Debate #3: Democrats Imitate Donald

by Heather Robinson

The gloves came off toward Joe Biden in Democratic debate #3, which featured a group of 10 candidates who qualified based on polling and unique donor numbers, winnowing the field. Personally, I missed the antics of New Age guru Marianne Williamson and the rational former Congressman John Delaney – for different reasons. But with Sen. Kamala Harris of California seeming less like the tough prosecutor she did in debates #1 and #2 and more like the wild sorority sister at a kegger, and Bernie Sanders seeming more muppet-like than ever, I wasn’t thoroughly bored (though here’s hoping Marianne and my favorite Dem, Hawaii Senator Tulsi Gabbard, qualify for the next debate October 15th and possibly 16th).

That said, at moments – such as when Beto O’Rourke blamed President Trump for the actions of a crazed mass murderer – saying the El Paso shooter was “inspired to kill” by the President (which the shooter himself did not claim, in fact stating in his manifesto that his beliefs pre-dated Trump’s election), I found this debate hard to stomach. Ditto for Kamala Harris: “He may not have pulled the trigger, but he’s Tweetin’ the ammunition!” (Meanwhile, President Trump could not have condemned white supremacy more at this point if he were the head of the ADL. You don’t have to be pro-Trump, just pro-truth, to recognize this).

There was no mention that the Dayton shooter was an extreme leftist and Elizabeth Warren supporter. Should Trump-supporters, or conservatives generally, start blaming her for the deaths and injuries of innocent people? No. But it would be the equivalent of what Harris and O’Rourke are doing. The irony is, by refusing to see that the “climate” of hate in this country is not unique to one side, and engaging in demagoguery, they are helping to create what they claim to deplore.

Not only is what O’Rourke and Harris engaged in unfair, it does nothing to attempt to honestly understand or begin to address the scourge of mass shooting, a curse in this country for the past 50 years. I suspect the causes of this scourge are more likely psychological/sociological than political, spawned from some complicated mix of mental illness and of violence woven throughout the society. But it seems to me that if politics and media play some role in triggering some of these maladjusted individuals, introspection on all of our parts is in order. In a society where rates of overdose, crime, and general dysfunction are rising among a certain demographic, where violence is normalized and even romanticized in mass media and entertainment, there is a lot of blame to go around.  These maladjusted killers are often gamers, not political operatives. Should we examine the effects of violent gaming? Some of these very young men and boys have stated they admired other mass shooters who came before them. Should we look at the role played by media, for broadcasting sensationalized coverage of mass shootings on a 24-hour loop, until recently featuring the names and images of the killers prominently? Do politicians truly care about the victims of mass shootings, and about our safety, or do they want to score cheap political points? If it’s the former, they should stop simplistic blaming of other public figures and call for serious examination of the problem.

Despite being upset by O’Rourke’s and Harris’s demagoguery, and since I don’t have a donkey in this fight, I tried to enjoy the debate as much as I could. It is, after all, a part of our democracy.

Was it me, or was Kamala Harris acting like a drunk administrative assistant at a Murray Hill happy hour? For those who missed it, in answer to a question about trade policy, Harris concluded, “The bottom line is this: Donald Trump, in office, on trade policy, y’know, he reminds me of that guy in the Wizard of Oz. Y’know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really SMALL dude.” In response, moderator George Stephanopoulos grinned, “I’m not even going to take the bait, Senator Harris,” whereupon she, shrieking like a 22-year-old who’s had one too many margaritas, cried, “Aw George it wasn’t about yoooo–oooouuuu!”

If this was a profane reference to the President’s anatomy, it’s hypocritical coming from a candidate of the far left, whose members generally insisted the President’s crude remarks about women’s private parts on an 11-year-old tape should disqualify him from seeking the Presidency (Trump’s conversation was not intended for public consumption, not rehearsed for delivery on a debate stage to 14 million people).

Ladies: taking umbrage over men’s use of vulgar terms to reference women’s anatomy, while engaging in insensitive jokes at the expense of men and their anatomy, is hypocrisy. And it’s not going to get you elected President.

Harris’s jab came across to me as unpresidential, as much as anything I’ve seen Donald Trump do on a Presidential debate stage. It struck me then that perhaps Harris – as well as Julian Castro, who later in the debate threw repeated, apparently ageist, shade at Biden (“You just said that. You just said that two minutes ago … Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?”) – could be auditioning to be the Democrats’ Donald Trump– an outrageous, outspoken figure to offer a pugnacious antidote to the grasping, plastic, drone-like Hillary Clinton.

What I think they’re missing, though, is that Trump can actually be funny.

Another attempt to be politically incorrect was Andrew Yang’s clunky statement: “I’m Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.”


Only now do I realize what he was up to – imitating Trump!

Trade policy discussion was not the last of Harris’s antics. Discussing the constitutionality of trying to ban assault weapons (a subject that anyone on either side of the issue who cares about it views as gravely serious), Harris, grinning like a Cheshire cat and erupting in bizarrely voluble peals laughter, leaned over, attempted eye contact with Biden and said in what sounded like a very flirtatious voice, “Hey Joe! Instead of sayin’ ‘No we can’t,’ how ‘bout sayin’ ‘yes we can?’”

In response to this giggly provocation, Biden just stood there motionless (which, given the tenor of our times, is pretty much the only posture allowed him,) and said, “That’s Unconstitutional. We’ve got a Constitution.”

A few additional points on the debate’s substance: Harris struck a moderate tone on trade, describing our relationship with China as “complicated” and saying that while we need to sell them our goods, we also need to hold them accountable for stealing our products, including our “intellectual property.”

Biden came across on the whole as reasonable in contrast to the others.

Cory Booker, whose bridge-building efforts with the American Jewish community go way back, came across as earnest and intelligent. He did right to show up this year at AIPAC Policy Conference despite’s attempt to urge a democratic boycott. It’s unfortunate that Booker’s recent voting record regarding Israel has been a huge disappointment. Of particular note was his inexplicable failure to support the Taylor Force Act. Let’s hope he returns to supporting the Jewish-American community in ways that are more vital and more concrete that his occasional use of Hebrew.

Overall, I felt like I was watching the class flirt and various nerds try to imitate the class clown. It was only funny when at times they themselves became the joke.

Advice for debate 4: If it doesn’t come naturally, don’t force it, girls and boys.