Sohn: Democrats need to aim at Trump, not each other

Sohn: Democrats need to aim at Trump, not each other

August 2nd, 2019 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Former Vice President Joe Biden, center, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, speak Wednesday during the second night of Democratic presidential debates in Detroit. At left is Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)


So many candidates, so little time.

The clearest take-away from this week's debates is that no matter how much hand-wringing America's 24-hour pundits do about some imagined progressive vs. moderate Democratic gulf, our 2020 candidate bench is wide, long and strong.

Everyone on the stage during both nights of the second set of 2020 Democratic presidential debates would do this country proud and be a far, far better president than Donald J. Trump.

Furthermore, everyone on the stage on both nights would make an excellent vice president or Cabinet member.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on Tuesday were rock solid, and both handled the heat of the Medicare-for-all debate better than any candidate in the 40-minute health care discussion Wednesday. In fact, in the second debate night, Kamala Harris didn't seem to know how to defend her own health care plan against the studied and square-on knocks from former Vice President Joe Biden — you know, the guy who's supposed to be off his game but clearly isn't.

Joe's back and all in from his lackluster performance in the first debate. He still got a ding or two from Cory Booker and Julian Castro, but he smiled and took it well — a long-seasoned political lesson that seems to be lost on Booker, Castro, Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and especially Bill de Blasio.

All of the candidates flung it at Biden, sometimes even attacking the Obama administration as a way to chip at the former vice president. Sadly, when Biden handed it back neatly without blustering, the stung faces on Wednesday's stage lacked that look of epiphany that consensus-building leaders get when a policy discussion starts to mature and hum toward improvement.

Biden gets that look a lot. It's the look of seeing ways to take the political policies of, for instance, 2009's Obamacare rules and finding inspiration to tweak them into a plan for today's Medicare-for-all and then some.

Biden's former running mate, President Barack Obama — famously termed those mind-changing moments as evolving. Biden is evolving. We all do. But Biden still is failing to talk about it, and Wednesday became the closest he's yet come to pointing out that the rising guard on stage with him also should acknowledge their own evolutions. That was when Gillibrand tried to throw Biden under the bus with a clip from a 1981 op-ed he wrote.

"What did you mean when you said when a woman works outside the home it leads to deterioration of family?" she asked, insinuating he was not supportive of working mothers.

Biden's op-ed was actually arguing against giving a child care tax credit to people with higher incomes. What he wrote nearly 40 years ago was: "A recent act of Congress puts the federal government in the position, through the tax codes, of subsidizing the deterioration of the family. That is tragic."

Biden looked directly at Gillibrand and recalled his own first-hand knowledge of child care costs when he found himself a single father after his first wife was killed in a car accident in 1972. He also reminded Gillibrand that she once traveled to Syracuse University with him and applauded him for his work on behalf of women's equality.

"I don't know what's happened, except that you're now running for president," Biden said.

Strong bench aside, we have to agree with former Sen. Claire McCaskill, who — after watching the back-to-back debate nights as an analyst for MSNBC — said: "It makes me nervous and makes me want to turn down the volume when they're going after each other."

For months now, pundits and analysts have said Democrats have to be running on more than just Donald Trump.

It was true, up to a point. Democrats have had to develop some ideas and plans. Enter Medicare-for-all — which, even unpolished is more than Republicans' never-materialized alternative to Obamacare, which they gutted. Enter the Green New Deal, which is far better than Republicans' solution to climate change, which is "just stop talking about it." Enter Andrew Yang's "Freedom Dividend, a universal basic income of $1,000 a month aimed at fighting poverty and helping Americans start businesses and grow the economy. And, yes: You name it, and Elizabeth Warren does in fact have a plan for it.

Democrats are proving every day that we can think big and act bigger.

But we Democrats also have to keep reminding ourselves and each other that it's Donald Trump who's the opponent.

And, no. He's not a tough guy. He's a wimp.

We don't need a bully to thrash Trump. We need some polished, good old-fashioned, bold, evolving, democracy-saving plans. And those come to fruition when we attack problems, not each other.

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