The most entertaining moment in the Democrats’ South Carolina debate came when Elizabeth Warren affixed a needle-point bayonet to her musket and with a blood-curdling rebel yell, leaped over her podium and deftly pinned Michael Bloomberg’s ear to the floor.
OK, I plagiarized the gag from an old Mad Magazine. But it sure felt like that, both in Charleston and the week before in Las Vegas. In both debates Warren went on the war-path and scalped the pale-faced swell from Manhattan for his Me Too sins — real, imagined and theoretical.
She counted coup in Charleston with a particularly stinging hit: She accused Bloomberg of telling a pregnant employee to get an abortion — “kill it” was the phrase she said he used — with the implication being the employee would be laid off if she didn’t.
Bloomberg immediately denied making the comment. It’ll be interesting to see if Warren can produce some evidence to back up the assertion.
For his part, the Little Giant from the Big Apple showed signs of having a pulse during the Charleston debate; there was considerable doubt on this point after his Las Vegas performance. He even threw a couple of punches at Bernie Sanders, accusing him early on of being the beneficiary of Putin’s help.
“Vladimir Putin thinks Donald Trump should be president of the United States, and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected, so you will lose to him,” he said to a loud chorus of boos.
Still, he landed some hits on Sanders, especially on gun control. Sanders was against gun control before he was for it; his views, uh, evolved after he became a serious candidate. And Bloomie is Mr. Gun Control USA.
The stinking rich one also tried to tell a couple of jokes that fell embarrassingly flat. His attempts at humor made it clear why he got non-disclosure agreements from women who didn’t like his jokes.
Still, he gave a stout defense of his record running, or as he might prefer to say, managing New York City. That might be Bloomie’s biggest problem. He’s running as a manager. In the Las Vegas debate, he said he considers the presidency a management job. It is — the president is the head of government, the chief executive of the executive branch — but it’s a lot more than that. The president is also the head of the nation — the role that requires him or her to offer an overarching vision of what the country is and where it should be going.
Bloomie the Manager doesn’t do the vision thing. Bernie the Red does — and while Bernie took a lot of incoming fire in Charleston, it didn’t seem to include anything that damaged his vision.
Sure, he has only the vaguest notion of how to pay for all the stuff he wants to do, but, hey, he’s a socialist, and nobody expects him to balance the budget.
And everyone knows how Bernie’s free stuff will be paid for anyway — by running up debt and paying it off with inflated dollars. We’ve been doing it that way for decades. Life is good in America. Why stop now?
All of the candidates were trying to make the case that the socialism thing makes Bernie unelectable. That’s the conventional wisdom, and it may be right.
But they may be wrong, too. Bernie is tapping into the same grievances that Trump did. A lot of the people who supported Bernie in 2016 probably ended up voting for Trump, especially in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. Bernie may be able to get some of the Democrats’ blue collar apostates to come back into the fold. In other words, he could win.
The Peace Corps used to let in a number of applicants they called “high-risk, high-gain” volunteers. Bernie is a high-risk, high-gain kind of candidate. I suspect Democrats will have a better chance with a guy like him than with any of the supposedly low-risk alternatives. I keep thinking about what happened when the Republicans ran Bob Dole against then-incumbent Bill Clinton in 1996.
At worst, Bernie is going to come close in South Carolina and kick ass in most of the Super Tuesday states. That probably will make him unstoppable. And if the Dem establishment tries to stop him with a rigged convention, they will have to try to win the election without his core supporters. And they can’t.
Back in 1964, the Republicans, against the better judgment of the party’s establishment, made Barry Goldwater the party’s standard bearer. Lyndon Johnson chewed him up and spit him out. But the people Barry brought into the party stayed around to restructure it and eventually deliver the Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan. Bernie’s campaign may end up doing something like that today.
As for the other candidates in the Charleston debate: Biden came across as loud, proud and frequently wrong, but never in doubt (as singer Cheryl Wheeler would say). It may have been enough to let him pull out the win in South Carolina. Tom Steyer came across as kinda crazed. Mayor Pete and Senator Amy had typically strong, non-charismatic performances. Elizabeth Warren will finish back in the pack, but will keep coming for Michael Bloomberg. You go, girl.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.