My Reaction to Another 1984 Democratic Primary Debate

This is the only other 1984 Primary debate which includes McGovern and can be found online. There are a few others with just Mondale, Hart and Jackson…but I’m not sure that’s something I’m interested in watching right now.

Once more, Jackson starts off a lot better than Hart or most of the others. He’s speaking for the common man, bringing up problems which affect everyone, and using real facts and figures to back it up. Hart is talking in vague platitudes (“new ideas.”) There are several other candidates this time around who weren’t included in the previous debate I examined, like Cranston, Askew and Hollins. They are pretty bad. Cranston and Askew are literally reading off a piece of paper, and all I can remember of Hollins is the way he says “then.” (He insists on saying that word every sentence too, which almost makes me believe it’s intentional.)

McGovern reiterates his 10 step plan which he outlined in a speech I recovered from CSPAN from this cycle. He gets some great applause lines in where the others didn’t, one of which when he makes a shout out to Jesse Jackson. I sense a sort of mutual respect between these two in particular. I felt it in the other debate too. I’d hazard a guess its because they were the underdogs and both knew it, and they were the only ones pushing actual ideas not just stupid talking points or egoism. Speaking of which… Mondale.

Mondale and Hart strike me as similar to Humphrey and Clinton—they want to be President. Everything else is secondary. McGovern, Jackson, Sanders and I’d even say Brown are in a different class—they wanted to implement policies they believed in, and ran for President as a way of achieving that.

There’s an interesting format going on in this debate, where the candidates are asking each other questions. They each drew 3 names of their competitors and prepared questions to ask them. Initially this seemed like an interesting format. What someone asks can be just as revealing as what they answer. And if someone asks a particularly damning question, that shows how much they value that principle if they’d be willing to throw a colleague under the bus.

Again, I know I’m totally biased, but I have to say the crowd seems to love George. They even applauded his question when he asked his competitor Askew about his hypocrisy being pro-life while supporting the creation of more nuclear bombs. I must say too, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen McGovern look threatening: when the camera cuts back to McGovern as Askew answers, and his eyes are in shadow, his mouth in a tight frown, and he nods in understanding but not agreement. One of the most immediately likable things about George is that gentle smile and twinkle in his blue eyes. He usually comes off like your kindly old grandpa among a sea of used car salesmen. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t seem to have a mean or hurtful fiber in his whole being. But in this one moment, he looked genuinely pissed. (And to earn the disapproval of a good-natured guy like George is its own punishment—like disappointing your dad.)

Cranston’s question to George was very kind. As soon as he began, with the words “George, you’re the only one up here who’s been the standard bearer for Democratic Presidential nominee…” I was thinking “oh boy, here it comes.” I felt sure he was gonna make a shitty, personal, “haha, you lost so bad! What gives you the right to try again!” type of barb masked as a question. Instead, it was actually respectful and indeed a very important thing to want to know—”you’ve ran for President before, what have you learned, whats it like?” McGovern’s answer is something he’s said elsewhere: that there are worse things than losing, and that he wouldn’t have traded places with the guy who won. The latter part is obviously a reference to resigning in disgrace, but also how its more important to run on your honest beliefs than to win by corrupting yourself. He goes on to say that it’s best to pace yourself—that campaign fatigue in the 11th hour can kill. And finally that it’s important to focus on attacking Reagan, not each other.

In the second round of questions, McGovern asks Cranston if he would support the idea of the Democratic platform including a promise to the rest of the world that we would never be the first country to use nuclear weapons again. This also gets a round of applause. Cranston says that should be our policy, but we’d have to talk it over with our allies first, and make changes in our weapons systems so that the Russians would believe such a promise. It’s a deflection, but still a realistic consideration to such a bold policy statement.

