The Democratic debates, so called, didn’t accomplish much, but they might have struck a blow for valium. Valium is the calm-down pill that we should put in the water.
Just presenting the excess of candidates, like a parade of debutantes, took two nights. Never have so many with so little to offer demonstrated so much of the wrong stuff to so few.
The last time the Democrats painted themselves in a corner like this George McGovern’s campaign was described, as the war in Vietnam was winding down, as a plea for “abortion, acid and amnesty.” Abortion is still the lodestar of every Democratic campaign, but acid is not so popular now and when anything goes, who needs amnesty?
The first-night winner from the children’s hour was Tulsi Gabbard, the congresswoman from Hawaii, whose face in the crowd looked sage and sagacious simply by her keeping her voice low and well-modulated. She remembered she was a lady, after all, leaving it to her stunning red dress to make her memorable.
Language doesn’t count for much any more unless it’s shrill, vulgar and angry. Even some unlikely voices are beginning to say so, with warnings to the Democrats to leave rants and rages to the Internet, where dignity and calm reason go to die. Bill Maher, the angry liberal comedian who sometimes commits insights into modern cultural excesses, often scolds the over-the-top rhetoric of the crazy left.
He cites the noise from the leftmost fringes of the landscape that demands to call the detention camps on the border what they are, concentration camps. “Then AOC came out and said that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps and [she] even invoked the term, ‘Never Again.’”
Such camps are bad, he said, and maybe, by stretching words and descriptions to the breaking point, technically fit the description. “But there are certain words that we just associate with something truly at the ultimate end of horrendous. Holocaust just means ‘a big fire,’ but we don’t use the word, ‘hey, let’s go have a holocaust, I’ll bring the wieners.’ No one says that.”
Thursday was the second “break-out night” for candidates to make an impression on the 17 million fans who are said to have dropped in to see what’s going on. Most of the 23 candidates, including those who didn’t make the cut for either night, haven’t offered a persuasive reason why they think they could be a president. Some clearly don’t know themselves. This can be fatal.
Teddy Kennedy’s last attempt to follow his brother to the White House went down in flames when Roger Mudd of CBS News asked him why he wanted to be president. Mr. Kennedy was stumped for an answer, and the rest was history.
John F. Kennedy’s kid brother had only one possible answer, “that’s what everybody expects a Kennedy to do.” But he couldn’t say that. The same question could be asked of Joe Biden, and if he answered truthfully he would give the answer that Teddy Kennedy could have given.
Good ol’ Joe was the heavyweight-in-waiting this year with time standing still in many Democratic hearts, like “waiting for Godot,” Samuel Beckett’s play about the man who never arrived. But finally Mr. Biden, unlike Mr. Godot, did arrive, to shouts of joy and acclamation and a double-digit lead in the early public-opinion polls. Then the sniping began, much of it from the ignorant and misinformed about how America works. His polling lead began to shrink, not by much but a little.
Now it falls to good ol’ Joe and the perpetually angry Bernie Sanders, two old codgers standing on the cusp of their ninth decades, to lead the youth movement the party seeks to pick the lock on the White House door. Bernie promises, if elected, to install an economic system that has never worked anywhere and failed everywhere it has been tried.
One likely explanation of why so many Democrats are running for president is that most of them are waiting for lightning to strike and transform one of them into a vice presidential candidate.
To beat Donald Trump will require playing the right long shot for our times. There’s Marianne Williamson standing in plain sight. She’s a spiritual adviser to Hollywood celebrities. She even officiated at weddings for Elizabeth Taylor (though not all eight of them), and for Oprah’s chef.
She has no experience in office, but she once ran fourth in a local race in Los Angeles. She promises to appoint secretaries of Peace and Childhood, and “billions” for reparations to anyone of color who can prove a connection to slavery. She’s right up debutante alley.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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