My Reaction to a 2000 Democratic Primary Debate

I’m really surprised the field this cycle was so narrow. Literally it’s just two candidates, Gore and Bradley. I thought the 2016 primary was small with only 3 serious contenders, and even that was only because DNC obviously cleared the field for Hillary. I’m curious why it is that Gore was considered so unbeatable. Were none of the 1988 or 1992 contenders in a position to try again? Were there no rising stars in the party, or did they judge it a waste to spend the money, anger the party leaders and possibly look bad losing to Gore? Very strange. From what I understand right off the bat, this race had a similar dynamic to the 2016 primary: stiff, fading establishment favorite Centrist vs underdog hardcore liberal. However, unlike 2016 where Bernie gave Hillary a run for her money, in 2000 Bradley got whupped in all 50 states.

I think winning every primary lulled Gore into a false sense of security. In hindsight, he really messed up by bypassing Bradley or someone else with progressive credibility as VP in favor of the infamously conservative Joe Lieberman. Remember, among other betrayals, Lieberman is responsible for keeping the public option out of Obamacare, which was its whole purpose in the first place, and basically neutered its ability to help people. I still don’t understand what Lieberman was supposed to bring to the ticket anyway. In a non-crowded field, doesn’t it just make sense to pick the defeated primary opponent as your VP? It’s a great way to heal the party and get everyone on board. Since the VP is a largely powerless role meant only to balance the ticket, I don’t see why you wouldn’t—especially if your primary opponent was from another region of the country as well (and Bradley was).

So, onto the debate itself. This is New Hampshire, and a quick one hour event. Considering the narrow field, and how I have a good feel for Gore already after watching so many other debates of his, it’s really only Bradley I need to delve into. With that in mind, I don’t feel bad for watching one of the shorter contests. Right away, I’m pretty disappointed with Bradley’s speaking ability. He sounds almost tired and certainly unfocused in comparison to Gore’s carefully honed oration over the decades. He’s not charismatic at all, even compared to Gore who, outside of his ’88 debate performances, could never be described as such either. Apparently this was already a commonly held perception of Bradley, as one of the panelists asks him about his supposed reputation of aloofness. Bradley is also asked about his liberalism, and he defends it. He was apparently a supporter of gay rights and says he’ll accept any label that means.

An interesting question in this debate is when the candidates are asked if their opponent has taken any of their votes or quotes out of context and hurt them. I like this, it gives the candidates a chance to set the record straight and forces the other to either own up to, or explain their attacks.

Another interesting question, especially considering the way things are now, is when they’re asked about the shift in power from Washington to Wall Street and what they think about it. Gore’s totally in favor, and calls it “a natural development in a society that’s free.” Yes, moneyed interests taking over the government is exactly what I think when I hear “freedom!” This comment sure aged like milk, didn’t it? Bradley talks about leaving no one behind and transferring the gains of Wall Street into public gains for everybody. A decent answer for the time. Remember, this is before the Great Recession and Wall Street’s corruption becoming publicly acknowledged. At this point, Wall Streets’ excesses should’ve been worrying, but they weren’t quite outrageous yet, since it wasn’t so blatantly at the cost of Main Street. If Bradley gave this kind of answer today, I’d accuse him of side-stepping the issue. But in 2000, I think this is an acceptable response to the question.

Interestingly, this is also the first Democratic debate I’ve seen where gun control is a big talking point. I guess Columbine kicked that off. I’d hazard a guess that Gore’s over the top, unapologetic overtures to curtail gun sales probably cost him in the general. I agree that more needs to be done, but I really wish Democrats would stop pushing the gun thing so hard. It is to them what gay bashing is for the Republicans; an unpopular position which turns off legions of would-be voters while appealing to no one who wouldn’t already vote for their respective party anyway.

I loved Bradley’s criticism of Gore giving up on certain issues because “it’s just too hard.” His line about “what if FDR gave up on Social Security because ‘it’s just too hard’” was the first time he really came alive in the whole debate. This was a great line in spirit, about fighting the hard fight because it needs to be done. This is why it’s so frustrating hearing Hillary say “universal healthcare will never ever happen.” That kind of attitude should never be coming from a Democrat. NEVER. And that’s why young people and many left-leaning people don’t bother voting—neither side is gonna even try to give us what we want, so why bother? They both suck. And then they use the lack of excitement to justify shifting further right, and the cycle continues. This is also why the “herp’a’derp, Bernie’s not gonna accomplish anything, lol!” attacks were missing the point too. The reason he struck a nerve with people is because at least we could believe that he was going to try to get it done, which is more than we could say for Hillary, Kerry, Gore or Bill.

ASIDE: FDR wouldn’t have done much were it not for the pressure he was getting from the Socialists, Labor leaders and Communists to do something or else there would be riots and possibly revolution as the suffering was so great. His New Deal was merely a compromise between the status quo and what the real Leftists were pushing for. And even that wasn’t enough for some people; the Second New Deal programs were then created in response to Huey Long and others who were criticizing FDR for not going far enough. This is why the Red Scare was so disastrous for America in hindsight—we purged ourselves of our Leftist coalition and the overton window has shifted dangerously far right over the decades ever since. We’re completely out of balance. Unless/until we have a real coalition of unapologetic liberals as well as socialists, social democrats and democratic socialists again, we’ll never have another FDR or another set of meaningful reforms like the New Deal ever again. Obama had the opportunity to be a force for real change and knew it with his “I’m the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks” line to bankers after the recession. But he waffled, like so much else in his Presidency.

After watching this debate, I can completely understand why Bradley lost even outside of Gore being favored by the establishment. He just isn’t a good speaker and doesn’t keep the focus on his supposedly liberal agenda. (I didn’t see much evidence of it here.) He lets Gore dominate the conversation and comes off looking like a token opposition candidate running for its own sake. He sounds like your least favorite high school teacher who’s not particularly happy with his job and is just phoning it in. That said, I still think Gore absolutely dropped the ball not taking him on as VP. It would’ve been an easy thing to do, would’ve healed the party, and would’ve been a gesture to the more progressive wing of the party that their voices were heard. Lieberman was a slap in the face. Basically saying you care more about winning over Republicans than your own party. Considering how close the race was, that one little thing might have won Gore the race.

1 Comment

  1. Another debate I didn’t watch at the time. I would not have considered voting for either of these candidates. but looking back I cant see how anyone could have been worse than Bush turned out to be. Still have no interest in watching this. Another one I’m glad you watched so I don’t need to. Seems like you did another fair and well balanced analysis. Good job and Thank you for your analysis, Cassie!

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