Democratic Debates: The Moderates Strike Back


Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website

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41 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The counter is that this is the last stand of a group of people who are almost certain to be cut out of the September and subsequent debates:

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Having not watched the debate and only skimming the media reports, what strikes me is how furiously the media outlets are scrambling to assign a winner, and establish a dominant narrative.
    Because what they are trying to do is harvest clicks and eyeballs and maintain their standing as the Cult of The Savvy.

    It doesn’t seem to me that much changed for the Democratic base voters who are, after all, the ones of primary importance here.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Well, they are also trying to nudge the primary results.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I don’t know if they are (at least consciously). There’s no attention-grabbing story so far, and if they manicure it a little they may be able to find one.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Pinky says:

          Sometimes it’s what is called out. I didn’t watch the debates, but I could very easily see the media playing a game of “Only Positive, Only Negative”. So, if, for instance, they like Warren, and don’t like Delany, then the highlight reel of the debate only shows moments when Warren slams Delany, but ignores any response from Delany (except for stunned looks after he got slammed).

          Sure, people who watch the debate might remember Delany landing some solid hits on Warren, and maybe a few Delany supporters will put those in their highlight reel, but if Warren has the support of the media outlets with the larger audiences, the Warren highlight reel is what everyone will remember.Report

    • Avatar JS in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I love the “how many google searches” were done as a metric. You can’t tell the difference between “I loved that and want to know more” versus “What the heck did I just watch?”.

      Desperation for instant poll results leads to some really odd metrics, and of course there’s the whole meta aspect as people react to the reaction to the debates. What goes viral? What do people talk about that informs people who didn’t watching the debate — which is most people? What are the takeaways?

      These things take time. You can’t poll them right away, you can’t put them up ahead of time and show you can foretell the future. Analyzing google searches or grabbing any online poll and splashing it up there is pure guesswork.

      I’m not a fan of whatever consultant likes to judge debates using a hand-picked audience with dials, but at least he tries to get an audience specifically of undecided voters and says so. “This is a specific, limited sample. Everyone will draw a million conclusions unsupported by this anyways, and I’ll encourage it, but at least I told you it was a limited, specific sample not representative of the public as a whole, whom are mostly decided at this point.”

      But I guess “We’ll find out over the next week whether this debate, or tomorrow’s, had any effect on the race” doesn’t really nab those viewers.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to JS says:

        I sometimes almost pity pundits and tv talking heads, that they have a job requirement of Telling Us What It Means, even if they have to pull something out of a dark place and present it as the declaration of an oracle.Report

        • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          That is one of many reasons I pay them little attention, and focus on the small part of what they say that has factual (or potentially factual) content.Report

        • Avatar JS in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I recall, way back during the early oughts, reading a pundit’s column — George Will perhaps, I cannot recall — and realizing that for all the authority he was writing with, he literally knew even less than I did about the subject.

          The next few years of endless Friedman units coming and going, then watching Alan Greenspan’s comments both right before and right after the crash and realizing that he’d missed the largest market bubble since the Great Depression and seemed unable to believe it had actually happened…..

          Nobody can tell the future. The ones to worry about are the ones who sincerely believe they can. And for some reason, they keep ending up on my TV.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to JS says:

            The universal pundit thing is terrible. There is no way any of these people can be remotely knowledgeable about a hundred different complex topics. It’s one thing for a guy like Krugman, who is a licensed econ knower, to talk about econ but Will and his ilk are useless.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to JS says:

            There was an interesting study that found experts are less good at predictions than non-expert generalists and autodidacts, who incorporate a broader range of experience and gut feel into their reasoning.

            The Atlantic: How to Predict the Future

            A few excerpts:

            The result: The experts were, by and large, horrific forecasters. Their areas of specialty, years of experience, and (for some) access to classified information made no difference. They were bad at short-term forecasting and bad at long-term forecasting. They were bad at forecasting in every domain.

            The highly specialized experts (“hedgehogs”) were contrasted with the generalists (“foxes” or “integrators”).

            The integrators outperformed their colleagues in pretty much every way, but especially trounced them on long-term predictions. Eventually, Tetlock bestowed nicknames (borrowed from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin) on the experts he’d observed: The highly specialized hedgehogs knew “one big thing,” while the integrator foxes knew “many little things.”

            Hedgehogs are deeply and tightly focused. Some have spent their career studying one problem. Like Ehrlich and Simon, they fashion tidy theories of how the world works based on observations through the single lens of their specialty. Foxes, meanwhile, “draw from an eclectic array of traditions, and accept ambiguity and contradiction,” Tetlock wrote. Where hedgehogs represent narrowness, foxes embody breadth.

            Incredibly, the hedgehogs performed especially poorly on long-term predictions within their specialty. They got worse as they accumulated experience and credentials in their field. The more information they had to work with, the more easily they could fit any story into their worldview.

            What all this means is that the pundits are possibly the least likely people to correctly predict an election.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to JS says:

            Some kind of political Gell-Mann amnesia?Report

            • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              What usually seems to happen is that some professional in a field connected to whatever is being talked about makes an accurate prediction based on info they know intimately. And then they are asked about an ever-widening set of facts that are further and further from what their knowledge base is. And yet we still consider them trust-worthy due to that one correct moment.