Mondale then asks McGovern if he agrees that Reagan ought to visit the new head of the USSR, and what else he would do to work with them for peace. McGovern agrees we should meet with the USSR, and references how every President since WWII has realized the importance of communication between the two powers. He says there ought to be regular meetings between not just the leaders, but scientists and cultural figures as well between the two countries. Like in the other ’84 debate, he prophesizes that if WWIII happens it will not be because anyone wants it, but because of a lack of communication. I gotta say, this seemed like a softball question from Mondale, since even in the question he states that he knows how McGovern feels. I suspect this was Mondale’s way of letting George say something about a topic he’s passionate about, but that wouldn’t win him over any new followers (because anyone else would answer the same way McGovern did here). It’s important to note that the two were friends, and that McGovern was considered a non-threat in this race. (He did slightly better than expected, but after ’72 there was no way he’d win and even he knew that.) Basically what I’m saying is, it wasn’t in Mondale’s interest to tear McGovern down the same way he did to Hart in the other debate.

I’m not sure what Hart was referring to, when he asked Jackson what he thought about some rules that apparently Mondale supported or alluded to, where apparently neither Hart nor Jackson would be allowed to win. I’d have to read more into that. Jackson’s answer was a pretty good, relatable football season metaphor “you don’t wanna lock people out of the playoffs that you might need in the Superbowl.”

Jackson asks McGovern what he would do to enforce the Voting Rights Act. McGovern begins by getting another big applause line in where he thanks Jackson for the earlier Superbowl line, and references how they saw the actual Superbowl together. This gets a laugh out of Jackson too. McGovern goes on to answer that the Department of Justice ought to challenge the state laws of Mississippi which disenfranchise black people and the poor. McGovern then asks Glenn if the US should formally recognize little communist countries since FDR recognized the USSR and Nixon recognized China. This is his only question which doesn’t garner applause.

After the cross examination period, the debate proceeds in a more traditional manner. A team of panelists come on to ask one question to each candidate. This is a lot slower paced and less interesting than both the earlier cross examination period and modern debates where there are rebuttals anytime someone is mentioned in an answer, or if they have something to say on the topic. Essentially, each is asked completely separate questions and then they just move on. It’s boring, it allows no back and forth between the candidates, and it doesn’t feel like a debate so much as a joint press conference or political game show. Unlike the first half, I don’t like this format at all. It doesn’t give me much to comment on either, so I’ll just list some highlights.

McGovern is asked what his agricultural program would cost, and if there would be stipulations for funding. McGovern defends the cost and states that he would, in fact, withhold funding for farms which don’t practice some approved method of soil conservation, but says the local soil conservation district should be in charge of determining what those are and if they’re being followed properly.
Jackson is accused of having a pro-Arab slant for supporting a Palestinian homeland. Wow. Its amazing how ridiculously pro-Israeli/anti-Palestinian our government was, and still is. Apparently wanting to defend the rights of a people kicked out of their homeland is having a “pro-Arab slant.”

There’s a round of applause when Mondale is challenged for his indecisiveness with regards to the Grenada situation, and the wonderment of how he’d be able to make quick decisions as President. He just defends his record and nothing more. (Notice how that’s all these establishment favorite, “my turn!” candidates ever seem to do. Just because you can throw a title at us doesn’t mean you answered the question.)

Askew is once again challenged on his pro-life stance. I think his answer about how abortion wasn’t intended in the Constitution is ASTONISHINGLY weak. That’s like people nowadays who try to argue that digital privacy (computers, phones, browser history, etc) aren’t protected because the fourth amendment only guarantees security in our “papers.” It’s such an absurd, reductionist, bad-faith argument that is happy to ignore the fact that the Constitution was written 250 years ago, before more enlightened cultural attitudes, industry, digital technology, or in this case modern medicine were invented. Besides, why should the fact that a specific service isn’t listed in the constitution prevent us from making use of it anyway? Would Askew be against pizza delivery? Or the motion picture industry? I mean, where’s the line and what’s the logic behind where it’s drawn here, according to this old fart?

The second round of questions is a lot better, where they’re all asked the same thing: their thoughts on women, how women are underrepresented and how they (the candidates) became aware of it.

McGovern mentions how he chaired the committee to reform the Democratic primary system after the 1968 election. He says before this, women only made up 10% and as low as 5% of the delegation selection committees but now that’s no longer the case. This is an example of a resume actually having some meat behind it, because he can back up his title with relevant results/experience.

