Most of the pundits writing and talking today about Thursday's Democratic debate must not have been watching the same debate we watched.
"Democratic free-for-all lays bare the party's deep policy divisions," reads the headline on Washingtonpost.com
Nah. There was a little quibbling over my plan vs. your plan, but by and large most of the candidates agreed that they all agreed on most policy. Improvement on health care for all — no matter what we call it. Stronger gun safety laws. Improving education, especially for the poor, building a better and more equitable economy.
The loudest jab came from stunt-player Julian Castro when he tried to intimate — incorrectly — that Biden said something he didn't about Biden's health care plan. Castro cast it as "Have you already forgotten what you said two minutes ago?" Castro's effort fell flat. Instead, it appears Castro might need a hearing aid, or simply be less disingenuous.
"Attacks on Biden in Debate Highlight Divide Over the Obama Legacy," read the headline on nytimes.com.
Our takeaway was a bit different. We found it downright smarmy the way all the other candidates fell over themselves to thank Barack Obama over and over. Clearly they figured out since the last debate that they are supposed to attack Donald Trump more than each other — even Biden, if attacking him meant they seemed to be dissing the president that Biden served for eight years.
Make no mistake: This was a fine debate that showcased all of what is great about the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. Every one on that stage was presidential and worthy of office. If not the office of president, then vice president or in a seat in the next president's Cabinet.
Beto O'Rourke had the best line of the night: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47!" He received booming applause and a standing ovation.
Biden had some zingers: To Bernie Sanders he said, "For a socialist, you've got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do."
But minus more made-for-TV sparks than those, pundits on Friday had to retreat to Biden bashing.
Under the heading, "It was the Best of Biden and the Biden of Biden," The New York Times called his performance "uneven" and seized on his answer to a question about equality, phrased as whether the former vice president "currently" thinks Americans need to repair the legacy of slavery in the United States.
How would you answer this?
Frankly, Biden's answer (some pundits called it "baffling," though it wasn't) was very much like our own editorials about early childhood learning in our own city and county. We've recognized that children in poor families — often minority families — are less likely to be read to as infants and toddlers, and therefore hear fewer words and do not absorb a strong vocabulary to serve them well as they start school. They begin behind, and tend to stay behind. If we want to change inequality locally and in America, that's the place to start.
Biden said: "[L]ook, there's institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education: I propose that we take the very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from $15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise to the $60,000 level.
"Number two, make sure that we help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home... We have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It's crazy. The teachers have every problem coming to them. Make sure that every single child... 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, go to school. Not day care, school.
"We bring social workers in... to help [parents] deal with how to raise their children. It's not that they don't want to help. They don't know what — they don't know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player — on at night, make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background — will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time [they] get [to start school]."
The moderator tried to stop him. But Biden said no. Other candidates had stepped over their time and he would, too, thank you. Then he extended the equality/segregation question to immigrants of today from strapped and dangerous countries in Latin America — including Venezuela, which other candidates had been asked about earlier.
"Because here's the deal. The deal is that we've got this a little backward. And by the way, in Venezuela, we should be allowing people to come here from Venezuela. I know [President Nicolas] Maduro. I've confronted Maduro. Number two, you talk about the need to do something in Latin America. I'm the guy that came up with $740 million, to see to it those three countries, in fact, changed their system... Y'all acting like we just discovered this yesterday."
That was only baffling if the pundits weren't really paying attention for all three hours. The moral of this story is simple. Watch the next debate for yourself. You're your own best listener.