The Fifth Democratic Debate

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Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was recalling how she bankrolled an earlier political campaign. “I raised $17,000 from ex-boyfriends,” she said.

There’s a lesson here, I thought: don’t get romanced by a politician. It’ll cost you money.

It was November 20, and I was subjecting myself to another three hours of Democrats. They did behave better this time, shutting down when their time ran out — thanks not to their inner goodness but to the rules, which cut into their time if they didn’t. Still, it was progress.

The latest entry into the melee to become the Democratic nominee for president, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, was not there, which was just as well. The candidates are still too many. I was thankful that some of the earlier ones were gone, including my state’s save-the-planet governor, Jay Inslee, and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who had irritated me with his bloviating progressivism. California Senator Kamala Harris was still there, but I was lifted up by a Washington Post piece saying she is on the verge of an exit. Harris was once California’s chief state prosecutor, a calling that seems to have defined the way she thinks.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said.

One of the notable moments of the three hours came when Harris turned her rhetorical Klieg lights on Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who promised to end regime-change wars, had recently been smeared by the Democratic Party’s previous nominee, Hillary Clinton, as a “favorite of the Russians.” Harris piled on, accusing Gabbard of having “buddied up” to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and of bad-mouthing the Obama administration on Fox News. Gabbard obliged Harris by bad-mouthing some more, saying that the Democratic Party “continues to be influenced by the foreign policy establishment represented by Hillary Clinton and others.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg also lit into Gabbard for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad in 2017. “I would not have sat down with a murderous dictator like that,” he said. Gabbard, who was a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, replied that Franklin Roosevelt had met with Stalin and Richard Nixon with Mao, and that she was willing to meet with whomever necessary.

Gabbard will not be her party’s nominee, but she says some things that need to be said. And she was the only candidate who mentioned libertarians as part of her coalition. Not that she is one — she supported Bernie Sanders four years ago — but she mentioned us, anyway.

All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff.

Speaking of libertarian issues, several candidates — Gabbard, Senator Cory Booker, and even Joe Biden — called for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Another such issue, the draft, came up in an oblique way. Elizabeth Warren was asked whether she thought more people ought to be in the military. Warren said she thought there should be more ways of community service. She said she had a program for putting 10,000 young people to work in the National Forests and National Parks. She didn’t mention a draft, nor did any of the others.

Since former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz dropped out as a possible candidate, no one has made an issue of the budget deficit or the $21 trillion federal debt. All these proud Democrats kept to their spendy tradition, promising more free stuff: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren promising Medicare for All, others promising Medicare for Lots More, Amy Klobuchar offering three months of paid family leave and Kamala Harris calling for six months’ paid leave. Pete Buttigieg was asked whether he would spend less on the military, and he dodged the question by saying he would spend more on artificial intelligence.

Always more. There was little talk about paying for any of it, though Cory Booker, in disagreeing with Warren’s wealth tax, was for raising the federal estate tax and taxing capital gains at the same rates as wages.

Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

At one point Booker said the candidates should “talk about how to grow wealth for all” rather than merely how to distribute it. Nobody else said anything like that. Andrew Yang, the former entrepreneur, declared that the advance of technology is “ripping the country apart.” Bernie Sanders, the anti-entrepreneur, asserted that 87 million Americans were without healthcare and that “the economy is rigged.” I have listened to Sanders’ redfaced rants more than I care to think about, and I can’t recall him ever saying anything favorable about the private sector. I read that Sanders was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party candidate back in 1980, and it does seem to be a salient fact about him. He never misses a chance to condemn the health insurers and the pharma companies, and during the debate he declared that the oil and gas industry is “probably criminally liable” for global warming and should be prosecuted.

When asked about the high cost of housing in California, Elizabeth Warren blamed it on the government building fewer units of public housing and private builders building too many “McMansions.” She also blamed it on racial redlining. Not a word about government land-use regulations.

As in the earlier debates, the candidates kept talking about how America was unfair and unequal, that people were struggling, democracy was dying, and the planet was doomed unless something was done right now. At the end of the gabfest, Joe Biden said, “I am so tired of everybody walking around with ‘woe is me,’ and ‘what are we going to do.’” I was tired of it, too. Listening to these candidates, you’d never know that economic times were good.

They have been particularly good for one of the candidates, Tom Steyer, who was said to be so rich that he shoveled $300 million of his net worth into his quest for the presidency. Steyer is promising to get corporate money out of politics. When asked if this wasn’t a contradiction, he said it wasn’t: He’s been wanting to do it for years. They should have asked him if he had a history of making bad investments.

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