The “Democratic Debate Special” Edition

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S1: If you want to start something tell everyone you know you’re going to do it. And then you have a choice. Welcome to a special Slate Plus get past Get back Get back get this for September 12th 2019.

S2: I am David Plotz. I’m in Washington D.C.. JOHN DICKERSON CBS 60 Minutes is in New York. Emily Bazelon of Yale and the New York Times Magazine is in Houston and she’s in Houston. She was just at the Democratic debate.

S3: I know what’s broken. I want to be in the fight to fix it. I learned that the way you deal with it is you deal with finding purpose. What resilience means to me is that throughout my political career. I have taken on virtually every. Powerful special interest in this country. When I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them.

S4: They decided to trust me and re-elected me with 80 percent of the vote.

S5: Don’t you ever listen and let anybody ever tell you what you can or cannot be. You have to believe in what can be unburdened by what has been the first.

S1: Single stage democratic debate that we’ve had and we’re gonna do a special guest fest tonight.

S6: Let’s start with you Emily because you were there in the room where you weren’t really with him. You were not in the room.

S7: I wasn’t in the hall. I was in the filing room with all the media I’ve discovered or John clued me in this morning that that’s how it works.

S8: But you were curious you were closer to the actual oxygen that was being breathed by the people on stage. So was there a moment that you feel was a symbolic moment or important moment that we’re going to carry forward. I think we’ve learned from debates so far that it does tend to be moments rather than the whole evening that people remember.

S9: Yeah I mean the moment was like Castro and Biden snapping at each other and whether it hurt both of them or one of them.

S10: What I support and what you support Vice President Biden is that you require them to opt in. And I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled.

S11: They wouldn’t have to buy and they do not have to buy. You just said that you just said that two minutes ago you just said two minutes ago that they would have to buy it. You said they would have to buy out to buy it qualifies. Are you forgetting what you said Maddox would be for.

S7: What you said just two minutes ago. Yeah that was what I took from it was that sharpness. And that was really because it was the only exchange that was like really like that there was some testiness but that was the only one that really cut. So am I making a mistake to start us off there is that just like falling into the trap.

S12: I think it’s hard to know what what the moments are that go on and really matter. Castro obviously he’s you know he is at the end of the end of the line there. He’s not in the polls he’s he. He and Clubber Cha as the bookends at the debate stage are the ones like you know closest to falling off. So they have to do something to make themselves known and he went after Biden. I thought that was interesting. I thought it was interesting when Castro chose to shoot at Biden and making an prosciutto thinly veiled not going Biden’s age and Booker took that moment and decided to try to make a sort of uplifting argument about I think it puts health care at the time. One candidate who seeks to build political capital one who is who is burning it because when you take down the frontrunner it doesn’t ness. It doesn’t always and in fact doesn’t necessarily accrue to your benefit.

S9: You think this one hurt Biden. What did you feel like he came off poorly.

S12: I wasn’t even sure if he was confusing things in the way Castro said if anything is going to hurt Biden I think it’s a combination of things. One he totally conflated his position on Iraq and Afghanistan which people may not have noticed but he answered a question about Afghanistan and talked about the surge in his partition plan his partition plan was for Iraq not Afghanistan. It felt like he would just kind of speak and then you then the chain would kind of catch and gee Eliot more as to who or should economists put it. Well I thought on Twitter we said Biden seems like a guy who’s got a lot on his mind. You know he’s trying to do like 15 different things in an answer I think for some people that might read as what Castro was trying to get at really essentially which is that he’s he’s old. So I think if anything hurts him it’s just that general feeling that he’s that his answers aren’t sharp in some way and that that tells us something larger. But I don’t think it was this specific blunt charge from Castro.

S8: So I have not watched any of the other debates and full I’ve only watched that snippet. So this is the first one I’d watched in full.

S6: And one thing that was so striking to me is there was very little about Trump. Sarah Harris but that that Trump himself was considering how he overshadows politics today. He was not that much part of the debate.

