What to Expect in the Democratic Debates

Sam Husseini takes a look at some some of the candidates who will be getting national TV attention.  

By Sam Husseini
Special to Consortium News

Following the rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton and various reforms that have been implemented since, the current mix of candidates heading into the back-to-back TV debates,  Wednesday and Thursday nights, is perhaps the best the DNC establishment could realistically have hoped for.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been diluted by a massive field and former Sen. Mike Gravel, who has been articulating the broadest and most radical critique of U.S. foreign policy of any candidate, is off the stage, at least for now.

Gravel: Missing from stage. 

Gravel’s exclusion is especially important because of his temperament and age: he is not bound to respect the traditional pieties, particularly toward the allegedly gravitas-laden, former vice president, Joe Biden. Gravel is presumably not among the older senators the young Biden cozied up to upon entering the revered body in 1973.

It’s unclear how the large stage will play out, but it might mitigate the clear head-to-head contrast on Thursday between Biden and Sanders. It might be seen as a relative diversion. It’s also possible some other candidates might take on the role of undercutting Sanders on behalf of the DNC establishment. Alternatively, the critiques of Biden might be rather watered down and therefore possible for Biden and his proxies to rebut. The wide field also provides a good number of establishment candidates as “backups” in the event that Biden does collapse.

An added layer to this are the “refs”: Russiagate conspiracy peddler Rachel Maddow and friends from the Comcast/NBC corporate family. The debate has of course been deemed “legitimate” by the DNC, which has said it will penalize candidates who participate in debates it doesn’t sanction.

Gabbard: Lone Voice on WikiLeaks

The establishment media have a history of taking gratuitous shots at Sanders and so any stumble from him will be magnified. The same is likely true of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has articulated some legitimate points on foreign policy. She continues to be idiosyncratic by defending Biden on his gaffe about having worked with pro-segregation senators, but she’s been virtually the lone loud voice on issues like the Trump administration targeting WikiLeaks with the Espionage Act — a first against a publisher for unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified information in U.S. history.

Biden’s Vulnerabilities

Biden’s recent remarks on working with segregationists have drawn attention, but not the underlying fact that he was the leading northern Democratic opponent of desegregation, as the noted author and education specialist Jonathan Kozol has noted. Biden is vulnerable on that, though he’ll viciously attack any candidate that would raise that history.

Biden: Benefiting as Obama’s VP. (White House/Pete Souza)

Biden has largely succeeded in spinning his cooperation with segregationists as one of “civility” but his version of bipartisanship obviously doesn’t translate into working with anti-war Republicans such as Ron Paul, the late Walter Jones, Rep. Thomas Massie or Sen. Rand Paul.

Biden clearly benefits enormously from having been Obama’s vice president, though few seem to recall the dynamics that lead to him having that position. During the 2016 campaign, Biden contrasted Obama with prior African American candidates for president as  “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” By picking Biden as vice president, Obama was sending a signal to white Democrats who might be leery of a darker skinned man as president: We’re in safe hands.

In the absence of any clear view of the major negatives of the Obama years, Biden could well be vulnerable by being cast as a substantial part of the reason the Barack Obama presidency didn’t live up to expectations. That kind of case could deflate Biden — the idea that his endless establishment and corporate ties (as detailed in Andrew Cockburn’s piece in Harper’s earlier this year) were a major reason that the Obama administration didn’t go after Wall Street crooks or really bring about the change many hoped for in 2008.

For the record, I didn’t support Obama, arguing instead for a VotePact.org strategy — with conscientious conservatives joining with principled progressives — but many did. A case could be made that if Obama had picked a different running mate, such as Jim Webb, his presidency could have unfolded differently. [See accuracy.org news release from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?”]

Not only did Biden vote for the Iraq invasion, he prevented people from testifying to the Senate against it, for example the former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. Biden would later defend his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Other candidates should press Biden on this history of engaging in and facilitating Bush war lies, as well as his record of subservience to corporate interests, but with such a crowded stage, full of so many candidates and moderators who share many of those underlying prejudices, Biden might come through remarkably under-scrutinized.

