Kamala Harris seized the evening by taking on bussing and race with Biden, while Hickenlooper and others confronted Sanders’s socialism and the nuances of Medicare for All
JOSE DIAZ-BALART [crosstalk] So sorry. Senator Harris—Senator Harris, I’m so sorry. We will allow all of you to speak. Senator Harris. Please. We will let you all speak. Senator Harris.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS Hey, guys. You know what? America does not want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we’re gonna put food on their table. [crowd cheers]
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. [laughs] Sorry folks, but that clip just cracks me up because as much as people want to criticize Kamala Harris for some of the stuff as Attorney General in California, her intervention last night showed how last night’s Democratic debate was more intense and more contentious than the first, by a long shot. Some of the issues that are gripping our body politic— like race and racism, the debate over socialism and capitalism, how we really define “Medicare for All,” what do we do about immigration, and issues of war and peace— took front and center in last night’s debate, as did the generational divide. To sort some of this out, we have with us today once again, Dr. Kimberly Moffitt who rejoins us this morning. Good to have you, Kimberly, here.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Thank you.
MARC STEINER Kimberly Moffitt is the Associate Professor and Chair of Language, Literacy, & Culture at the Doctoral Program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. And Jacqueline Luqman, who is a Real News correspondent and Editor-in-chief of Luqman Nation. Jacqueline, welcome. Good to have you, as well.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER So, um. [laughs] That was really, that really, kind of, stunned me when I saw that. It reminded me of somebody’s mother, you know. “Just stop! Will you? Stop! Pass the peas and stop!” [panel laughs] But in all seriousness though, that, kind of, set the tone for the evening, I think.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT It did.
MARC STEINER And set—Not that I want to make this a conversation about a horse race because I think it’s irrelevant sometimes, but I think her doing that near the top really did set the tone for the evening and set her as the centerpiece for the evening.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Indeed. Indeed. I would say that it demonstrated a level of confidence to be in command and know how to rally the troops, so to speak. She made a clear indication that she can play this role and she knows how to carry out the role, and she did so continuously through the night even with some of the language she used— when she referred to herself as the “next president,” when she said “when she becomes the next president.” All of those cues made it very clear that she was situating herself to be that next person.
MARC STEINER Jacqueline? Want to jump in on that for a minute?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yes, I absolutely agree. Kamala Harris made sure, she made clear that she is not easily intimidated by a room full of loud-talking politicians [panel laughs] so she literally had her don’t-make-me-come-back-there moment, [panel laughs] positioning herself as the adult in the race. Really.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yes.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Really. And we’re not even talking about her policies right now. We’re just talking about the way she branded herself, marketed herself to the American people in that debate. And as a strategy, as a tactic going forward to 2020, she really did a great job doing that.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT I would also add to that, that I think it was the beginning of her showing the so-called human side of who she is because much of the commentary that’s been made about her previously shows her as this very stoic, kind of distant, not engaging, but very serious about her ability to carry out tasks. And what she did throughout the night for us was offer a number of stories that gave us a sense of her human side.
MARC STEINER Let’s look at this other clip. This is Marianne Williamson, the author and spiritualist, who when she made this comment on reparations, opened up a bag of worms that also, I think, defined the evening.
MARIANNE WILLIAMSON All of these issues are extremely important, but they are specifics, they are symptoms, and the underlying cause has to do with deep, deep, deep realms of racial injustice— both in our criminal justice system and in our economic system. And the Democratic Party should be on the side of reparations for slavery for this very reason. [crowd applauds] I do not believe, I do not believe that the average American is a racist, but the average American is woefully undereducated about the history of race in the United States.