              It isn’t helped by that person being feted by the media and then growing an outsized opinion of their importance.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I see a lot of libertarians (aka as middle-aged white guys) making hay of this tweet this morning:

    “Politics is the art of the possible” is a cliche and like all cliches there is something to it. However, there is also something about people declaring something not possible simply because they don
    ‘t like the proposal but don’t want to say as much. The moderates are basically throwbacks to a Democratic Party that existed twenty years or twenty five years ago but not anymore. The Party has moved to the left. But there are still lots of Democrats who overlearned the lessons of the 1990s and would also stand to lose power, influence, and pay more taxes with a more progressive Democratic Party platform. How dare universal health care get in the way of being toasted by billionaires at Davos and gorging on the corporate trough.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I think a lot of self described moderate Dems haven’t grasped how swiftly and completely the Reaganomic free market cult has collapsed.

      There are still a lot, like Ryan and Biden, who want to start every conversation by reassuring everyone how much they favor market based solutions, like they they are debating an imaginary Reagan from 1984.

      I think also they are still instinctively flinching from the “radical” label.

      If there is a silver lining to Trump it is that norm-busting works both ways. Americans have now lived two years with a president who has acted radically and done things once thought political suicide and still the sky hasn’t fallen.

      UBI, postal savings bank, Wall Street regulation…I don’t see any of these things as political poison, to a people who wake to a President casually discussing slaughtering ten million Afghans, and everyone shrugging nonchalantly.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I don’t know how anybody can possibly live in a place where rent isn’t $3000/month.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      This is probably just my cishetwhitemaleness speaking, but I think that whether a policy is actually a good idea is actually kind of important. I wouldn’t expect someone who throws around the word “anti-intellectual” as much as you do to be so hostile to the idea.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Why do that when all you need to do is refer to race, sex, and sexual orientation? Apparently it’s all anyone needs to know about anything.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Note that being “possible” isn’t even enough. The US is a pretty rich country. Most of the stuff far-left wing of the Democratic Party wants to do is technically possible, just not good policy. It’s possible to raise the minimum wage to $25 tomorrow. It’s possible to legally require all prescription drugs to be sold at marginal cost. It’s possible to cancel all outstanding student loans. It’s possible to impose rent control nationwide. It’s possible to build the wall.

        These are all just really bad ideas. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Warren’s outburst above basically puts her on the intellectual level of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Oh you had the “I don’t understand” quote in the post. Oh well.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I didn’t watch the debates (I was at the climbing gym!) but I did read a lot of tweets. There was one thing I was maybe kinda expecting but didn’t see anything about.

    Did anybody mention Russia, Mueller, or Collusion during the debate?Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Jaybird says:

      I’m not sure because it was so pathetic that for a while I flipped over to watch Dance Moms because I’d never seen it before.

      But from what I’ve read, Trump hardly even came up as a real issue. Biden and Warren teamed up and viciously argued with the center-left governors about whether their plans were crazy or not, and then they’d cut over to Williamson who’d say they were all crazy losers because they were ignoring dark psychic forces.Report

  6. Avatar George Turner says:

    As an aside, the entire debate was way too white. Monday the The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired a bunch of top staffers because they felt the committee had too many white people.

    From The Hill:

    Among some, the committee’s day of meetings was a source of mockery, especially after a largely drama-free cycle internally under Luján, who ultimately helped win the majority for the party.

    “The idea of all DCCC staff sitting around for hours on Friday and again today to talk about this internal shit enrages me,” the House Democrat said. “Shut the f— up about your feelings and just focus on winning.”

    “You know how NRCC [National Republican Congressional Committee] spent their day Friday and today? Not sitting around talking about diversity and their feelings,” the lawmaker added.

    More than anything, Democrats believe the party’s campaign apparatus needs an infusion of know-how at the highest levels. As one external source put it: “They need some adults in there.”

    The debate was bad, but their chaos regarding 2020 congressional elections may be a far more damaging effect of their current War of Racial Obsession, in which even Nancy Pelosi is accused of being a racist.Report

  7. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    The lesson of the 2016 campaign is that a lot of voters want to hear more about aspirations and feelings than they want to know about incremental creep.

    I think they get that when you get in office, you deal with realities, which might well mean not enough votes. But they want the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) that was talked about in Built to Last, the best business book ever written.

    That’s how I relate to Medicare for All, which I consider a slogan. It’s wildly ambiguous, and could mean anything from a public option to abolishing health insurance. But as a slogan, it means, “we could easily do better than we are doing”, because most people who engage with Medicare think it works pretty well. Maybe not great, but miles better than nothing.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      Sure, but when Medicare for All becomes “We’ll force you to give up what you have and get on Medicare” it goes from a big hairy audacious goal to a big hairy audacious threat. And voters do not like threats.Report

  8. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    The absolute saddest element of the “moderate” candidates was the way they tried to defend union’s and their interests by saying universal healthcare would go against those group’s interests as “their healthcare is all they have.” Solidarity forever, but not so much for these voices of the unionized.

    Seems a smarter strategy to support healthcare for all people and thus giving those unions something else to fight for in negotiations.Report

  9. Avatar CJColucci says:

    Did something happen to a bunch of comments here?Report

  10. Avatar George Turner says:

    Gabbard won her second debate. She’s two for two.Report