Sanders Weak on Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, January 2016.(Gage Skidmore via Flickr)Sanders’ stance on economic inequality found great resonance in the public in 2016 and his recent speech on democratic socialism — especially contrasting it with corporate socialism — was quite effective. If he can articulate that clearly, he could stem the name recognition Biden has. Sanders has the greatest potential to generate populist excitement — and in a much more authentic way than how Trump manipulated it in 2016. But last time around, Sanders was vulnerable on his foreign policy positions. He actually called for more Saudi intervention in the Mideast at the time. [see “Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy.”]

He has since become a vocal critic of the horrific Saudi war on Yemen. While he has improved substantially, a case can be made that Sanders has not taken on the U.S. foreign policy establishment sufficiently to articulate a meaningful path out of the perpetual war orthodoxy. He has attempted to invoke war powers to hinder Trump’s backing of the Saudi war, and has raised similar objections with respect to a possible U.S. attack on Iran, but somehow such concerns don’t come up when the U.S. outright bombs Syria.

All the contenders will want to contrast themselves to Trump, but in different ways. Some will do so in ways that come close to being xenophobic in terms of “Russian influence.” Some will reach for important but “low hanging fruit” issues such as  immigration. It will be interesting to see if any candidates besides Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlight Trump’s regressive economic policies.

Warren Strong on Economic Issues 

Warren can benefit by putting forward her strong policy proposals on economic issues, which are often more moderate versions of Sanders’ proposals, and cast herself as something of a compromise candidate. Unfortunately, she seems very weak on foreign policy, see my piece of last year: “The Limits of Elizabeth Warren.”

Andrew Yang & National Income

Andrew Yang could make a strong showing. His embrace of a guaranteed national income could have wide resonance. It’s a strong policy proposal because it’s both universal and has a history of support on both the left and right.


Kamala Harris, Law & Order

Sen. Kamala Harris could try to make her law and order background an asset by targeting Trump and other elites in terms of their lack of adherence to legal fidelity. Unfortunately, her record suggests she is quite likely to use legal processes to “punch down.”

Trump’s Anti-Interventionist Façade

By stepping back from bombing Iran last week, Trump is likely skillfully attempting to regain his non-interventionist facade that helped him win in 2016. His administration, however, is packed with hawks and is escalating the continuing but virtually invisible wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. His policies in those countries — as well as on Israel, Venezuela and elsewhere — should be attacked, but might get far less scrutiny than they should. That would be in part, again, to Gravel not being on the stage.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

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41 comments for “What to Expect in the Democratic Debates

  1. Red Robbo
    July 8, 2019 at 23:12

    ‘The Democratic platform is a political omelette made of stale eggs.’
    ‘In the light of experience, why should your vote for either the Republican or Democratic parties?’
    (Eugene Debs on the US presidential campaign trail in 1908).

  2. Brian James
    July 4, 2019 at 17:38
  3. DW Bartoo
    July 1, 2019 at 09:14

    What to expect from the “debates” of the Democrats?

    That Kamala Harris will be the nominee.

    She is the true heiress of Hillary.

    She is Nuland-Haley on steroids.

    This is the era of the mean-nasty grrrul.

    Harris has neither conscience nor principle. She has no respect for people, for the planet, or for peace.

    Her sole love is power, in its most absolute form.

    2020 will be 2016.

    Two terrible choices.

    Yet, with the Dem party many clearly bloodthirsty, willingly and happily embracing the new War Party’s long-standing international hostility, all hopped up on media-inspired hate, driven mad by Trump, and blindly embracing the many free-speech repressions arising from the Russia did it! canard, there is a very good chance that, this time, Trump will not only meet his match but be quite overwhelmed, be out-grabbed, out-sullied, and outraged into losing his media charm, as a new darling is embraced for her viciousness, and go-for-the-throat tactics.

    Trump will be out-slashed, out-burned-and out-spurned.

    His mediia “saavy” will melt into blubbering impotentency as the slings and arrows of Harris wound him more grievously with each encounter.

