It’s the holiday time, and everyone is exemplifying the spirit of kindness and goodwill. But not me. It was “Knives Out” for Pete Buttigieg last night at the debate and I have a few bones to pick.
Joe Biden – All the support the polls are showing for Joe Biden I like to refer to as “car shopping” commitment. You may be attracted by the low price and sturdiness of that 2008 Jetta that’s been “previously driven” or “gently used,” or “occasionally handled” or whatever Marvin Sty the Used Car Guy is calling it these days. You may even give it a test drive. But you know from the very beginning you’re not driving off the lot with anything less than that shiny brand new Fusion hybrid. After all, who wants to sit for three hours debating financial terms for a candidate with a faulty starter motor?
In other words, people responding to polls are saying, “Oh Joe Biden! I know that name!” What they aren’t saying is what they’re thinking, “Vote for Joe Biden? Ehhhh…. Is Ben Affleck on the ballot?”
I don’t mean to suggest that Biden has no solid support. I’ve said in the past I think it will come down to Pete and Joe for the nomination, and I’m sticking to that prediction. They are both moderates who will be able to pull support from either side of their position. But as we get closer to Iowa, I think voters are going to start openly admitting that Joe is their “safety school” candidate. They’re not totally opposed to him, but they’re hoping the decision about considering him will be taken away from them by the time they have to commit.
Having said that, I eagerly await Pete and Joe debating alone on stage. So far, they’ve more or less stayed clear of each other, as they’re both collecting the same type of voter (similar to Bernie and Warren). But I can’t think of a more dignified pair of candidates for the race to come down to on the Democratic side. I think it would be a debate history would remember, regardless of which of them ultimately proves victorious. It would also be a nice lesson to all of us on how dignity and mutual respect still have a place in the political process.
Andrew Yang – This guy is a miracle. He continues to walk the line between actual human being and a humanoid robot that can kick a ball and do somersaults but will spend three hours repeatedly walking into a wall if you don’t nudge him to the left with your hand. He spits out data and talking points well, but he short-circuits when faced with any question requiring him to think on his feet, which coincidentally is where Pete Buttigieg truly shines.
Andrew may have gotten some laughs by going into wide-eyed, default face when tossed the easy-as-pie “forgiveness vs. gift” question at the end of the night… you know, the question where the candidates were allowed to show their humanity – but I don’t think everyone in the room was actually laughing with him.
The supporters for Andrew Yang are fierce. Fierce and young. I had to think on the “why” on this one for a bit, and then it finally came to me. When my parents were young, they all wanted to be firefighters and policemen. When my generation was young, we wanted to be rappers and reality stars. These days, young people aspire to be goofy tech entrepreneurs who can show you up with algorithm smarts, but stand in the corner at parties, wipe their sweaty anxiety-ridden palms on their pants and pray no one talks to them.
In short, Andrew Yang is smart, but he’s not a persuader. Need someone to correct your HTML code for three days alone in the walk-in closet you converted into an office? Andrew’s your guy. Playing intellectual bob and weave with real-lifers Putin and Kin Jong-un? No one beats Pete Buttigieg.
Amy Klobuchar – Aside from Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar is the only person on stage who moves like she wasn’t programmed at a Disney Imagineer factory. Her campaign motto should be “Foreign policy don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!” Fingers jabbing wildly into the air, big smiles, head swaying, hair flipping, body slamming the podium. Amy is a one-woman political Macarena.
Unfortunately, Amy is up against the wall to produce some robust poll numbers, and last night it showed with her weak attacks on Pete. I’m not saying she didn’t have any points, but her delivery was all kinds of off-putting. Did anyone else think Amy looked a little desperate whenever she laid that thick layer of condescension into the word “May-errrr”? Everyone else simply said the word “Mayor” normally, and let it make its own point. But not Amy. She delivered it with the subtlety of Phyllis Diller minus the cigarette holder and ostrich feather collar. I don’t think it hurts Pete that he’s not been a part of the Washington machine, instead serving as just a lowly insignificant “mayor,” as Amy is covertly suggesting. I wondered what Amy might say about a man who praised her successes and then back-handed it with a “not bad for a lady!” tacked on at the end.
I like Amy, but she’s making it harder and harder for me to admit it out loud.
Elizabeth Warren – Don’t you just want to bring a snazzy pen and pencil set to Elizabeth Warren in June and thank her for graduating you into the fourth grade? There is nothing dangerous about Elizabeth Warren. She’s “Politician, Plain and Tall.” There’s no concern you have she won’t answer with policy, a plan, a study, some charts and graphs, a few test results, a parent-teacher conference, some extra credit assignments, or a pair of hamsters in the corner she’ll let you take home for the weekend once a month. All fine and good, until you notice that when it comes to the signature piece of her campaign – universal health care – Elizabeth Warren has backed out so far and so fast she plowed through the mansion of the neighbors across the street. If she was a student in her own classroom, she’d have to fail herself for peeking off Pete Buttigieg’s policy proposals.
But don’t worry for Elizabeth. Any voter who might question her commitment to her own policies gets distracted with… a selfie! How many times did she proudly boast taking nearly 100,000 selfies, as if there is anyone left in America who hasn’t done at least that many? And does anyone else agree with me that bragging about the number of selfies you’ve taken feels like something Donald Trump would do?
By the way, a “wine cave” is just a “man cave” for rich dudes. I live in Portland and with a little work I could make my basement look like a wine cave too.
And it’s about time someone called Warren out on her past romances with high-dollar donors, and it was so fitting that Pete was the one to do it. The deep sting acknowledged throughout the pavilion when Pete came back at Liz with the line, “This is the problem with issuing purity tests you yourself cannot pass!” was Christmas coming a week early for me.
Bernie Sanders – I have yet to meet a Bernie bro who didn’t look like he could kick the teeth out of me, so I’ll leave it at this: Bernie never leaves anything on the field, and the white hair complimented by the increasingly red face throughout the night gave him a nice candy cane appeal which was fitting for the holiday season.
Tom Steyer – Someone needs to talk to this guy about his eyeline. You have two choices, Tom: you can stare straight into the lens and make believe you’re speaking to each and every one of us, or you can slide your gaze back and forth like you’re addressing the crowd in the room. But directing the entirety of your comments for the evening to Marty the guy operating camera number three is not an option.
There was once a time when Steyer was the big money man on the block. Remember when everyone was worried about the influence he’d have? But now that Bloomberg has jumped in, he’s become the new Google of the race, and Steyer’s now the Yahoo News. And hooray! It’s holiday time. That questionable red plaid “man of the people” tie is finally appropriate.
Last thing before I go outside to take my licks from the three Bernie Bros waiting by my Prius with bike chains in their hands: Pete Buttigieg was the only one on stage who pointed out that all candidates vying for the nomination had better be ready to unequivocally support the man or woman who wins and goes head to head with Donald J Trump in the general. Some might have considered that merely a polite gesture Pete was making he felt all should consider. I personally considered it a warning of expectation. After effortlessly swatting away all the incoming that came his way last night, Pete Buttigieg had a message for everyone else on that debate stage: the line forms behind me.