I actually like Mondale’s answer here about this topic. He talks about his wife coming into her own as a result of the women’s movement, and how watching her become more empowered led to the betterment of their marriage and both of them becoming happier. I think this is really the key, and a perfect window into what it means to love someone. It really just comes down to the issue of wouldn’t you want your wife, daughter, mom, girl friends, etc to be treated well and have an equal stake in the world? And if not, what kind of a person are you? Mondale’s answer here feels like the most genuine of all the candidates, and especially considering he chose Ferraro as his running mate, I do believe this was an issue he sincerely cared about for once.

ASIDE: I just recall living with my ex-roommates who constantly would make sleazy remarks about the girls they knew, cat called anytime we were in the car, thought that “girls can’t throw” commercial was no big deal, and just in general had shitty attitudes like that…but then claimed they really cared about women when I called them out on it. The one had this idea of himself as a “perfect gentleman” (gag) and the other had a daughter with his now ex-girlfriend. It just really blows my mind that type of cognitive dissonance. You don’t really love someone unless you want them to be empowered, confident and happy. If you’re against female empowerment, the right to choose, and defend cat calling or restrictions on birth control, you can’t claim that you love your wife or your daughter–at least not unconditionally. You love the idea of having power over someone, having them be submissive and owned by you.

Hart actually credits working on McGovern’s campaign for his understanding of how discriminated against women were at the time (and still are, of course.)

The next round of questions begins with McGovern being asked about what he would do for education. He says the principle problem is a funding one, and suggests diverting state welfare money into education. He also suggests opening up loans to anyone who wants it and put the collection of those loans to the IRS. This is one of the few issues on which I disagree with George. That “give a loan to everybody” mentality is how we got in the student loan mess now.

Later, the topic turns to Reaganomics, and his tax cuts to the wealthy. McGovern in particular calls them a collapse of moral values. I definitely agree, and it continues to blow my mind how some people defend that kinda thing. It really is nothing more than brainwashing, stockholm syndrome, and putting religion (or ethnicity) over reason whenever you hear a non-millionaire defend Reagan’s legacy and the modern Republican party. There was a good line from Jackson about how corporations must pay their fair share as well. These two…damn. It’s like everything I’ve been saying for years now, and they were saying it decades ago before it was cool.

I like Hart’s closing statement. He makes a good point, about how our leaders used to inspire people to sacrifice and work hard for their country where in the Reagan Era (and beyond) our leaders now promise the world and ask your price. This is a very wise observation. It used to be that people were willing to pay a little more in taxes, or whatever it may be, so that the government could work properly and make life better for everyone. Now, its all “me, me, me!”/”I got mine, fuck you!”/”poor people? What have they done for me?” and that line of thinking. Not good. The transition from “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” to “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” was disastrous.

McGovern’s closing statement was pretty upsetting to hear, and really indicative of all that’s wrong with American politics. He discusses how there’s three types of voters: those that support him, those that don’t agree with him so don’t support him, and those that do agree with him but feel he’d never be nominated, so they don’t support him either. Again, people in that third category are just the absolute worst as far as I’m concerned. They are the self-fulfilling prophets who are why genuinely great people like George, Bernie, Dean, or third parties never win. They have an undeserved air of superiority, like they’re the only ones who know the system is rigged, and that by playing along and voting for the establishment pick they’re somehow better than those of us trying to change it. They’re the sheep who perpetuate the broken system, and have the nerve to talk down to those of us trying to vote for who we honestly want to make America a better place. And if it’s this frustrating for ME that these people even exist, I can’t imagine how annoyed someone like McGovern must’ve been hearing that shit. McGovern addresses these people with wisdom and kindness which frankly they don’t deserve. It’s not throwing away your vote when you go for someone whom you agree with. It’s throwing away your vote when you go for someone whom you don’t believe in because the media said it’s inevitable. There is nothing more contemptible in politics than that.

In conclusion, this debate is extraordinarily dull. It’s cool seeing McGovern in a debate, which is the only reason I watched, and I’m growing fond of ’80s-era Jesse Jackson but other than those highlights, there’s nothing worth the long 2.5 hour viewing time. The really cool, innovative cross examination format is negated by the far drearier second half.

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