The debate opened around the Coronavirus. Bernie Sanders’ opening salvo was that anyone who’s job is lost will be made whole. Like most of what he proposes, he does not convey how it is going to be paid for or by whom. What does that mean? We are going to take care of people. How long? Forever?
Next Bernie Sanders made a compelling argument for Medicare for all, but again he doesn’t address how to pay for it. Biden did a good job deflecting Sanders’ Medicare for all argument and stated that a public option is a better choice. Biden also committed to funding Coronavirus paid for by the federal government.
Bernie then shifted his populist message to the Fed funding a trillion dollars to the markets. If the Fed can do that, then why can’t they help working people? While that is a good talking point, it forgets that the markets and the companies that the added liquidity helps employ people. The companies are not some amorphous entity where a single individual is hoarding money for himself.
Which brings us to bailouts. Sanders criticized Biden about his support of TARP and the auto bailout. Biden countered by reminding him that the bailout saved jobs. The auto industry employs over ten million people. Saving the industry saved those jobs and the families that those jobs represent.
Sanders then pivoted to leadership by saying that he supported ideas like gay marriage before it was popular. Whatever you think about Bernie, the fact of the matter is that he has been unable to galvanize support while being in the Congress for over 30 years for any of his initiatives.
Biden went on record stating that undocumented workers except for felons can stay in the United States, and will be provided a path to citizenship. Bernie compared their working conditions to that of slavery, which I predict will alienate his already sparce support among African Americans. Unfortunately, Trump will use this part of the debate to say Democrats want open borders.
Overall Biden was able to point to legislation that he sponsored and passed. Sanders actually attacked him on many of the bills showing that Biden’s resume is deep and substantive. Sanders could only point to issues that he supports while continuing to bring up Medicare for all whenever he could.
Biden actually made the biggest news tonight (that will stand out above anything else that was said) by announcing that his vice presidential pick will be a woman. Sanders hedged when asked the same. He even tried to avoid answering the question.
The through line for last evening’s debate confirms what we already knew going into tonight. Sanders has an idealistic far-left agenda whose sense of urgency doesn’t allow for any compromise on any issue. This will push people further away from his candidacy. By contrast Biden is closer to the center. He even stated that both of them agree on every idea, but disagree on implementation. This will allow people on the margins to choose Biden even if they wouldn’t ordinarily vote for a Democrat.
Finally there was one absence in last night’s debate that was obvious and welcomed: the studio audience. We weren’t distracted by the cheers and jeers of low information supporters who attend to support the person wearing their jersey rather than the person who presents the best ideas. I hope that this is the format that is adopted forward going especially in the general. Trump would not fare well without a live studio audience to effusively praise his untruths, distortions, and petulant behavior.