William Rivers Pitt | CNN, the Democratic Candidates and a Condensation of Farce

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”—Samuel Langhorne Clemens

The moment that defined the first Democratic presidential debate for me arrived about halfway through the event. CNN’s debate moderator, Anderson Cooper, showed a short video of a young Black man who asked the participants, “Do Black lives matter?” Cooper then posed this question to the candidates – a question that effectively required them to take a stance on a certain manifestation of racism (delivered in the guise of universalism) that has been articulated by some detractors of the Black Lives Matter movement:

COOPER: Do Black lives matter, or do all lives matter? Let’s put that question to Senator Sanders.

… followed by Sanders’ reply, which included the line, “Black lives matter … We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.”

COOPER: Governor O’Malley, the question from Arthur was do Black lives matter, or do all lives matter?

…followed by O’Malley’s reply, which included the line, “Black lives matter, and we have a lot of work to do to reform our criminal justice system, and to address race relations in our country.”

… and then:

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, what would you do for African Americans in this country that President Obama couldn’t?

… followed by Clinton’s reply, which included the line, “We need to be committed to making it possible for every child to live up to his or her God-given potential.”

Anderson Cooper made damn sure Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders answered the question … and then he got to Clinton, and gave her a pass. The softball was pitched to her underhand at low speed. Cooper may as well have asked her how she felt about kittens, or what her favorite color was, or which way is up. It was another cheap evasion, an accent in the symphony of cheap evasions that was the entire evening.

By the way, no, I am not going to tell you that CNN had that thing in the bag for Clinton before the lights came on, because I have no solid evidence to support such a contention. Sure, she got let off the hook a dozen times by the moderator, and sure, the audience was clearly packed with her supporters, and sure, CNN has been working overtime ever since to scourge its website of anything suggesting Bernie Sanders got the better of the exchange, and sure, the “news” coverage of her performance makes it sound like she walked across water before making it into wine while healing lepers and raising the dead, and sure, if she had barfed on the podium after eating her shoe on live TV, the “pundits” would still be saying she earned a “decisive victory,” but like I said, I have no solid evidence to support such a contention.

I will say this much: I have been watching presidential debates for more than 30 years, and I have never seen anything so preposterous. I know it was at a Vegas casino, but jeez, please apprehend a slim modicum of gravitas. The lights, the colors, the raging graphics rolling up and down the wall, the pop star singing the anthem. I’ve seen World Wrestling Federation commercials with more style and grace. This wasn’t a poker tournament or the buggy races at the local dirt track. This was a national debate to help determine who will be the Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States. CNN managed to turn it into some half-assed dance video.

As far as the substance of the affair went … whatever, man. I actually appreciate the GOP debates more now. Sure, they’re crypto-fascist misogynistic Jesus-shouting brigands, but they don’t try to hide it. It’s actually refreshing to see them stand forth and be recognized, proudly. At least they’re not lying, or being slippery. I like an enemy I can see.

One example: Lincoln Chafee, who was a Republican in 2002, was the only GOP senator to vote against the Iraq War Resolution. He tagged Clinton on her pro-war vote. Her answer, condensed: Well, Obama likes me, so there, and also Osama bin Laden used to exist and he was very bad! Easiest out in US politics, and she got away with it.

Every candidate had a parade of neat ideas, but offered nary a word on how to pay for them … and boy howdy, you better believe the bloated “defense” budget didn’t get mentioned once, not one time, as a source of funding for all those bright ideas.

One moment that stood out: Anderson Cooper asked the CNN-est question possible: What is the greatest threat to our country? Chafee said the Middle East, O’Malley said Iran and ISIL, Clinton said loose nukes, Webb said China … and Bernie Sanders said climate change, and nailed his answer to the shed. Politicians have been getting elected by bugabooing about foreign threats since Caesar sat his throne. Sanders knows the ocean is coming, and said so in a nationally televised debate. It was good to hear.

There were several moments when the thing sounded for all the world like an Occupy rally, and you can thank Occupy for that. 1% this and 1% that, and never mind that most of that stage was “occupied” by candidates who took, take and will continue to take massive contributions from the same Wall Street steam shovels that plowed our economy into the ground and stole our future, to their great profit. Talk is cheap, unless you’re a mega-donor. Then it’s expensive, but if you back the right horse, the payback for that investment is beyond your wildest dreams.

Anyway, here’s the deal in brief: We’re screwed. The sad murder of crows that is the GOP field is one thing, but if that Democratic debate is the future of politics in the United States, we may as well throw a rope around the country and sling it into the sun. The end result will be exactly the same.