    The Dems may win.

    However, even more will be lost, as the complacent and complicit “liberal/progress” middle will simply go back to the slumber of the Obama era, should Harris prevail.

    Harris will lose ONLY if the black community does not embrace her as one of their very own.

  4. Vera Gottlieb
    June 30, 2019 at 14:31

    Joe Biden: a deja-vu. We can’t go forward by electing people from the past.

  5. Brian James
    June 29, 2019 at 11:32

    This is all they have! Jun 28, 2019 Former Pres. Jimmy Carter calls President Trump an “Illegitimate President” (C-SPAN)

    Former President Jimmy Carter said today that “If fully investigated, it would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election and he was put in office because the Russians interfered …on his behalf.”


  6. Zhu
    June 29, 2019 at 05:00

    It’s been plenty oligarchic since 1789

  7. June 28, 2019 at 15:08

    What *not* to expect in any public political debate, Democratic or Republican:

    Discussion of Julian Assange and the rape and torture of freedom of speech going on right now!


  8. Susan Leslie
    June 28, 2019 at 15:06

    What to expect? More BS, that’s what…

  9. June 28, 2019 at 10:21

    Bankster Obama net worth in 2008, was $1.3 – $4 million, in 2019, he and Michelle combined net worth is over $50 million, 1250% increase. If one needs proof as to who these politicians actually serve, just follow the money. Obama now earns the $400K he was paid annually serving as president, for a one hour or less canned pep talk to wall streeters, war makers, right takers. He is now BFF with billionaires.

  10. triekc
    June 28, 2019 at 07:17

    Does anyone believe the election rigging tactics exposed by Wikileaks and many independent journalists, performed by both the DEM and GOP corporate parties has stopped? We are to believe 2016 rigging was a one and done? BS! Actually, more likely, every election has and will be rigged, until we do something to change the system. The 20 candidates are DNC’s oligarch vetted choices, who have sworn loyalty to austerity for the poor, socialism for the rich, continued biosphere destroying capitalism and global war for hegemony – do not be Bank-Obama-conned, again, by what they say in their 30 second sound bites on the stage. If “elected”, not one of them would meaningfully attack human destruction of biosphere (aka climate change), implement single payer health care, end global wars, reduce the $1 trillion annual waste fraud and abuse DoD / spy complex fund, tax the rich, or provide free college tuition. Third party candidates are not allowed on the debate stage in our “democracy”, because of rules made up by corporate DNC and GOP, ensuring their selected “loyal” candidates do not have to face off against anyone not singing from their song sheet, who could resonate with the masses, so we allow the participants in the race to set the rules to ensure they have fewer competitors, if that is not rigging, what is?

  11. mark
    June 27, 2019 at 21:56

    Why does anyone take this ragbag of 30 shekel whores seriously?

  12. Deniz
    June 27, 2019 at 21:16

    It’s no surprise that Gabbard won the debate, but, unfortunately we dont live in a democracy.

  13. hetro
    June 27, 2019 at 15:22

    *Gabbard overwhelming winner with 35% of votes—Drudge poll


    *Gabbard the winner at nearly 40% Warren second at 12%


    *on Gabbard’s striking difference with the others


    *ZH on Gabbard as the one who grabbed the spotlight—most searched about candidate

    Tulsi Gabbard:

    “Of all the candidates who are running for president, I’m the one who is most qualified to fulfill that responsibility to walk into the Oval Office and serve as commander-in-chief. And I think you heard tonight some of the reasons why those who lack the experience, lack the understanding, and conviction would, unfortunately, put our country in a place where we’d end up waging more wars, costing us more lives and tax-payer dollars. This is why I’m running for president, to be that person, to be that change in our foreign policy and those regime-change wars, new cold wars nuclear arms races and invest our precious dollars into serving the needs of our people.”


    • hetro
      June 27, 2019 at 18:43

      What I’ve seen since posting here is that Amy Goodman seems biased toward Elizabeth Warren as the winner, and mainstream news at MSNBC is absolutely sure Warren was the winner.

