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The first part of the second democratic debate showed a non-rancorous divide on how to beat Trump and fresh discussions first-use of nuclear weapons and for getting out of Afghanistan

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JOHN DELANEY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-MD) So I think Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises. When we run on things that are workable, not fairy tale economics. And focus on those kitchen table pocketbook issues that matter to hardworking Americans. Building infrastructure, creating jobs, improving their pay, creating universal health care, and lowering drug prices. We can do it.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Thank you, Congressman. Senator Warren?

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for President of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. [applause]

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us.

Yes, the first Democratic debate, part one, is done. And as you just saw, I think the heart of this debate and probably tonight’s as well will be couched in moderate, classic liberal, and progressive views. But at the center of it all really is it seems to me the internal struggle inside the Democratic Party on how best to take on Donald Trump— from health care to working families, to the Green New Deal, to foreign policy. We clearly saw different visions. The moderators seem to want to push former Congressman John Delaney far ahead for some reason, and seemed to from the questions push back on Sanders and Warren and force a fight, but the Democrats didn’t do that. They worked hard to show some unity I thought. So what does all that really mean? And what’s our takeaways from last night’s debate?

We are joined right now by Jeet Heer. Jeet Heer is the National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation magazine and has written for numerous things — is the National Affairs Correspondent, excuse me, for The Nation and who’s done many, many pieces for The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe and many other publications. And author of In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman and Sweet Lechery: — I love that one— Reviews, Essays & Profiles. And Dr. Kimberly Moffitt is in the studio. Dr. Kimberly Moffitt is Chair of the Language, Literacy and Culture Studies program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is a media critic who often writes on politics and pop culture and she’s co-editor of The Obama Effect— 2010 it was put out— and the forthcoming volume, The FLOTUS Effect: Reflections on the Platform, Presence, and Agency of Michelle Obama. And welcome back. Good to have you with us.


MARC STEINER So what I want to know first from the two of you is why were all the Jews on the first night and all people of color the second night? What is that about? [panel laughs] No comment?

JEET HEER Well, it seems to me just the luck of the draw, but it’s right to be suspicious. It’s right to be suspicious.


JEET HEER I also have to say that there’s a meme going around on Twitter where people are saying “Bernie is too loud” and I will now say that that is an anti-Semitic trope.

MARC STEINER Yeah. I think that’s a very strange thing. But getting into it seriously here, let’s talk about what I opened this up with, which is where I think the heart of this debate is, which had to do with how you take on Trump, and whose views were what on these different issues, and how they approached it. So let’s look at this short piece and we can kind of play with this for a moment. Let’s look at this.

JOHN DELANEY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-MD) Look at the story of Detroit, this amazing city that we’re in. This city is turning around because the government and the private sector are working well together. That has to be our model going forward. I’m as big of a dreamer and an entrepreneur as anyone, but I also believe we need to have solutions that are workable.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) He talks about solutions that are workable. We have tried the solution of Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. And what have the private insurance companies done? They’ve sucked billions of dollars out of our health care system. They’ve made everybody fill out dozens and dozens of forms. Why? Not because they are trying to track your health care. They just want one more excuse to say no. Insurance companies do not have a God-given right to suck money out of our health care system.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) To win this election and to defeat Donald Trump— which, by the way, in my view, is not going to be easy— we need to have a campaign of energy and excitement and of vision. We need to bring millions of young people into the political process in a way that we have never seen.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) I think when we have a guy in the White House that has now told over 10,000 lies, that we better be very straightforward with the American people. Do I think that we’re going to vote to give free college to the wealthiest kids? No, I don’t think we’re gonna do that. So that’s what I’m talking about. But what I don’t like about this argument right now, what I don’t like about it at all is that we are more worried about winning an argument than winning an election.

MARC STEINER So part of what is being set up here clearly is these different visions. It seemed like the progressive movement in this country has really pushed the Democratic Party on some things. So everybody— we’ll talk later in this conversation about health care— is for “Medicare for All,” but in different stages and ways of parsing it. So what about how they handled this last night? And what you thought—Kimberly, to start with you, just what you thought about what this divide said and what this means for taking on Trump?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yeah. I think what I found most interesting is even though Trump was not in the room, he was certainly very much a part of the conversation. Even when they weren’t calling him by name because so much of what the Democratic candidates are doing right now is trying to respond to much of what he has said or has not said. But what I would also say, last night what we saw most is the clear divide between those candidates that are seen as more progressive or named progressives, versus those that are more moderate. And that speaks, again, to where the Democrats are in terms of understanding their identity and who they are because they’re not quite ready to stake a claim to say this is who we are and this is where we stand because they are really worried about what does that do in terms of their possible voters and where they stand. And will we lose them or will we gain more voters depending on the stances we take?


