Skip to content Skip to footer

What You Won’t Hear From the Candidates Tonight

The format is more than simply ludicrous and the only reason these debates matter is that they have to.

Democratic presidential candidates take the stage at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida, on June 27, 2019, for the second round of the first Democratic presidential debate.

The next set of Democratic debates is scheduled to begin in Detroit tonight and will conclude tomorrow evening. Once again, there will be 20 participants crammed into four hours of debate time (minus commercials and technical flameouts). The moderators for this round will be Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper. Tens of people were said to be distraught over the exclusion of Chuck Todd, but those reports could not be verified.

Tuesday night will include Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Steve Bullock, former Rep. John Delaney, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Tim Ryan and author Marianne Williamson.

Wednesday night will feature former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Andrew Yang, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Michael Bennet, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Gov. Jay Inslee.

I freely confess that I am struggling to take these events seriously, which is a problem for someone in my line of work. Of course it matters to our desiccated political process who does well and who flounders, who makes the best viral YouTube clip and who stumbles over their own inadequacies in the boiler-room atmosphere this format promotes. One of these people might be the next president of the United States, so it matters, pretty much only because it has to.

Two hours of debate divided between 20 participants equals a whopping six minutes for each candidate to make it clear to us why we should vote for them … but those six minutes exist only in a machine world where all the candidates are robots and the questions are beamed directly to their cranial units so no time is spent by moderators asking questions. And there are no commercials, either. Ha, who am I kidding. The robots are easier to believe.

So really, it’s more like five minutes each — or less — and those five minutes will be broken up into tiny burps of information splintered over the course of the time frame. Given the traumas this country has absorbed just since the first set of Democratic debates a month ago, the format is more than simply ludicrous. It’s a preposterous insult to each and every one of us who isn’t a network producer or six-figure campaign consultant.

Here’s what the corporate news has been talking about in the run-up to the show: Wednesday night may be the beginning of the end for frontrunner Joe Biden, who knows he had a bad outing last month and is allegedly primed to do better. Senators Gillibrand, Booker and Harris are all reportedly planning on running over the former vice president if they can. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign is spending more than it is taking in, so he will have to throw some elbows if he wants to remain relevant. Senator Harris will certainly be featuring her new Medicare for All plan, which I am certain will be easy to explain fully in the few minutes given over to health care. Senators Sanders and Warren continue to share space at the top of the polls behind Biden.

There’s more, but you get the gist. The horses are on the track. We have all stepped in puddles that are deeper than the coverage this campaign season has garnered from the mainstream press to date. The format for tonight and tomorrow is a perfect illustration of the foul way the corporate media shapes, distorts and ultimately destroys political discussion in the U.S. Tonight and tomorrow aren’t for us; they are for them.

A small sample of what you will not hear nearly enough about from the 20 Democratic candidates:

Gun Violence: Four people were killed, including a six-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, and 15 more were injured in a mass shooting at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, on Sunday. One person was killed and 11 more injured on Saturday night at the 56th annual Old Timers Day in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Over the weekend, eight people were killed and 40 wounded by gunfire in Chicago. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 123 instances of gun violence across the U.S. between Saturday morning and Sunday night.

Gun violence in this country is a systemic, densely complicated problem that requires immediate and substantive attention from all of us, and especially those seeking to win the highest office in the land. There should be at least one debate dedicated solely to this issue, in order to dig beneath the talking points, but nothing of the sort has been scheduled, and instead we get this. There will be thoughts on Tuesday and Wednesday night, there will be prayers, and that will be that, again.

Racism: Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, is using the rhetoric of Nazi Germany (“rats,” “infested”) to describe people of color, and not one Republican officeholder is willing to criticize him for it. The Gilroy shooter may well have been a white supremacist. Children are still in cages within concentration camps at the southern border.

Trump has thrown kerosene on the smoldering fire of racism that has been burning in this country since the first European plunderer set foot on this soil. He is campaigning on racism, on the idea that being a broad-daylight racist is a winning formula. This, too, deserves its own debate.

Impeachment: In the aftermath of Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony last week, more than 100 House Democrats are now openly calling for impeachment. Despite the low marks Mueller got for his performance, the information he provided — via his testimony and his meticulously compiled report — is more than enough to open an impeachment inquiry.

What are Speaker Pelosi and the House Democrats doing about it? They are going on recess for six weeks. The matter of the necessary impeachment of Donald Trump is a fulcrum point upon which the future of this nation stands. It, too, deserves its own debate.

Anthropogenic Climate Disruption: The Arctic has been on fire for a month because all the ice is melting, because it’s getting hotter. The fires are dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, prompting fears that the ongoing conflagration may trigger a feedback loop that will accelerate climate disruption across the board, if it hasn’t already. The historic heat wave Europe has been enduring is moving north, which will likely quicken the devastation.

Back in June, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez ruled out holding a presidential debate focused solely on climate change, and the DNC threatened to punish any candidate who participates in one. This went over about as well as a pole-vaulting hippopotamus, and now the DNC is considering holding a climate-focused debate. Big of ‘em, isn’t it?

CNN is planning to hold its own climate-only town hall in early September, and has invited every candidate who meets the DNC’s two-percent threshold for participation in their officially-sanctioned September debates. No word on whether any of the qualifying candidates have decided to participate, or if the DNC will follow through on its threat should any of them actually show up.


There is more, so much more, we need to be talking about as we ponder the selection of the next president. The calamity of for-profit health care, the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, LGBTQ rights, a foreign policy that does not involve war and insider business deals, campaign finance reform, reproductive justice, student debt, gross economic inequality across the board … there are dozens of holes in the dike, the candidates only have ten fingers, and these debates would have them put their hands in their pockets.

So, yeah, I can’t say I’m lathered in excitement for these things. Frankly, it’s a disgrace to the cause of democracy, one more in a long sequence that has stained this grim and failing century. Good luck with your five minutes, candidates. I hope you make a splash on YouTube.

Countdown is on: We have 2 days to raise $28,000

Truthout has launched a necessary fundraising campaign to support our work. Can you support us right now?

Each day, our team is reporting deeply on complex political issues: revealing wrongdoing in our so-called justice system, tracking global attacks on human rights, unmasking the money behind right-wing movements, and more. Your tax-deductible donation at this time is critical, allowing us to do this core journalistic work.

As we face increasing political scrutiny and censorship for our reporting, Truthout relies heavily on individual donations at this time. Please give today if you can.