    • certainquirk
      June 27, 2019 at 21:16

      You can be sure if she keeps this up they are going to find the kiddie porn on her computer. Just a hunch.

  14. Robert Mayer
    June 27, 2019 at 13:44

    Tnx CN, Sam… Tho cart b4 horse… Eliz (RM #1 support) spoke already. Tnx Sam 4 past (in red) report re: Sen Warren, though I disagree she answered influence of US Murder Inc… Oh xcuse me! Mil Indust Complex… as part of attempt2 change finan basis.
    Now Bernie other prog tonite… Sen Harris other (Distaff… Equine ref?)… & Tulsi (long shot)…
    2 be discovered: will crooked Blu bribees Screw the progressive wing?
    Will we be able2 vote against “yerfired”?
    How long can we hold our breath?

  15. jmg
    June 27, 2019 at 11:38

    Tulsi Gabbard seems to have won the first debate, according to Google search trends:

    The Real Winner Of Last Night’s Democratic Debate

  16. Drew Hunkins
    June 27, 2019 at 10:33

    Booker’s a liar. He’s now trying to come off as a supporter of Medicare for All when he spent a career kowtowing to Big Pharma.

    Gabbard got some nice punches in but wasn’t given as much time as the others.

    Klobuchar, O”Rourke and DeBlassio seem to be running on the Russophobic card. Disgraceful beyond words when DeBlassio actually said Russia is the biggest threat to the United States right now and the Maddow brainwashed audience cheered heartily.

    • AnneR
      June 27, 2019 at 11:24

      Aside from Gravel, Sanders on economics but not on Middle Eastern/warmongering policy, Gabbard on war-making (not) – there is no-one, but no-one worth even a second’s attention. Warren is a capitalist through and through (not that Sanders isn’t, but he is definitely more of a social democrat). Booker is despicable, as is Harris (could anyone be more pro-Israel? more pro-lock ’em up [as a state prosecutor] and throw away the key? more bourgeois?). Buttigieg is decidedly narcissistic and a closet racist. Biden an arsehole who has lived very nicely on the taxpayer tit forever (even as he isn’t for free healthcare for all, his healthcare is/was nicely provided by us). And so on and so on…

      Mind you I’m neither a demrat nor a republirat. My late husband used to call me the last Leninist…. He was an anarcho-syndicalist…

      • Drew Hunkins
        June 27, 2019 at 13:53

        Great observations AnneR.

    • Realist
      June 27, 2019 at 14:31

      Your last statement is the biggest reason the “Democrats,” who have abandoned their historical political philosophy and become just as crazy and right wing as the neoconservative neoliberal Republicans, need to be totally thrashed in the next election. They must be taught that trying to stir up Russophobia, especially through lies and fearmongering, and toying with starting World War III is a losing proposition. Then saner people can take whatever is left of the party wreckage, try to rebuild it on sanity, logic and humanity (and not just for the fringe element in their “identity politics” gambit) and go after the Republicans who will, sooner rather than later, be blamed for the mess left behind by Trump and HIS warmongers.

      The Republicans have always had their track record of standing for the wealthy at the expense of all the lesser classes. The Dems have appropriated the same ultimate goals in recent years, but they are surreptitious and they lie through their teeth about it. They have become compadres with the GOPers. As Jimmy Dore lets us know, the DNC hierarchy would rather see a hard core trickle down Republican win any office than for a true liberal/progressive Democrat to do so. The Democratic Party more than anything has become a bulwark AGAINST liberal policy and social justice.

      Tulsi Gabbard (and to some extent Bernie Sanders and Mike Gravel) are the only “real” Democrats presently running for the presidency, and they are treated like a contagion by the power brokers of the party, which Hillary Clinton still owns even though she should have been thoroughly disgraced after two embarrassing campaigns for the White House. Love ’em or hate ’em, nobody here has a clue how to take over the Republican Party and make it more civilised, less hateful and less warmongering. They have an extensive hard core of true believers that none of us are going to assail. It’s the disgusting transmogrified Democratic Party that must be targeted, brought down, stripped of its treasonous leadership and rebuilt from the grass roots.

