The few big things I want to flag from the second night of the second round of Democratic debates were served up by Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and then a tag-team of Jay Inslee and Kirsten Gillibrand, but I'll start by giving the only credit I'm going to give Joe Biden, for his opening statement.
You know, we have a president, as everybody has acknowledged here, every day is ripping at the social fabric of this country, but no one man has the capacity to rip that apart. It’s too strong. We’re too good. Just look at this stage, made up of very diverse people from diverse backgrounds, went on to be mayors, senators, governors, congresswomen, members of the cabinet, and, yes, even a vice president. Mr. President, this is America. And we are stronger and great because of this diversity, Mr. President, not in spite of it, Mr. President. So, Mr. President, let’s get something straight: We love it. We are not leaving it. We are here to stay. And we’re certainly not going to leave it to you.
That really is a pretty great last pair of sentences there, and I'm still the furthest thing from wanting Biden as the candidate but credit to where it's due.
Castro set up a framing that I hope to see others in the field run with when he remarked, “Mr. Vice President, it looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn’t.” That isn't, however, the big Castro thing I want to get to. I'll get to that in a moment.
First, I want to get to Booker.
First of all, Mr. Vice President, you can’t have it both ways. You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can’t do it when it’s convenient and then dodge it when it’s not.
This is really crucial. The idea that Biden believes he can ride the shoulders of Obama's coattails at every turn but then the moment he's asked if he tried to stop Obama's deportation policies throw up his hands and say, hey, man, I was just the vice-president isn't going to work. Teams across the Democratic field should be looking for other questionable Obama policies to press Biden on in the future.
(Booker was also right to press Biden on his staunch support for various crime bills, and I hope that Booker comes back to one of Biden's primary defenses there, which was that these bills “were passed overwhelmingly”. Booker should hit back that, well, yes, that's exactly part of the problem: they were always problematic for communities of color and you all kept passing them anyway.)
Castro got to something that's been as important to me in terms of things not making it into the discussion as was last night's bit from Buttigieg about not making decisions based upon a fear of Republicans calling them socialists. It was on the matter of impeachment, and it came after
Nancy Pelosi Bill de Blasio asserted that, “The best impeachment is beating him in 2020.” (And then Bennet effectively agreed with him.)
Well, let me first say that I really do believe that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. All of us have a vision for the future of the country that we’re articulating to the American people. We’re going to continue to do that. We have an election coming up. At the same time, Senator, you know, I think that too many folks in the Senate and in the Congress have been spooked by 1998. I believe that the times are different. And in fact, I think that folks are making a mistake by not pursuing impeachment. The Mueller Report clearly details that he deserves it. And what’s going to happen in the fall of next year, of 2020, if they don’t impeach him, is he’s going to say, “You see? You see? The Democrats didn’t go after me on impeachment, and you know why? Because I didn’t do anything wrong. These folks that always investigate me, they’re always trying to go after me. When it came down to it, they didn’t go after me there because I didn’t do anything wrong.” Conversely, if Mitch McConnell is the one that lets him off the hook, we’re going to be able to say, “Well, sure, they impeached him in the House, but his friend, Mitch McConnell, Moscow Mitch, let him off the hook.”
Castro gets both the moral and the political calculus here exactly right in a way that almost no other Democrat or cable news pundit has, much to my frustration.
If we just wait to let the election litigate Trump's high crimes and misdemeanors and he wins, we've let the history be written as, “America ratifies lawless presidency.” However, if we litigate his crimes in the House of Representatives and the Senate refuses to convict, the history is written as, “Senate partisans ratify presidentiall lawlessness.”
This difference and distinction matters, and Castro clearly understands this, and I hope it brings more clarity to an otherwise frustrated debate on both the morality and polities of impeachment that Pelosi seems not to understand.
One other important pairing of remarks that came up that should be highlighted, although I'm not sure they will be: Inslee and Gillibrand's comments on privilege, beginning with Inslee talking about racial (and other) discrimination.
You know, I approach this question with humility because I have not experienced what many Americans have. I’ve never been a black teenager pulled over in a white neighborhood. I’ve never been a woman talked over in a meeting. I’ve never been an LGBTQ member subject to a slur. And so I have believed I have an added responsibility, a double responsibility, to deal with racial disparity.
(Very parenthetically, Ben Browder should play Inslee in the movie. I guarantee that once you hear it, you'll never be able to un-hear it.)
This wasn't a direct lead-in to Gillibrand, with Alan Yang and Castro weighing in between them, but she also struck an important tone here.
So I don’t believe that it’s the responsibility of Cory and Kamala to be the only voice that takes on these issues of institutional racism, systemic racism in our country. I think as a white woman of privilege, who is a U.S. senator, running for president of the United States, it is also my responsibility to lift up those voices that aren’t being listened to. And I can talk to those white women in the suburbs that voted for Trump and explain to them what white privilege actually is, that when their son is walking down a street with a bag of M&Ms in his pocket, wearing a hoodie, his whiteness is what protects him from not being shot. When his—when her—when their child has a car that breaks down, and he knocks on someone’s door for help, and the door opens, and the help is given, it’s his whiteness that protects him from being shot. That is what white privilege in America is today. And so, my responsibility’s to only lift up those stories, but explain to communities across America, like I did in Youngstown, Ohio, to a young mother, that this is all of our responsibilities, and that together we can make our community stronger.
(White privilege is more than the possibilities of being shot and killed, of course, but it's hard to argue with putting the mortal dangers front and center. I'm not holding my breath for this topic to come up in debate again, but it would be nice to see if Gillibrand or others can show the definition to be more expansive than this.)
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least note what Yang had to say on the subject of the climate crisis.
This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground. And the best way to do that is to put economic resources into your hands so you can protect yourself and your families.