Progressives shine and moderates falter in fourth Democratic debate

Nikolas Brady is a senior business administration major with a politics minor

A plethora of questions confronted voters before Tuesday night’s debate: Would Sen. Bernie Sanders recover physically and politically after his health scare? Would Sen. Elizabeth Warren cement her place as the frontrunner? Why are Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Cory Booker still here? Although we are still awaiting an answer on the last one, we now have a consensus on the others. 

Sanders walked on stage with a lot to prove but even more to lose. Following his recent heart attack, pundits had already declared his candidacy over as questions of health and age arose. Yet despite the fact that he received less speaking time than candidates who poll far below him, Sanders was able to send an energetic and effective message during the debate. 

Sanders walked on stage with a lot to prove but even more to lose.

His commitment to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and a federal jobs guarantee was unapologetically clear, in stark contrast to many of his opponents who critiqued his plans with little substance to offer. He even went after former Vice President Joe Biden, reminding the audience that the Iraq War, a detrimental bankruptcy bill, and various disastrous trade deals were among Biden’s other accomplishments. 

Sanders was in good health that night, made obvious both by his performance and his conviction when answering a question regarding his fitness, quickly stating, “I’m healthy. I’m feeling great.” Sanders’ reassuring return to the limelight, in addition to key endorsements from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, sends a signal that his campaign is here for the long-term and has significant viability to earn the Democratic nomination. 

However, Sanders wasn’t the only one who shined during the debate. If there was any doubt that Warren has achieved frontrunner status, it was squandered Tuesday night by her overwhelmingly solid performance. This was affirmed by Warren herself as much as it was by her rivals’ attacks on stage. Mayor Pete Buttigieg from South Bend, Indiana attempted to confront her on healthcare by questioning the ability of the government to pay for it, a typical talking point one would expect from a Democratic centrist. In response, Warren made clear that we cannot afford to keep or prop up the insurance industry that has proven to be destructive in our current system. She would go on to take jabs from Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden, and Klobuchar throughout the night on a multitude of other issues.

Warren reminded viewers about the invaluable work she has accomplished as a public official by establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and reintroducing the Glass-Steagall Act, reforms that prevent Wall Street greed from threatening economic stability. She undoubtedly had an effective performance not in spite of these quarrels with other Democrats, but because of them. They effectively presented her as the new person to beat. 

She undoubtedly had an effective performance not in spite of these quarrels with other Democrats, but because of them

Biden did little to quell concerns from progressives and his supporters alike. It was apparent from the first question of the debate that if he were to become the nominee, his campaign would be embroiled in questions about his son’s and his own activities in Ukraine regardless of whether the accusations are sound. 

Although there was a unanimous consensus among his Democratic opponents that Hunter Biden’s former ties to a Ukrainian energy company are irrelevant, it’s clear that Biden has an Achilles’ heel at which President Donald Trump will undoubtedly take aim at. Biden has since said that as president he would not allow anyone in his family to sit on a foreign company’s board, which is good — yet this new assertion essentially admits past wrongdoing as vice president. This and the fact that Biden has fairly unconvincing responses on the matter should worry his voter base. 

For progressives, Biden continued to be milquetoast on the issues. His eagerness to highlight Medicare for All’s $32 trillion cost coupled with his omission that our current healthcare system will cost upwards of $40 trillion shows a concerning inclination to mislead voters. But that’s likely your only option if you’re running as a moderate like Biden, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar and can’t support a policy favored by a majority of Americans, not just Democrats. 

Overall, Biden failed to deliver a vision for the country that didn’t involve empty platitudes and critiques of popular, liberal proposals.

Among other notable moments of the debate were Andrew Yang’s universal basic income proposal being discussed at length, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s bizarre (and failed) attacks on Warren, and Tom Steyer’s overall uselessness. But it’s becoming far more clear that there is virtually no viability for these candidates, or the other six on stage who weren’t Sanders, Warren, or Biden. 

This debate indisputably demonstrated that the two progressives in the race have the boldest, popular and necessary agendas for the U.S., and the moderates who attack them will never fail to fall flat on their faces in the process. 


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