Analyzing the third Democratic debate

Last Thursday night, ABC hosted the third Democratic Debate at Texas Southern University. The top ten Democratic candidates shared the stage for three hours of discussing issues, skirting around answers, and not-so-subtly jabbing at the president.

After moderators George Stephanopoulos, David Muir, Linsey Davis, and Jorge Ramos introduced themselves, each candidate had one minute to provide opening statements. Secretary Julian Castro, listed the components of his “bold vision.” Senator Klobuchar made an appeal to Democrats “stuck in the middle of the extremes.” Congressman O’Rourke spoke passionately about the El Paso Shooting, President Trump’s role in the tragedy, and the shortcomings of today’s politics in the current state of America. Senator Booker provided background on his early career as a lawyer in inner city Newark, New Jersey.

Then entrepreneur Andrew Yang generated a few laughs of disbelief with the announcement of his unprecedented Freedom Dividend. He explained that his campaign will award ten American families with $1,000 a month for one year to help them help themselves. 

“When you donate money to a presidential campaign, what happens? The politician spends the money on TV ads and consultants and you hope it works out. It’s time to trust ourselves more than our politicians,” said Yang. This program will be greatly appreciated by ten lucky families, but it merely displays to the rest of America the fact that Yang has $120,000 to buy votes. Yang’s universal basic income program would pay every American adult $1,000 every month once he is elected. But for now he should save the money for getting into office. Anyone over 18 could apply for the Freedom Dividend on Yang’s campaign site before September 19. 

After Yang’s stunt, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke about the unified America of September 12, 2001 and his goal to return to that state of unity in the face of political differences. Unity was a common theme on Thursday. Several candidates emphasized the urgent need for Americans come together in the upcoming election.

Another common theme was the urgent need for President Trump to lose. No one dedicated more of their speaking time to President Trump than California Senator Kamala Harris. In fact, the entirety of her opening statement was a message to Trump:

“So, President Trump, you’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years full-time trying to sow hate and division among us, and that is why we’ve gotten nothing done. You have used hate, intimidation, fear, and over 12,000 lies as a way to distract from your failed policies and your broken promises.” she said, looking into the camera as though it were the President himself. What Trump doesn’t get, she said, is when Americans unify over common goals he will lose his power. 

This was only the beginning of Harris’ relentless blows to Trump. She would go on to say he was “tweeting out the ammunition” in the El Paso shooting, he “conducts trade policy by tweet, frankly born out of his fragile ego,” and he reminds her of the “really small dude” behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.” Whether a sincere desire to send a message, or an exhibit of firepower in store for taking on the incumbent President, Harris certainly made her opinion of the president clear. 

After Harris’ opening statement, Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Elizabeth Warren (MA) filled each of their minutes with summaries of their central issues. Vice President Joe Biden concluded the opening statements with a pep talk about America’s potential once Trump is out of office. 

Everyone on the stage agrees that prices of healthcare are excessive, but there is much controversy over the procedure for lowering costs. On the topic of healthcare, candidates range from supporting and improving the Affordable Care Act to implementing Medicare for All as soon as possible. Biden stood by his former running mate’s Obamacare, saying that it worked and could be made better. Senator Warren argued that the way to improve Obama’s healthcare plan is a system that insures healthcare for everyone — Medicare for All. Sanders, after clarifying that he “wrote the damn bill,” failed to clarify how he’ll fund healthcare for all of America. The goal of providing healthcare to all is an important one, but candidates need to be transparent about how they intend to tackle the ambitious task. Without clear means to achieve them, goals just appear as empty boasts. 

Many candidates are somewhere in between, with plans for time to phase into Medicare for All or a choice between public and private options. These plans are more realistic and attractive to moderate voters. For example, Harris proposed a period of ten years to phase into Medicare for All. The drastic changes the passage of Medicare for All would entail require more than a year or two to adjust. Buttigieg and Castro argued Americans should be allowed to choose whether a public or private option works best in their circumstances. Americans like to have choices, so proposing a plan with options is a fitting strategy. With controversy surrounding funding, public and private choices, and American readiness for fully public healthcare, this may be the issue on which candidates vary the most. 

Next the candidates discussed racism in America. For the most part, the candidates described meaningful plans designed to close racial gaps in healthcare, education, and wealth. Everyone on stage knew how to talk about systemic racism in America, Trump’s white-supremacist leanings, and the criminal justice system’s failings. But it isn’t enough to know these problems exist; our politicians need specific plans to fix them. However, only a few candidates provided specific steps they would take to effect change. 

O’Rourke promised to sign a reparations bill into law. A reparations bill would provide some form of compensation for the emotional, physical, and economic suffering to descendants of enslaved Africans. 

“We can mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will and in bondage. And as a slave he built the greatness and the success and the wealth that neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to fully participate in and enjoy,” said O’Rourke. 

Then Buttigieg addressed the role of the President in unifying the country to tackle injustices, and how President Trump has done just the opposite. But he also acknowledges the fact that systemic racism in America has existed long before Trump and it will last long after him if we don’t make changes. Buttigieg’s Douglass Plan, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, is designed to address this deep rooted racism. According to Buttigieg’s campaign website, the Douglass Plan is a “comprehensive and intentional dismantling of racist structures and systems combined with an equally intentional and affirmative investment of unprecedented scale in the freedom and self-determination of black Americans.”

The topic of debate shifted towards gun control and Biden was confronted on his past failure to pass gun control legislation that would expand background checks. Now, he said, times have changed enough for a bill like that to be passed. 

Senator Harris took a more urgent stance, saying she plans to ban AR-15 assault weapons via executive order in her first 100 days in office. This lead Biden to question the constitutionality of her plan. Biden and Harris clearly split on which actions are appropriate in these circumstances. Harris’ executive order plan is more achievable considering the division in Congress, but Biden’s congressional approach is more likely to receive support from moderate voters. 

Since the recent shooting in in his hometown of El Paso, gun control has become a more personal topic for O’Rourke. Not only would the congressman ban assault weapons, he would also insure that no one possesses them. O’Rourke promised he would call for Americans who own AR-15s and AK-47s to sell them to the government. These actions would likely decrease mass shootings in America, but a call to confiscate guns doesn’t help his electability. 

All of the candidates share similar goals, such as cutting healthcare costs, ending racism in America, and increasing gun control. The decision voters face lies in the differences the candidates strategies for achieving these goals. In choosing a candidate, voters should research the plans that distinguish the candidates from one another.