MARC STEINER So we won’t talk a lot about Williamson at the moment but, I mean, she threw in some barbs during the course of the whole evening that really— not barbs, but she stated some points throughout the course of the evening that I think really, kind of, broadened and deepened the discussion that politicians don’t usually have. And she did it this time with reparations. This piece led to this interchange between Biden and Harris on busing, states’ rights, and more. Then, we’ll pick up our conversation.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS And I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden. To hear you talk about the reputations of two United States Senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me. So I will tell you that, on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly—
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN It’s a mischaracterization of my position across the board. I did not praise racists. The fact is that in terms of busing, the busing—I never. You would’ve been able to go to school the same exact way because it was a local decision made by your city council. That’s fine. That’s one of the things I argued for, that we should not be—We should be breaking down these lines.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS Do you agree today, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN No. I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed. I did not oppose—
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California Public Schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN Because your city council made that decision. It was a local decision.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS So that’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act [crowd cheers] and the Civil Rights Act. [crowd continues to applaud] That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN I have supported—
MARC STEINER So that intense exchange, I think, really defined the evening and also, it was the first time in either of these debates when the issues of race and racism and the role of the federal government came up. And personally, I was kind of shocked to see Biden has not figured out how to answer what he did back there in the 70s. It also showed that it was glaring when he started talking about almost states’ rights, which was a shock to me.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yes. Yes.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yes. Yes.
MARC STEINER So talk about your analysis of what this means, but also, I’d like to hear what you both think this means in the larger context for this election coming up against Trump. Go ahead, Kimberly.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT So there are a couple of things that come out of that. First, I so appreciated Williamson pushing some of these issues and essentially, calling out seasoned politicians to say you’ve had an opportunity to address these issues, and it still hasn’t been done. And as a result, we have done nothing as a nation but continue to inflict racial trauma upon individuals that, of course, seems to continue generations on. It’s not something that happens to Harris when she’s that second class of students that is bused to her public school, and then it’s done. You could see even as she was talking about it, there was some emotion for her, that she was remembering those moments and how tough it was for her. So that’s trauma that has continued generations since. I really appreciated what Williamson was offering, but I think this particular exchange—I mean, there’s a moment during the debate that Harris also makes a comment. She was like, you know, as the black person on the stage, can I please respond? And so, clearly, she was going to make sure that race was interjected somehow, to make it clear that these are issues that we do need to be dealing with.
And so, by virtue of her own presence and body, she did so, but also by confronting Biden in a very aggressive, in some respects, way to be able to call him to the carpet about what he had done so many decades ago. And his inability to answer was probably even more stunning to me because after this being a news item for the week, I was certain that he would be prepared to respond, and actually have a canned response that would, kind of, squash this. But instead, what we saw is Harris rising and being able to demonstrate how powerful she could engage on these issues, while Biden— the seasoned politician who has also been our VP— seemed to stumble and fumble quite a bit.
MARC STEINER And, Jacqueline, one of things that came out later in this as well was that the Biden campaign came out and basically said, what you did— Kamala Harris— was to help Trump in what you said. That was the response that his campaign gave after the event itself took place. Jacqueline?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yeah. And I think that speaks to the refusal of the Biden campaign and Biden himself to deal honestly with his really terrible record in regard to racial issues dealing with working with racists, basically. I don’t know how else he would characterize these two congressmen who he worked with who were racist. They said they were racist. They called—They said that black people were “genetically inferior,” were “inferior to white people.” These are legislators who said this about black people, so Biden has consistently been dishonest about his relationship with these people and his willingness to work with these people to get their agenda passed.
I think he couldn’t have been any more honest in the way he stood on that stage and advocated for states’ rights, than if he had just come right out and said, you know what? I really am not for federal intervention in ensuring the equal protection under the law of all American citizens. I just don’t think he—He was more honest than we realize he was, but he was more honest than even he realizes he was. I mean, there’s really no more analysis that I think needs to be done about that. We saw who Joe Biden was, or is, last night. But the thing that was interesting to me is going back to Marianne Williamson really quickly, she brought up a point about racial injustice in the criminal justice system. In particular, she brought up the issue of reparations, which wasn’t addressed at all anymore last night after this exchange between Harris and Biden. And that’s unfortunate, but this is just the first of many debates so hopefully, this issue will be hashed out again.