      Old line party loyalists like Tom Hartman see this, agree that the party must be taken over and reconfigured, but he thinks the answer is just more of the same fractious identity politics practitioners. Sorry, Tom, even you won’t be invited if and when the party gets hauled back to civilisation. You’ve turned to the dark side, maybe because you’re dumb rather than cussed, or maybe you are just instinctively a lemming, but you are still leading people astray with your ill-considered Russophobia.

      Tulsi Gabbard seems to be the only possible unifier at this time, but she is on the insiders’ shit list (essentially because of her good standing with the public and her promises to end, not just THE war but the numerous American-incited conflicts). If the Democratic Party, because of its Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley money, continues to be unanswerable to the people, the people need to draft Tulsi and vote for her on the Green ticket, whether she joins that bandwagon or not. Vote someone into the highest office against their wishes, that would be something. I’m not gonna bet the farm on it, but it would be far superior to any other scenario one could imagine starting from this hot mess.

      • Drew Hunkins
        June 27, 2019 at 17:22

        Excellent commentary Realist.

    • ML
      June 27, 2019 at 15:14

      Yes, the cheering at De Blasio’s final remark was a chilling reminder that the American people are some of the most propagandized and most ignorant people on earth. Tulsi was indeed shorted. She seemed to me to have a demeanor that gave the impression – “This is a pure shit-show, people.” Which it was. She got a good dig in at the idiot who said the “Taliban attacked us on 9-11.” That was rich! Booker is a lying tool of his greatest benefactors indeed. Most candidates were underwhelming. That Delaney character ought to drop out right now. Nearly all but him were intensely pandering to the so-called “left wing” of the Democratic Party, like as if anyone is actually going to do a damn thing for the common citizen if they manage to get elected. Ought to be interesting seeing Biden step on his own tongue tonight. Harris is a cold fish. And though I have no hope for the Democrats, I do hope Bernie wipes the floor with the rest of the lot tonight.

      • Drew Hunkins
        June 27, 2019 at 17:23

        “Yes, the cheering at De Blasio’s final remark was a chilling reminder that the American people are some of the most propagandized and most ignorant people on earth.”

        Wasn’t it just the worst?!

        • ML
          June 27, 2019 at 18:44

          It was indeed!

  17. Nathan Mulcahy
    June 27, 2019 at 07:51

    Why to expect? Groveling to MIC, Wall Street and Israel. It is just a waste of time to follow the debate. Vote Green.

    • Jack Hudson
      June 27, 2019 at 11:32

      Without term limits for the members of Congress we continue down the path of inevitable collapse. Just like the rest of the former empires.

      No matter who becomes President.

  18. Zhu
    June 27, 2019 at 06:23

    I predict the Dems will nominate closet Republican Joe Biden, who will lose to Trump. (Biden has nothing ti offer but more poverty, more wars.) Partisan numbskulls will blame *another**conspiracy rather thsn admit they’d:ve dome better to nominate a dead skunk than Biden.

    I think I’ll erite in “deaf skunk” on my b a llot. :-(

    • Ikallicrates
      June 29, 2019 at 21:19

      The Democratic establishment has been trying to sell us one fake progressive after another, beginning with Kamala “Hillary 2.0” Harris, then Beto O-Rourke, Pete Buttigeig, Cory Booker, Joe “I’m the most progressive” Biden and now Elizabeth Warren. At this rate, they’ll run out of fake progressives before the primaries. I therefore predict they’ll nominate Hillary again. You know she still wants it.

  19. Zhu
    June 27, 2019 at 03:01

    So where’s Gravel?

    • ML
      June 27, 2019 at 11:50

      Gravel didn’t make their onerous rules cut to be able to present his views. Too bad. He’s a great man.

  20. And the next resident servant of israel is ....
    June 27, 2019 at 00:45

    We do not expect anything. We know already that the best servant of israel will be promoted and the debates are just theatrics.

