I had high hopes when I sat down to watch the Democratic debate last night. As a Democrat who has been largely undecided over the primary I wanted to take the time for once to hear a whole debate, start to finish, from the candidates themselves instead of doing what I normally do and read a transcript the next morning.
Normally I don’t need to watch nor do I actually watch debates, especially live, but this time was different. I felt (and still feel) that both frontrunners had lost it a bit. Not necessarily mentally (though there is something to be said for the idea that anyone who actually wants to be President of the United States has something wrong with them), but in terms of their messaging. Even though the primary’s been going on for months on social media and in the news, the campaigns themselves haven’t been doing most of the talking. Instead the primary has been characterized by exponentially more and more petty mudslinging between increasingly crazy cults of Bernie and Hillary supporters. To less-than-fully-decideds and outside observers, it’s made the primary sound like the Spanish civil war, with alternating definitions of who’s the monarchy and who’s Franco depending on who you ask.
So needless to say I was excited to see a sane exchange between the candidates without the hordes of DNC apologists and Che Guevara wannabes ruining my ability to actually judge the best candidate for myself.
Alas, I would have been happier if I’d just read the transcript. Even though I’ve seen at least a dozen articles straining to argue that either Hillary or Bernie “won” the debate (depending on which one you’re reading), I was much less impressed with their behavior. There’s trying to be more aggressive and score points three weeks ahead of a caucus of massively inflated importance, and then there’s just acting childish. The latter was what I saw. I counted twice where both candidates were trying to shout over each other to make a point literally as the debate was going to a commercial break. I lost count listening to them stubbornly repeat slogans instead of spell out their policies (though part of that was no doubt the ludicrously short time limits they were given to answer questions).
It was a world away from the debates in 2008, and that’s not a good thing.
I plan to vote for the nominee whoever it ends up being, but I’m starting to get worried that it doesn’t matter who it ends up being. Negativity in a primary isn’t always a bad thing, but this amount of it is. The bloody shirt waving cults at the far periphery of the primary process shouldn’t be the loudest voices in the room dictating what the candidates say and do. Fight for your candidate, definitely, but once in a while just remember it’s OK to dial it back. Otherwise we’re going to end up with a losing nominee no matter who wins the primary.