threatening the killing of journalists?
Keeping the debate focused on the multiple national emergencies triggered by the country's mad king would be a welcome change. So far the moderators have seemed determined to create controversy and friction between the candidates, like a producer on some trashy reality TV show spreading gossip about the contestants to maximize the subsequent fireworks. They fixate on the most divisive issues and strategically highlight where each contender might be out of step with public opinion. The third debate seemed scripted according to Trump's priorities: health care, race, immigration, guns, China, Afghanistan. I'm surprised there wasn't a question about caravans.
Is this all that Democrats want to be talking about? If the answer is no, the party really should consider decoupling itself from the networks and their moderators and running its own debates. Otherwise, they'll forever be fielding questions on terms designed to please network honchos instead of their own voters, and undermining their candidates rather than showcasing them.
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