    • Zhu
      June 27, 2019 at 03:10

      Maybe you should whine about Russian Zionists – two conspiracy fantasies at once!

      • AnneR
        June 27, 2019 at 11:15

        Zhu – to pretend that AIPAC and such profound Zionists as Adelson and Saban do *not* have a strong influence on US politicians is either delusional or deliberately mystificatory.

        Yes, Israel’s interests – grab more and more Palestinian then other ME lands; have that constant flow of US $$$ into its hands – coincide with the US’s to a considerable extent (oil/gas, balkanization of the smaller middle eastern countries to enable their control, ensure Anglo-European-American-Israeli dominance) – coincide with the USA’s to a large extent. Yes Saudia and its mates also have considerable sway, too.

        But to deny Zionist attempts (often successful, in the political and propaganda worlds) to form and inform western policy toward Israel is naive at best, deceptive at worst.

        • Zhu
          June 27, 2019 at 18:12

          Israel’s political clout is via the Religious Right & the Christian Zionists, whom our “it’s not OUR fault!!” posters ignore vigorously. Take John Haggee at as seriously as you do Adelson.

          By the way, have you noticed the anti-zio-nuts are never pro-Palestine?

  21. Gregory Herr
    June 26, 2019 at 19:10

    “Biden might come through remarkably under-scrutinized.”
    Understatement of the day.

    Reminded of Biden’s “articulate and clean” comment about Obama, I got to thinking of bright, articulate, and good-looking Shirley Chisholm circa 1972.

    And then there was Jesse Jackson.
    “Former Vice President Joe Biden referred to Rev. Jesse Jackson as “boy” in 1984 when discussing his impact on the Democrat Party.
    Biden, who is mired in controversy after praising the “civility” of segregationists, made the comments during an “informal news conference” in Lexington, Virginia. At the time, Jackson was running for the Democrat presidential nomination and had just bested both Walter Mondale, the eventual nominee, and Gary Hart in the Louisiana primary. The remarks were reported by the Washington Post when they occurred and recently highlighted on social media.”

    • Realist
      June 27, 2019 at 15:05

      Yeah, Biden was wrong about Obama. The real Obomber was anything but “clean” when he turned out to be a real dirtbag who used the intel agencies and the courts to spy on the political opposition (confecting false evidence as a pretext), when he instigated a coup in Ukraine using neocon operatives to sandbag Russia politically, economically and militarily and then blamed the six-year long imbroglio on Putin, when he colluded with Hillary to contrive the grandiose sweep of “Russiagate” claiming that Russia stole the American presidency and then penalized that country repeatedly with sanctions, expulsions and property seizures, when he made war on false pretexts–just as his predecessor Dubya had done in Iraq–against Libya, Syria and Yemen (and then bragged about bombing seven countries simultaneously), when he repeatedly bit Putin’s hand that assisted his failing foreign policies in Syria and Iran, disadvantaging Russia’s own close allies with sanctions and penalties to assist Washington’s nefarious goals, and undoubtedly numerous other dirty tricks I have forgotten or the public has not yet learned about.

      Biden must have been really comfortable around a sleaze like Obama. Nobody in Obama’s White House raised an eyebrow when Biden inserted his drug-addicted, dishonorably-discharged from the Navy son into the highest echelons of the Ukrainian energy sector and then ordered tin pot dictator Porky Petroschenko to fire the Ukrainian legal officer (attorney general?) who dared query the appointment. Biden and Obama were America’s B.O. team, stinking up the atmosphere wherever they went. (And that’s not to say that Romney or McStain wouldn’t have implemented most of the same reprehensible foreign policies. All these men were owned by the same crowd of elite insiders, America’s ruling oligarchs.)

      • ML
        June 27, 2019 at 15:23

        Hear, hear! Good post, Realist. 100% accurate. What a bunch of looting criminals. Jailbirds they all should be.

      • Gregory Herr
        June 27, 2019 at 20:03

        Your scrutiny is appreciated.

        Anything but “clean”— either one of them.

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