It’s said that as the fourth hour of Otto Preminger’s Israel movie “Exodus” began at its premiere in 1960, the comedian Mort Sahl rose from his chair and said, “Otto, let my people go!” The audience cheered.
As the Democratic debate in Houston entered its third hour last night, I rose from my chair and said, “ABC, let the American people go!” And there was no one to cheer, for I was alone in my office.
Finally, there was to be one debate, 10 candidates, with frontrunners Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren facing each other at last. What happened was what Preminger’s Israelis would have called a “balagan” — bedlam, chaos, tumult, like trying to conduct a conversation at Times Square when the 1 and the 2 are pulling into the station simultaneously.
On issue after issue, the candidates engaged in unclear, confusing, halting policy discussions — that is, when they weren’t engaging in pettifoggery designed to occlude our understanding of their views rather than clarifying them.
It got so bad that Julian Castro, one of the seven people on the stage who have as much of a chance of becoming president as I do, thought he’d caught out Joe Biden in a candidacy-ending mistake. Hadn’t Biden just said everyone would be forced into Medicare two minutes after saying they could keep their private insurance?
Could Biden not remember what he had said two minutes before?
Castro was playing the senility card against the 76-year-old Biden. But the person who was senile in that moment was the 44 year-old Castro, because Biden had not contradicted himself. Castro had misunderstood Biden.
It was easy to misunderstand Biden, whose undeniable energy was not matched by clarity. He gave an answer on Afghanistan and Iran that was so confusing Bernie Sanders accused him of opposing the surge in Iraq when he was talking about the surge in Afghanistan. Biden didn’t object to Sanders’ mischaracterization because he might have gotten lost in his own weeds.
So did Elizabeth Warren, whose words, sentence by sentence, were perfectly clear but whose meaning was not. In a lengthy attack on Trump’s tariffs, she defended Trump’s tariffs. In another assault on Trump’s Afghanistan policy she basically said everything that Trump has said about Afghanistan. Was this deliberate?
Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47
He didn’t used an “F-bomb” — but Beto O’Rourke was…
As for Bernie Sanders, the only question I have to ask is this: Will the $30 trillion cost of his health care plan cover some throat lozenges? He spent the entire night needing to clear his throat. It was maddening, though perhaps not as maddening as him screaming at us as though we had just cut him off in traffic.
Every liberal on Twitter seemed to think Beto O’Rourke is wonderful for saying he’s going to seize everyone’s AR-15. Does it matter that he can’t, Congress won’t, and he’s peddling snake oil?
The best performance of the night was probably from Cory Booker, who made a couple of good jokes and seemed passionate and calm at the same time, which is what you want from a debate. But it wasn’t the kind of thing that changes the trajectory of a race.
Joe Biden looked strong at the start, flagged in the middle, and then near the end offered a beautiful answer to a question about the setbacks in his life and the resilience he has learned from them. The answer from a man who lost his wife and daughter in a car accident and a 46-year-old son to cancer was simple: “You find purpose.”
That came around the two-and-a-half-hour mark, though. How anyone not being paid to watch was still watching is a mystery to me.
Who won? Nobody wins a balagan.
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