S9: Well don’t you think that what happens is that the small policy differences are relatively small differences among the Democrats get magnified because they’re arguing with each other and also because the questions direct them. I mean the health care section in the beginning went on for a really long time and there are material differences about whether you’re going to end private insurance or not and how much money you’re going to spend. But still the argument they’re having is like over on one side of the spectrum and they kind of you know I think flicked it oh hey remember the person in the White House is the one wrecking Obamacare. I mean Harris mentioned that the Justice Department is suing to stop the AFA and you know to to end the Affordable Care Act. But most of the words are about their differences with each other.

S12: I felt like Harris actually had two of her best moments with respect to Trump which isn’t usually I don’t find that profitable for candidates because we all know they hate em and when they call him names it doesn’t do anything. But I thought in her opening statement when she chose to to spend some of her time directly addressing him. You know it’s a pretty useful expenditure of your time.

S7: First I have a few words for Donald Trump. Well we all know is watching so President Trump.

S13: You spent the last two and a half years full time trying to sow hate and division among us as. And that is why we’ve gotten nothing done. You have used hate intimidation fear and over 12000 lives as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises. But here’s what you don’t get what you don’t get. Is that the American people are so much better than this. And we know that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us regardless of our race where we live are the party with which we are registered to vote. And I plan on focusing on our common issues our common hopes and desires. And in that way unifying our country winning this election and turning the page for America and now President Trump you can go back to watching Fox News.

S12: You know it’s a pretty useful expenditure of your time to show primary voters what you might look like when you’re taking on the guy they all want to be. A lot of times candidates when they don’t have an answer and don’t have anything interesting to say will say we all need to remember we agree on more than we disagree and the real enemy here is Donald Trump. And that basically means I don’t have anything interesting to say but that’s a good default place. She did something better than that. I thought on healthcare that was actually effective. But other than that I’ve been really surprised that nobody has done something either a to engage the president in a fight that would get the president tweeting about them because what better free publicity than that and b get engaged in a policy fight or a fight on your terms with the president because you need to show Democratic voters that you can do this because that’s what they care about. So that no there were a lot. There’s also a there’s a lot of black of creativity in these candidates which is kind of striking their explanatory skills are pretty weak. And that’s a really useful thing to get voters to listen to you when you take one of these problems and help them understand what’s going on. They don’t do that that well and they’re storytelling. Elizabeth Warren tell us some good stories and occasionally here and there some candidates have told good stories their final answers I thought to the question about resilience were all pretty strong almost all of them were pretty strong and that requires some storytelling but like the basic things that good candidates do they don’t they actually don’t do a lot.

S6: But your point about not going after Trump or not starting a fight with Trump is a really interesting one. I hadn’t even thought about that. Wait.

S9: I’m going to totally defend them on this because this is the lesson from other countries with right wing populist that when you start falling for are bullying and you get caught up in that it diminishes you and to the extent that Warren did that you know a year and a half ago or two years ago and then got into that whole exchange with him. I don’t think that it helped her. I think they’re smart now a policy battle with him. Yeah.

S12: That’s what they should but it should be on policy grounds they should be treating him as like a normal regular sober science candidate even though he’s not that pick a fight that’s on your turf and about your things which you know Biden when he announced his candidacy and led with Charlottesville tried to tempt the president into a fight with him over one of the president’s most glaring moments. It’s a fight on Biden’s turf the emotional space which is his best space in the president’s words. So that’s what I’m talking about is either on policy or any values question you try to tempt the president into a fight on on your turf. I’m not Yeah I’m not talking about like a name calling thing.

S6: Also I think Emily it’s it’s true that if you’re Warren or Biden or Sanders you probably wouldn’t want to do this but if you’re a sort of fringe candidate if you’re sort of on the edge you’re you’re in trouble you’re your Harris in fact then that’s probably your play too to make yourself somehow the center of attention to draw yourself to the top again. Which maybe is what Harris was trying to do. She was the only one who was who was Trump focused. Is there is there a case that this is this debate which appears to me to be a status quo debate that it didn’t it didn’t have any hugely important moments which look like are going to be fatal for anybody or elevate anyone that makes it a big win for Biden because Biden is ahead and he survived another encounter. And so he is it’s built in advantage continues.

S12: I think even I think that having you make a very good point.