JEET HEER Yeah. I think that part of it is also CNN. It’s a network. They want ratings and creating drama helps them so they really tried to like—I think that’s the old slogan of Popeye’s friend Wimpy, “Let’s you and him fight.”

MARC STEINER [laughs] I saw that in your piece you wrote for The Nation. That was very funny.

JEET HEER Okay. And so they elevated this figure, John Delaney, who as far as I can tell is polling at under one percent. And, you know, I mean, just to give you [inaudible] this guy is. He has like 26,000 Twitter fans and I have like 200,000 Twitter fans. So, like, why am I not on the debate stage? [panel laughs]

MARC STEINER Jeet, why weren’t you on the stage last night?

JEET HEER At then they elevated this figure and made him as the—I mean, it’s probably because Joe Biden was up there. And it’s really a debate between Biden versus Warren and Sanders, so they made Delaney the proxy for Biden.

MARC STEINER Right. The debate is between those three plus, I think, Kamala Harris. I mean, right? I think that is it.

JEET HEER Yeah. Harris, as well. Yeah. I mean, ideally you would have those four figures argue it out on stage. But, you know, because there’s so many people running, this is how they’ve done it. And so I think that what’s interesting is that Warren and Sanders both laid out the real case not just in policy terms, but in electoral terms for being more visionary and to say that this is actually how you draw voters. This is how you get young people involved in the election. This how you get those voters that are more marginal into the electoral process. And I think that’s a very compelling argument.

MARC STEINER Well, let’s take a look at this other piece here and this also goes to the heart of what I think the arguments were last night with Tim Ryan and others talking about working-class families and the economy and where that takes the Democrats and where that takes America. I think clearly they were really — most of them were kind of on point in terms of taking on Trump, but let’s watch this.

CONGRESSMAN TIM RYAN (D-OH) I think President Trump was onto something when he talked about China. So I think we need some targeted response against China. But you know how you beat China? You out-compete them. And that’s why I’d put a chief manufacturing officer in place to make sure that we rebuild the manufacturing base. We’ve got to fill these factories that — in Detroit, in Youngstown, that used to make cars and steel. We’ve got to fill them with workers who are making electric vehicles, batteries, charging stations, make sure they’re making solar panels.

JOHN DELANEY, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-MD) I’m the only one running for president who actually supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership. President Obama was right about that. We should be getting back in that.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) For decades, we have had a trade policy that has been written by giant multinational corporations to help giant multinational corporations. They have no loyalty to America. They have no patriotism. If they can save a nickel by moving a job to Mexico, they’ll do it in a heartbeat. I have put out a new comprehensive plan that says we’re not going to do it that way. We’re going to negotiate our deals with unions at the table, with small businesses at the table, with small farmers at the table, with environmentalists at the table, with human rights activists at the table.

BETO O’ROURKE, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-TX) We will hold China accountable, but we will bring our allies and friends, like the European Union, to bear. And we’ll also negotiate trade deals that favor farmers and American workers and protect human rights and the environment and labor, not just here in the United States, but in the —

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) You’re looking, I believe, at the only member of Congress who not only voted against these disastrous trade agreements— NAFTA, PNTR, with China— which cost us over 4 million jobs.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER, FORMER CO GOVERNOR You’re not going to win against China in a trade war when they’ve got 25% of our total debt, but tariffs are not the solution.

MARC STEINER So I’m curious how both of you think   this is going to play and how it’s going to play out in the coming election. This is part of the heart of the debate that’s always been with Democrats about how you rebuild the economy, how you do trade deals, taking on Trump for his tariffs. So how does it really play out? I mean, how wonky can you get, as Williamson would say? And what does this really mean for the body politic?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT I mean, I definitely think that this is to distinguish themselves from the Republicans or at least from Trump’s policies where Trump has been very pro-business and believing that he is protecting American jobs and the American people by supporting businesses and the decisions that they do, but also instituting for example tariffs in hopes of maintaining those industries here in the US. And I think what many of the Democrats, at least the majority last night, were trying to convey is their desire to focus and center on the people. And the hope is that if we’re talking about the people, the real individuals who are at the table for all of these discussions, that that’s what’s going to win voters. That they will then see the Democrats as committed to them and not these big industries.