MARC STEINER It might come up. We’ll see.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yeah and it’s complicated. It’s not easy. I understand that, but it’s interesting that she brought up reparations and then it was just, kind of, dropped on the floor. What was also interesting was that nobody addressed Kamala Harris on her problematic record with criminal justice issues in regard to black people. You know, Kamala Harris—Yeah, she scored some points and she was right to say what she said to Biden about his record, but that was almost like—I mean, how is Harris going to sling mud when she’s the one who was locking up black mothers, putting black mothers in jail because their kids were truant from school in California, and said it was a good idea, laughed and joked about it on a video. She was the one who fought the release of someone who had been imprisoned for decades that The Innocence Project found to be not guilty of the crime he was convicted of. Kamala Harris fought for this person to stay in prison after he was proven to be innocent. She refused to do anything to alleviate overcrowding in prisons in defiance of, I think it was a California Supreme Court order to address the issue. Her record on racial issues within the criminal justice system, as a prosecutor, is just as problematic as Joe Biden’s working so well with segregationists, and it’s interesting that no one addressed that with Harris.
MARC STEINER Right. She’ll have her Biden moment, or she’ll be prepared for it. We’ll see when that comes up. It’s going to come up.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN I think she will be more prepared than Biden was.
MARC STEINER We’ll see if she will. That has to be addressed, I think. Before we go to another subject because we have a lot to cover here—You wanted to say what, Kimberly?
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Actually, I was just going to concur. I think that was a segment where there could have been some pushback, not necessarily by Biden in that segment, but by any of the other nine candidates where they could have addressed that very point. I think Marianne Williamson had already done that for us by giving us a cue to say, what have you done up to this point when you know these are issues that have existed? In terms of Harris, I think she is going to have to deal with that head-on. I also think that we as voters need to be aware that the time in which many of these decisions are being made— whether it’s Biden and the segregationists, whether it is Harris and the participation in mass incarceration— that those are systems that we have created as a nation and they were complicit in participating in them because they were advantageous for them politically. And now that we see ourselves after research and the amount of trauma and turmoil that has been inflicted on our nation, we’re now starting to redress and figure out ways to undo some of the damage, and they’re going to have to undo some of that damage of their own.
MARC STEINER So on our way to this next segment, which we’ll jump into because I think it was really important, both [anti-]busing and mass incarceration were popular—
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Mm hmm. Yes.
MARC STEINER with most of the people. Anti-busing and locking people up were very popular in this country. And in the period of the 80s and 90s— extremely popular.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yes.
MARC STEINER One of the other things that came up last night and I think because of the Democratic Socialist positions of Bernie Sanders, there was this whole debate back and forth about “what do you mean by Socialism and capitalism” took place with Hickenlooper and Sanders who responded and Gillibrand. So let’s watch this piece and we can comment on this.
FORMER GOVERNOR HICKENLOOPER The bottom line is, if we don’t clearly define that we are not socialists, the Republicans are going to come at us everywhere they can and call us socialists. And if you look at the Green New Deal, which I admire the sense of urgency and how important it is to do climate change— I’m a scientist— but we can’t promise every American a government job. If you want to get universal health care coverage, I believe that health care is a right and not a privilege, but you can’t expect to eliminate private insurance for 180 million people, many of whom don’t want to give it up.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE What is your response to those who say nominating a socialist would re-elect Donald Trump?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS Well, I think the responses that the polls—Last poll I saw had us 10 points ahead of Donald Trump.
SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND The truth is, there’s a big difference between capitalism on the one hand, and greed on the other. And so all the things that we’re trying to change is when companies care more about profits when they do about people. There may not be disagreement in the party because in truth, we want healthy capitalism. We don’t want corrupted capitalism.