S9: Yeah. Do you think Bernie slipped a little bit in the beginning I thought maybe he seemed like he was. I don’t know. Little out of it and then I thought he like got going and what’s his normal Bernie style like that if you are a Bernie person there was plenty to be like. Yeah.

S6: That’s my guy. Well I thought Bernie was I thought he was fine I thought. To me it’s always the. What’s so striking to me is the one just pure so much better than all of them except maybe Mayor Pete who’s very very good on his feet very very smooth very calm but warm just seems to be playing a different game than everybody else. But maybe it’s because I’m I’m baked in for her or something.

S9: So John I wonder what you think about her explaining skills because you are saying you didn’t feel like any of them would do their job.

S7: What about her on that score.

S12: I was she’s bad. I think she’s better than Sanders at explaining that they tend to work the same side of the street. I think she and I have heard her do really good. She does something that’s quite skillful especially for somebody who you know it doesn’t come out of a lifetime of politics which is weaving in her experiences on the campaign trail and that tells you two things one just narratively because stories are important. And it also shows she’s listening on the campaign trail that she’s really taking in information. And if you believe that that’s one of the things that’s important about having a single representative for the whole country is how open are their ears. And so the quick ability to hear a story and incorporate it in a way that’s authentic and not just like the total Mad Libs you know paint by numbers thing is a C is an important skill. I didn’t feel like it was rather righteously on display tonight. And the explaining is when people talk about trade and how 300000 jobs have been lost I think you benefit from explaining how those jobs are lost or how if six hundred dollars by the average family is I think is just saying you know those terrorists being put on Chinese goods and as a result the prices rise and you pay more at the cashier yet people understand what they are. They understand that that’s how it now works. And they feel like they’ve gotten a little bit of a more of a hold on their world. And that I think has a transitive benefit to whoever does the explaining. Especially when the current president is kind of unexplained in things which ought to we’re telling people that things that aren’t so and I don’t know this is something that Bill Clinton was very good at was just explaining the way the world works and what it also does is it creates the predicate then for your great answer about your solution because you’ve just now that you’ve teed up how the world works your see your solution makes all that much more sense.

S6: OK before we go to bed with a million o’clock quick lightning round. Emily any lightning thoughts on tonight.

S9: All right lightning. I was really happy that criminal justice came up again and I loved the way the moderator framed the question and made Harris and club star defend their record as prosecutors. And I was super disappointed that there were no questions again about the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is going to play a huge role in this next presidency and as far as I can tell it has gotten like the zero to like a tiny bit of attention and all these debates.

S12: John lightning I would go to the last answer on the question about resilience what professional setback you had and what did you learn and how did you bounce back. Because it tells you two things one whatever they can it candidates actually answered which tell you something about them. But also in the way they answered you this is the kind of question you need to have thought about not just in your debate prep but in your life about how you find meaning and what drives you and what your actual real challenges have been. And that shows you a little bit about the way these brains actually work and that’s what the job is is putting a brain up against some of the hardest problems on the globe.

S6: And so it gives you a little bit of a window into what these scattered cats are going to actually have to do in office by lightning Andrew Yang’s proposal to give is a thousand dollars a month to 10 families is definitely the craziest most audacious probably illegal gimmick I’ve ever heard as a campaign promise and do I. One of the things I cannot abide is the way they’re always these guys always say I’m so proud I did this. I’m so proud I did this. If I had a dollar for every time I said I’m so proud I could fund Andrew Yang’s proposal.

S9: But should they replace. I’m so proud with it’s so hard because they have to brag on themselves and then it’s like immediately unappealing.

S6: Yes that’s the problem.

S12: But they could tell a story. You could say we’ve fought really hard and and I’m proud of other people.

S14: And what I might as I write is maybe other people should be president. You know.

S12: Well no but you know it’s implicit in that is your commanding role. Plus you show humility which if they were if the ideas that people get voted for who are the opposite of the incumbent and that would probably be you could make a case that that’s an attractive quality.

S6: All right. Dennis listeners. This was a special Slate Plus gabfest and we were glad to bring it to you tonight. So have a good week. We’ll talk to you soon.