A Tale of Two Debates


In the past three weeks, millions of Americans tuned in to watch CNN’s Republican and Democrat Presidential Primary debates, apparently because viewers wanted to watch something a little less diverse than professional wrestling but a fair bit more likely to be rigged. These debates are designed to give candidates a chance to present their case for why they should be their party’s standard bearer in the election, and as I’ve previously written, despite all the political theatre, they do a fair job at accomplishing just that. Despite being hosted by the same network, however, these debates could hardly have been more different. There were some obvious differences in presentation. For one, the Republican debate was missing the American news media’s resident silver fox, Anderson Cooper. Secondly, the Democrats only had five candidates on stage. The Republicans had enough candidates that they would receive the group discount rate if they all went to the local waterpark (don’t imagine Mike Huckabee floating down a lazy river; please, with all the strength you can muster, just push those thoughts out of your mind). Furthermore, the Democrat debate was held in Las Vegas; the home to vacationing grandparents, Hollywood glamor, and regrettable sex. The Republicans hosted their debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, which is also home to vacationing grandparents and perhaps some Hollywood glamor, but for the love of the Gipper, better not be home to anything sexual at all.

Perhaps more pointedly, however, was the difference in the issues being discussed. Obviously in a primary candidates will attempt to appeal to their party’s base, and the discussion will be limited to issues of the party’s concern. However, the disparity between, not just the views of the candidates, but in what were determined to be the issues even worth discussing was particularly alarming. Issues discussed at great length in the GOP debate, like Common Core, Planned Parenthood, and religious liberty received little to no mention in the Democratic debate. Conversely, issues such as racial discrimination, income inequality, free trade and the TPP, prison reform, campaign finance, student loans, and banking regulations were grappled with at the Democrat debate, while being virtually ignored by the Republicans. Not even being able to agree what issues are important to discuss would be like sending an invitation to a reception without clarifying if it's for a wedding or a funeral, or two people going to buy an animal without deciding first whether or not it's a pet or if it's dinner. Sometimes it really can matter whether or not people are on the same page, particularly if you're a pig, and you're trying to figure out if this is the best day of your life or the worst.

What these debates shared was that in neither debate did candidates explain how they would pass their policies. No matter who wins the White House, the next President will likely face a divided government, with a GOP House and either a Democrat Senate, or at least a Senate without a fillabuster proof majority. In any case, if only not to remain in a gridlocked era of shutdowns and showdowns, the next President will need to be able to work with the opposing party. This is problematic when, in this election cycle, both parties are running to ideological extremes. Extremists like Trump, Carson, and Sanders propose ridiculously unrealistic policies that could never pass, but they're hot political commodities. Regardless of your views, it's important for candidates to show that they can actually govern, since that's, you know, their job. If all they can do is say crowd pleasing partisan lines, then you’d be about as effective at governing as a doctor from Grey’s Anatomy would be at actually practicing medicine. Sure, they could probably say things that might make you feel better, they might even make your heart flutter and lead you to ask whether you've ever known love before this moment, but they probably couldn't even help you heal a particularly persistent paper cut.

In the Democratic debate, Clinton, a perpetual pragmatist, threw away her moderate convictions on free trade and Wall Street in order to play to her party’s base. When asked what enemies she was most proud of making, Clinton listed Iran, NRA, and the Republican Party (one of these isn't a male dominated theocracy-I'll let you decide which). It’s understandable that Clinton might not be overly enamored with the GOP, but it's problematic to call half of the country you intend to lead your enemy.

This can be dangerous. While appealing to the base is expected in a primary, a campaign where both parties aren't even discussing the same issues, and where candidates are concerned more with leading their party than their country creates a politics than can be described as polarized at best and tribal at worst. There are important issues that need to be addressed: sluggish economic growth, a convoluted tax code, thousands dead from gun violence, over a million Americans sitting behind bars, underfunded mental health care, systemic racial discrimination, and a migrant crisis, just to name a few. These issues, regardless of your stances on them, at least deserve to be addressed by both parties. Choosing to act on these issues can often make the difference between prosperity and poverty, between a happy family and a broken one, and between life and death. Behind every policy is a person, and the people affected by these issues deserve a leader willing to put people first and politics second. Obviously there will be disagreements between both parties, but perhaps we could hope candidates would be willing to focus on overcoming those disagreements rather than deepening the divisions in this country. But perhaps this is idle and impossible dreaming. I guess while we’re at it, I suppose we could dream of a perfect world: where pigs are always pets, where no one dies on Grey’s, and where our silver fox, Anderson Cooper, reads us all of our news for the rest of our days.