What We Learned from the First Democratic Presidential Debate

What We Learned from the First Democratic Presidential Debate

By David Himmel

My wife was excited to watch the first primary presidential debate between the hopefuls from the Democratic Party. The timbre of thrill in her voice reminded me how little I cared.

What interest could I possibly have over ten people crammed on a stage vying for the spotlight so they can spew their talking points into the camera? Talking points we’ve all heard before. Talking points that always sound overtly rehearsed and designed to blast through our most basic and dumbest dopamine filters.

But Katie was excited for good reason. She wanted to know who all these people were and see if, after watching the two-hour spectacle on MSNBC, she could make an educate guess on which ones would be the first to drop out of the race. As of this writing, her guess is as good as that of Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairperson Tom Perez. That is to say it’s hard to say. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio being one of the first to drop out because he’ll be the first to get fed up with the way his party politicks. He has made it very clear that DNC leadership and loyal foot soldiers are disorganized hacks.

Initial media reports are naming Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) as the debate’s winner. More and more, Warren gains favorable ground in my eyes. I like her thoughtful, thorough plans. Yeah, they’re boring and require us to follow the bouncing ball as she walks us through them, but they’re tangible plans, even if she doesn’t repeat them in Spanish.

But for me, the real winner of last night’s debate was second-hour co-moderator and Princess of Smug Rachel Maddow. While her know-it-all smugness and condescending demeanor drives me out of the room when she’s at the anchor desk, it was perfect for moderating this debate, and even felt toned down. Maddow handled the affectionately hilarious sound issue at the top of the second hour like a pro. Live TV its most exciting when things go wrong, and Maddow along with co-moderator Chuck Todd was just the team to navigate the confusion and even have a little necessary fun with it. Furthermore, Maddow did a fantastic job of keeping the over-talkers and time-ignorers like former Maryland Congressman John DeLaney in line and did not let Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s pointing as a way of raising his hand while trying to interrupt anyone derail the program. This was something the first-hour moderators Jose Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, and Lester Holt did not do well at all.

After last night, I don’t feel so bad that Maddow stole my look.

Rachel Maddow & David Himmel: Who wore it best?

Rachel Maddow & David Himmel: Who wore it best?

In addition to my shifting opinion of Maddow — or finally seeing her wield her super powers of smugness in a positive and effective way — the big takeaways for me last night were learning more about the candidates.

• Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) looks like a nervous snake. And apparently, he lives in a really terrible part of town. But loves living there.

• Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan’s face looks like it’s always one second away from punching your goddamn lights out.

“Watch it, Mr. Mayor… my face is gonna knock you out.”

“Watch it, Mr. Mayor… my face is gonna knock you out.”

• Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) is the most human robot ever invented. For that, I commend the U.S. Military for creating such an impressively relatable war machine.

• Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro really takes certain steps to ensure a well-manicured physical image. Every hair was in place, kept there with gobs and gobs of what I assume to be the most environmentally-safe crude oil available on the market today. Image is a big deal in these debates. Has been since 1960. However, if he was going to whiten his top teeth to the degree it appears he did, someone on his staff should have reminded him to wrap the Crest White Strips around his lower chompers, too. The biggest difference on the stage last night was not between any of the candidates but the color between Castro’s top and bottom teeth. 

Based purely on their attempt to sound cool or relatable but landed flat — to my ears, anyway — here are the evening’s Top 3 Best Soundbites.

1. Gov. Inslee: “Donald Trump is wrong. He says wind turbines cause cancer. We know they don’t. We know they cause jobs.”

2. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.): “All foam and no beer.” Followed by a look that said, “Please, kids, let me hang out with you!”

3. Mayor De Blasio: “I’ve been raising a black son.”

 And with all things being about identity when dealing with the Democratic Party, we were given a better look at the Social Problems Point Scale.

Woman – 10pts
Man who advocates for birth control and women’s healthcare – 4pts
Making mention of the Trans community – 7pts
Speaking Spanish when it’s not your native tongue – 1pt
Reminding the audience you know low-income people – 8pts
Raising a black son – 3pts

Am I ready to cast my vote? No. Of course not. Am I excited for the second debate between the other ten democrats hoping to get a shot at Trump in the ring come November 2020? Not as excited as I am to see Tim Ryan’s face get arrested for beating up a bartender in rural Ohio.

The Sinking of Uncle Joe

The Sinking of Uncle Joe

The Minutes of Our Last Meeting | Be Bester

The Minutes of Our Last Meeting | Be Bester