The Democrats have been trudging along this presidential primary as though this were any normal election and the usual rules of politics during the primary nomination phase apply in 2020 as well. On the heels of being impeached by the House of Representatives, President Donald Trump launched a drone strike killing an Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani.
Trump’s reckless action showed his utter disregard for Congress, pushed US and Iran into a state of heightened tension and sparked fears of more instability in the Middle East. Thumbing its nose at the Democrats, the Trump administration has now taken the position that killing Soleimani was justified whether or not he posed an imminent threat.
Democrats have wasted valuable time not realizing that the 2020 presidential election will be anything but normal. It has taken them more than eight months to whittle down the extraordinarily long list of hopefuls seeking a chance beat the incumbent Republican to a dozen. Six of them — Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, former Vice President Joe Biden, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg and billionaire investor Tom Steyer — had met the requirements set by the Democratic National Committee and took the stage for their party’s 7th debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday, January 14.
Why Democrats Should Vote for a Moderate
In addition to the usually debated topics on health care, immigration, climate change, foreign policy, economic inequality, government structure and education, the impeachment proceedings against Trump and the aftermath of his imprudent actions against Iran set the stage for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
It was no surprise that the recent turn of events in the Middle East meant the first few questions to the candidates were around American foreign policy and their qualification for the role of commander-in-chief of the United States of America. Sanders wasted no time in calling out the lies of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and his opposition to the Iraq War in 2002. He also pointed out the other huge blunder in America’s foreign policy that got it embroiled in the Vietnam War. Sanders essentially reiterated his non-interventionist foreign policy that would rely on negotiations with adversaries in close collaboration with allies over military intervention and armed conflicts.
Senator Warren minced no words when she said that she would pull back all American troops deployed in the Middle East back and put an end to the corruption between the defense industry and the Pentagon. Biden was apologetic about his support of the Iraq War but touted his role in the troop reduction in the region during the Obama administration.
Buttigieg, who was deployed to Afghanistan as a naval intelligence officer, talked about the emerging threats to national security in the form of cyberattacks. He was the only person to bring up the topic of executive powers granted to the president post 9/11 and argued that they ought to be revisited, lest they be misused the way Trump did in his recent drone attack in Baghdad to target General Soleimani.
The debating candidates were more or less unanimous in how they would deal with Iran and North Korea. Their approach would rely on undoing the damage caused by Trump and his administration in both countries, ensuring Iran remains non-nuclear, and applying pressure on North Korea with the help of China and Japan.
Trade, Climate Change and Health Care
Sanders vehemently opposed the new trade deal between America, Mexico and Canada, the USMCA, on account of the fact that there were no climate change-related checks and balances in them, even as he acknowledged that the deal had modest improvements favoring American workers. The two other senators, Klobuchar and Warren, voiced their support, as did the remaining candidates.
Steyer tried to make a case as the climate change candidate on the stage, but he failed to set himself apart in a meaningful fashion. Each one of his opponents agreed to take on addressing climate change, stating that it would be one of their top priorities.
Sanders could not convincingly explain how he would pay for his Medicare-for-all policy when he was put on the spot. Warren and Klobuchar aim to build on the Affordable Care Act, as does Biden, who did not lose the opportunity to christen his improvements to Obamacare as the “Biden option.” Buttigieg stood by his public option of health care for everyone with two key proposals: lowering prescription drug costs and rolling back Trump tax cuts to corporations.
None of the candidates chose to talk about improving the overall health of Americans in a holistic fashion. Nor did they question how the health-care industry continues to alter what is considered normal for chronic ailments like blood pressure and cholesterol. Those changes have resulted in several more millions of Americans having to rely on prescription drugs. While the empirical evidence used to alter the range for chronic ailments ought to be respected, relying on prescription drugs without a holistic approach to health will only address the symptom and provide long-term and life-long customers to the pharmaceutical industry.
Can a Woman Become President?
In the days leading to the debate, Warren had accused Sanders that in 2018 he suggested that a woman could not become the president of United States. Warren’s and Sanders’ campaigns had agreed not to go down the mudslinging route between themselves, but by bringing up something Sanders had allegedly said in 2018, Warren had chosen to move away from that arrangement. The issue came up during the debate: Sanders denied that he ever made such a statement, while Warren did not seem to acknowledge it.
After making a pitch of how the two women on stage have the highest record in winning elections, Warren went on to say that she is only one on stage to beat an incumbent Republican in an election in the last 30 years. Sanders promptly contested that assertion, stating that he beat an incumbent Republican in 1990, technically in the 30-year timeframe that Warren had mentioned. While Sanders and Warren chose not to escalate their barbs on stage, it was clear that there was not much love lost in the bickering between the two progressive candidates.
Best Suited to Take on Trump
While no clear winner emerged from the debate, Biden, the current leader in national polls, emerged as a loser. Biden is running on a centrist agenda and his supposed ability to beat Trump. During the 7th debate he was hesitant, apologetic and inarticulate, all of which will make it impossible for him to stand up against the bully Trump during the presidential campaign and debates.
Steyer ought to realize that he is wasting everyone’s time continuing to stick around — as should the remaining six who did not even make it to the national debate. Steyer would do well to spend his money on helping whoever emerges as the candidate to take on Trump. He should quit the race knowing his signature campaign agenda — climate change — will be addressed by whoever is the Democratic nominee to take on Trump.
Klobuchar was fluent, but lacked the conviction and substance the other three on stage displayed. Like Biden, she courts the centrist Democrats with her policies and her supposed ability to come out on top where Trump fared well in 2016.
Sanders and Warren, whose viewpoints were closely aligned much of the way, were persuasive and stood by them with authority. The challenge they will face is in convincing the centrist Democrats and the rest of the country that their progressive policies will, in the long run, be beneficial for the country even if it means reigning in the capitalistic excesses of the nation. Buttigieg showed himself to be competent and cogent, and will make an excellent addition to either a Sanders or Warren ticket.
Beating Trump will not be easy. Trump will run a brutal campaign that is dirty, filled with name-calling, personal insults, evading the truth and substantive issues while spreading lies. His impeachment has not swayed the opinion of his supporters. He will very likely be acquitted in the farce of a Senate trial later this month and emerge that much stronger and more vicious. Biden will not be able to stand up to the personal assault of a savage Trump campaign.
Sanders or Warren, on the other hand, will have the opportunity to face Trump without a barrage of personal assaults that is bound to muddy the campaign. Their primary challenge will be selling their progressive agenda to the nation, especially in the swing states. Given how hard it is going to be to beat Trump, it is a risk worth taking rather than run with an insipid Biden and his centrist campaign.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.