MARC STEINER So this idea is a really important question. What I want to ask the two of you is in this debate that was taking place last night, it came to the fore inside the Democratic Party, but— and a real honest assessment here— how this debate plays out in the general election? And I say it in this context. I say it in the context that what America is faced with— at least from my perspective, from my analysis— is a white nationalist regime that has elected itself into the White House, into the executive branch, and nominating people like this to the judiciary across the country, and immigration, and all the other issues that are stumbling us perhaps into war. So how does this debate fit into the context of what is being faced in November of 2020? Jacqueline?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yeah. I think that for the people who have taken over our government have basically implemented a soft political coup, is what I’ve been calling it. This white nationalist fascist faction— they will always use this argument of socialism is bad and these people are trying to implement socialism, as a way to hold onto their power because this is a narrative that they can—They know they can use this anti-socialist narrative in this country because Americans don’t understand what socialism is. Americans don’t even understand that we don’t really live in a democracy as it exists right now, and Americans are also very, very wedded to the idea that capitalism is good for them, that capitalism is the American way, and it’s how Americans obtain success. So, these people understand the very wedded nature of this love of capitalism that Americans have. And it’s largely because we are so woefully uneducated about the way the rest of the world works, and how different economic and political systems actually work very well in other countries—
MARC STEINER But wait a minute. The question is, though, and let me just push that before we have to take a break here and come to other subjects. The question is though— I think you’re right Jacqueline— but America and American opinion is not going to change by November 2020.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN That’s true.
MARC STEINER So how does this play out in terms of what do you think the internal debate’s going to be among the Democrats, and how this fares in the fight against Trump come next year?
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Well, I mean, it’s actually one of the few remarks that Hickenlooper made last night that I agreed with. That as a party, that there’s going to be a need to appear more centrist instead of the move and push to the left as where Sanders would like us. And I say that because if we continue down the road of the same rhetoric regarding socialism and what it does to us and AOC constantly being attacked for the Green Deal and any other legislation she recommends or puts forward, that it will give the perception that we don’t understand what Americans want, that we don’t have a sense of what Americans need, and that we are seen as the party that’s out of step with what the majority of Americans are desirous of. And that will easily make a pathway for Trump to be re-elected.
MARC STEINER So very quickly here, Jacqueline, because we really have to take a break here to go to our next subjects, but I think that this is going to go to the heart of some of the battle that is going to be taking place with Trump. And I just, you know, given that there are a number of people who declare they are socialists in this country—Young people are embracing Socialism, but that’s not the majority of America. And we had the Democratic Party, not the Democratic Socialist Party, or a Socialist Party of anything that can really, kind of, hold forth in partisan elections. So I think this debate, in some ways, it was a debate about Democrats trying to define for themselves who they are.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Right. Right.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yeah. I think that’s true, but I think the issue for me is that instead of Democrats focusing on whether or not Trump is going to call them socialists, talk about the policies that they are going to implement to help people. Okay, you have a problem with Socialism? Fine. But do you also have a problem with student loan debt? This is our solution for addressing student loan debt. You can call it what you want, but are the Republicans offering to address student loan debt? Do you have a problem with minimum wage not being enough, or not having a living wage, or not even being able to find a job where you can support yourself and your family on one job and not having to work two or three gig jobs? You can call eliminating that kind of economic system and providing a living wage for one job and addressing overzealous developers and addressing gentrification, so that people can afford to live off of one job—You call that whatever you want, but if the Republicans are not offering solutions to those problems that, like Kamala Harris said, “puts food on your table,” then they’re not your friends. Whether they call Democrats Socialist or not, if they have no answers for how to address the problems that people are facing in regard to not being able to afford to live in this society, then it doesn’t matter what Democrats think Republicans are going to call them.
MARC STEINER So I think—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt, but we do have to—
JACQUELINE LUQMAN No, no, no.
MARC STEINER So, I mean, I think that the issue here boils down to this interesting discussion to have at some point, which is that the ideas put forth by progressives and socialists are the ones that grab the American people, but you use the word “Socialism” and people panic.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT That’s right.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Yes.
MARC STEINER I mean, that is where the bottom line is for the United States now.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT And so, the rhetoric does matter.
MARC STEINER The rhetoric matters.
DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT And we have to be able to respond to that rhetoric and keep arguing the point that Jacqueline is raising of what are the programs that benefit Americans most?
MARC STEINER So we’re here with Kimberly Moffitt and Jacqueline Luqman, and we’re talking about the debate last night with the Democrats. We have another segment coming up about that and you don’t want to miss that. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Take care and stay with us.