MARC STEINER Jeet, go ahead.

JEET HEER Yeah. I completely agree with that. I think that one of the things that Warren and Sanders both did very effectively is to recast the trade debate as not only America versus China, but to introduce that element of big business. That the trade agreements were really envisioned by corporations, have benefitted corporations in many ways. And this is a real change for the Democrats. I mean the Democrats have been the party under Clinton and Obama of NAFTA, of TPP. And so I think that we’re really seeing the Democrats breaking from that trade consensus. I mean if you have, you know, only John Delaney as your defender of the free trade consensus, then I think it’s dead. I’m sorry, John Delaney.

MARC STEINER [laughs] But before we go to the next topic here, how does that play out with the American people do you think? I mean, you know, and who buys into what they were saying and why?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Yeah, but that’s part of what I think the Democratic Party is dealing with now, is they don’t have the identity, the solid identity to say who they are and what they represent. And dig their heels in and squarely say, this is where we stand. They’re still trying to figure it out. They’re still looking to understand the pulse of the American people to say, which of these areas will garner us the most votes and support so that we can beat Trump? And I don’t think they figured it out yet.

MARC STEINER I mean one of the things—The other night I had a conversation with [inaudible] about this and she said if only somebody could find a way to make a true multiracial working-class organization that might grab America, the American public. And they’re trying to figure out how to do that. They just can’t figure out how to do it.


JEET HEER That’s right. Yeah. Although, I mean, I think that if we actually look at the coalition that Bernie Sanders is putting together, it does look quite multiracial. I think it’s interesting that Bernie often polls as the second most popular candidate among both white and black voters. So that’s pretty significant if he can hold it together.

MARC STEINER When we get to our final segment we’re going to talk about Bernie and race and the rest, but let me take a very quick look at this so we can take a quick conversation here about the foreign policy and where that takes us. And it’s an interesting back and forth especially with Elizabeth Warren at this moment talking about how we use nuclear weapons and her interchange with Governor Bullock.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) The United States is not going to use nuclear weapons preemptively and we need to say so to the entire world. Our military is the best on Earth, but we should not be asking our military to take on jobs that do not have a military solution. We need to use our diplomatic tools, our economic tools, and if we’re going to send someone into war, we better have a plan for how we’re going to get them out on the other end.

GOVERNOR STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT) Never. I hope. Certainly in my term or anyone else would we really even get close to pulling that trigger. Going from the position of strength, we should be negotiating down so there aren’t nuclear weapons. But drawing those lines in the sand, at this point I wouldn’t do.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Thank you, Governor. Senator Warren, your response?

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) Look, we don’t expand trust around the world by saying,” You know, we might be the first ones to use a nuclear weapon.” That puts the entire world at risk and puts us at risk right in the middle of this. At a time when Donald Trump is pulling out of our nuclear negotiations, expanding the opportunities for nuclear proliferation around the world, has pulled us out of the deal in Iran, and Iran is now working on its nuclear weapon, the world gets closer and closer to nuclear warfare. We have to have an announced policy that is one the entire world can live with.

MARC STEINER And right after that, Bullock responded, you know, talking about I’m not going to let Detroit be the first place to be hit and then we respond. But this to me goes into the heart of a really classic old argument that has never really gone head-to-head in this major way publicly inside this country and Democrats about nuclear power and weapons. So how do both you read this, Jeet?

