Dem Debate #2: Brainy Buttigieg Prediction Bears Out

by Heather Robinson

Yesterday I speculated as to whether President Trump felt any of the Democratic 2020 hopefuls was a threat, and noted that the only one he’s nicknamed – aside from frontrunners “Sleepy Joe” Biden and Bernie “Nutty Professor” Sanders – is South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (“Alfred E. Neuman”). Last night, my theory that Mayor Pete’s receiving a nickname from the Commander-in-Chief was actually a compliment was vindicated.

Buttigieg carried himself like a champ. More on this later.

This debate was more emotional than the first.

Kamala Harris came out swinging, and got Biden on the ropes right away. But to me, she, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, and most of the others seemed overly pumped up, histrionic, perhaps even a little embarrassingly personal, bringing to mind – with the exception of Buttigieg – a bunch of high school drama students auditioning for a play about politics.

Neither Kamala Harris nor Kristen Gillibrand struck me as remotely Presidential, because they relied too much on grandstanding and emotional manipulation. I lost track of some of their points because I was distracted by their behavior. And Marianne Williamson, well … she said she wanted to defeat President Trump by “harness[ing] love,” but in her final speech, she radiated contempt, which any good counselor, spiritual or otherwise, will tell you is a killer, whether it be to a relationship, a family, a business, etc. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Despite her calling card, Williamson didn’t say it with love.

That said, our country desperately needs to transcend self and tribe, and the partisan divide is so severe, I wouldn’t dismiss the value of an enlightened spiritual advisor to a President to bring the sides together.

But Marianne is not The One.

I actually think Cory Booker (who shone pretty bright in debate #1) has done more to radiate love and spiritual uplift than Williamson – without claiming to be anybody’s guru.

Bernie Sanders reminds me of a Bernie Sanders impersonator. Love the hand gestures, but can anyone aside from a college kid really take a millionaire socialist seriously for President of the United States? Let’s hope not. I admire his energy, but it’s time for him to relax at the pool with a corned beef sandwich and a seltzer, already. He’s in Miami, for God’s sake.

Lest I be accused of bias against my sex re: Harris and Gillibrand, I can’t picture Condoleezza Rice, Nikki Haley, or Hillary Clinton behaving in such a mawkish or hyper way on a Presidential debate stage.

That said, Harris was bold, and she did what she did to knock Biden out  – which is perhaps why most commentators have been calling the match for her all day long.

She got in the best quip of the night with, “America doesn’t want a food fight, they want to know how to put food on the table.”

Then she went after Biden for his recent bumbling remarks regarding two U.S. Senators who had been segregationists, and Biden shot back by saying he “did not praise racists,” and trying to out-liberal Harris by invoking his past as a public defender (as opposed to a prosecutor, presumably like Harris).

Uncle Joe Biden’s gonna need his grin to win, and he wasn’t doin’ too much grinnin’ last night.

There was a lot of talking over each other, and a lot of talk of children being kept “in cages” by Donald Trump. For the record, whatever one believes about U.S. facilities for temporarily housing illegal immigrants (and I’m in favor of improving them, especially for children), this is an inaccurate characterization. According to the Associated Press, “Democrats routinely and inaccurately blame Trump for creating ‘cages’ for children. They are actually referring to chain-link fencing inside the McAllen center [in Texas].” That center, complete with chain-link fencing, was built during President Obama’s time in office.

Buttigieg, who as far as I can recall refrained from these kinds of histrionics, emerged as a voice of reason. Asked why the comparative lack of racial diversity on South Bend’s police force hasn’t improved in two years, he showed a refreshing willingness to take responsibility, stating simply, “I couldn’t get it done.”

Buttigieg didn’t pander, declining to weigh in with an opinion on the case of a black man’s shooting by a white police officer that has engulfed his city in recent days. He noted that the officer says he was attacked with a knife, though he didn’t have his body camera on, and said, “I’m not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back.” This is important. At a time when we are all called upon, appropriately, to be more sensitive than we have been in the past to racial inequities, we can’t do so at the expense of respect for fact-finding and rule of law.

That said, I would have preferred Buttigieg say, “I’m not taking sides…” as opposed to, “I’m not allowed to …” But on the whole he did well with a very tough question.

Yesterday I wrote that other than the frontrunners, only Buttigieg has been given a nickname by President Trump, which may mean that only he, so far, has been judged a formidable adversary by the President. Indeed, Mayor Pete came across in this second debate as strong, on point, and possessing a leader’s self-assurance and willingness to accept responsibility. Whether in 2020 or at some later date, he’s going bigger places than South Bend.

Shakepeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage,” and nowhere have those words borne out more vividly than in American presidential politics in our media-driven age.

At a time when many call for civility, incivility for the cameras is the norm. Will a leader emerge with a message of uplift that begins to heal the divide? It will take real willingness to listen to fellow Americans, especially those with whom we may passionately disagree.

Whose fortunes will rise and whose will fall as we move into fall?

It remains to be seen, but as we change the channel, we can be sure of one thing: once President Trump starts handing out the nicknames, it won’t be a bore.