JEET HEER Well, I thought that Warren has traditionally not been strong on foreign policy, so I thought it was a really good moment for her to lay that out and to lay it out as her compelling vision. And I think it is absolutely true that one of the dangers— not just of Trump but of American foreign policy— is that it’s been encouraging nuclear proliferation because if you look at it, you know, Saddam Hussein didn’t have nuclear weapons and he got invaded. Gadhafi gave up his nuclear weapons and he got overthrown. And Iran signed a nuclear deal and now the US pulled out of it and threatened it, whereas North Korea got nuclear weapons and Trump is like, you know, best buddies with Kim Jong-un. So the message that America’s been sending to the world is like if you want to be a strong power, you should get nukes. And I think it’s both, you know, the policy of America not renouncing restraint is part of that. Like it really creates a world where it makes a lot of sense for everyone to have nukes. And I think Warren is right that we have to move away from that.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT She’s calling for real diplomacy instead of this feigned attempt to pretend that we’re interested in diplomacy, but yet we continue to proliferate nuclear weapons. And so at one point when she was having this discussion, it was a clear divide between kind of the old US cowboy ruggedness of “we are in charge” and “we are in control” and “we are the strong power” versus another potential leader who is saying to us, yes, we can be strong, but we can also work together to make sure that the end of the world does not come under our thumb.

MARC STEINER And we’ll see how that plays in the macho ethos that we have in this country pretty deeply, right?

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Absolutely. Absolutely because I wondered if gender played a role in how she decided to approach this versus what many of the candidates on stage with her didn’t say.

MARC STEINER Really strong point. One final point here before we stop and come to another topic. Two other topics here. Let’s look at this piece about Afghanistan, which I thought was interesting very quickly and we’ll talk about this.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR Will you withdraw all US service members by the end of your first year in office?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND We will withdraw. We have to.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR In your first year?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND Yes. We’re pretty close to the day when we will wake up to the news of a casualty in Afghanistan who was not born on 9/11. We need to talk not only about the need for a president committed to ending endless war, but the fact that Congress has been asleep at the switch. And on my watch, I will propose that any Authorization for the Use of Military Force have a three-year sunset.

BETO O’ROURKE, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (D-TX) I would in my first term in office agree that there is nothing about perpetuating this war already in its 18th year that will make it any better. We’ve satisfied the reasons for our involvement in Afghanistan in the first place. And it’s time to bring those service members back home from Afghanistan, but also from Iraq, also from Yemen, and Somalia, and Libya, and Syria. There is no reason for us to be at war all over the world tonight. As president, I will end those wars and we will not start new wars. We will not send more US service members overseas to sacrifice their lives.

MARC STEINER And we also had Hickenlooper in that exchange also said in a sense we owe it to the Afghanis not to just walk away — Afghan people — not just walk away and leave them in the lurch. And so that’s another piece of the argument I think. But Obama couldn’t do it.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT That’s right. That’s right.

MARC STEINER Trump feigned like he was going to do it. So something is keeping people stuck there. So your analysis here from that before we move on.

DR. KIMBERLY MOFFITT Well, first and foremost, I think it’s a lot more difficult than what people think. And so the idea of bringing our troops home sounds like a lovely idea, but in terms of logistically pulling it off and what it means in terms of those areas like Hickenlooper mentioned, what happens to those regions when we completely pull out, that all of those considerations are taking under advice. And I think individuals like Obama realized that, upon hearing all that information, this is not as easy as what we think. And so, Buttigieg, although I think it was a shining moment for him when he addressed this point, it does feel sort of shortsighted to talk about being able to pull this off within the first year of his term.

MARC STEINER Jeet, how do you see it?

JEET HEER Yeah. I thought Mayor Pete had a good moment in the sense that he really brought up a really crucial issue, which is that Congress has abdicated. I mean, basically after 9/11 there was like a blank check that was given to presidents to launch wars and that blank check is still there. I mean, Trump is arguing that he could launch a war with Iran tomorrow if he wanted to. And so I think there really has to be a fundamental reset, but it’s going to be very, very hard to do because American foreign policy is so dependent on the military. Like America has put all its eggs in this military basket. So it’s very hard to actually achieve American ends through diplomacy because if you have a hammer, that’s all you know how to use. You hammer everything. The American military has become a hammer.

MARC STEINER It’s become a hammer. I think is very difficult for most people unless they are actually libertarian or on the left in terms of the arguments they make to really talk about problems with having a military that’s all over the world and that has always been an issue. And I didn’t see a great divergence here other than what Warren said. But we’re here. You heard Jeet Heer who is the National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation. And we’re here with Dr. Kimberly Moffitt who is a media critic and Chair of the Department at UMBC. And this is their first segment because we’re going to tackle health care and immigration in another segment. So you’ll want to think about what we said here. Let us know. And in the next one, you want to watch it. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.