Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris’ standout performances in the first round of the 2020 US Democratic Primary debates have enervated a new generation of American women, says Alicia Lutes
After two nights of 2020 Democratic Primary debates, one thing is clear: the women of the Democratic Party are the ones to beat. Former Vice President Joe Biden may be the technical frontrunner (for now), but after the 20-person debate, spread across four hours and two consecutive evenings, it won’t be long before Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — the clear winners of their subsequent nights — are the women we look to as the leaders.
And as an American woman in her early 30s, it’s really, really, really exciting.
Sure, the frontrunners as they stand currently in the polls (Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden) are not women, but when someone had to step up and be the adult in the debating room, Warren and Harris handily did. Both women came prepared: with facts, the right attitude, and every bit of confidence needed to make voters believe they could run the American government. We’re still quite a ways away from primary voting, so let’s not ahead of ourselves here, but gosh, wouldn’t it be electric to have a two-woman ticket?
How Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren came out on top
When it comes to the winners, perhaps the person who gained the most was the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro. A near-unknown who fought hard to make it into the debates, his attention to detail and policy decisions - fully calling out a wildly unprepared Beto O’Rourke - was impressive and commanding. And his story resonates so much in our modern climate, chockablock with innumerable humanitarian crises at the Mexican border. Another interesting fact? Castro is tracking to be the winner with college-aged voters.
What made Harris and Warren so thrilling to watch, however, is how they left no room for their detractors and the sexists out there intent on tearing strong, intelligent, articulate, ambitious women down. Everyone who did well during the debates - Harris, Warren, Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Corey Booker in particular - were clear, measured, and (mostly) direct. Both Booker and Castro made extremely presidential cases for themselves. Warren, true to form, answered almost every question directly.
Joe Biden or Beto O’Rourke: the battle for bottom place
Pretty much everyone else ended up at the bottom of the pack, struggling for air. Bill de Blasio, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, John Delaney, Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper, Amy Klobuchar, and even ol’ Jay Inslee (who would have been a shoo-in for nomination had 2019 happened 20 years ago), all probably need to pack it up and go home. Or run for senate!
The biggest loser of the debates, however, is Beto O’Rourke (though Joe Biden comes in as a very close second, more on him later). The once seeming golden child of the midterm elections, the senate race loser and former Representative from Texas awkwardly bumbled his way through the debates with high school level Spanish and broad stroke statements about bringing people together. He was also deeply unprepared to answer questions directly, mostly because he doesn’t have a lot of quantifiable plans. To say nothing of the skirmish the two had when Castro called out O’Rourke for being wrong about a bill. The golden boy of young, white liberals has lost his shine, big time.
But even O’Rourke didn’t have it as bad as Biden, who truly stood out for his curmudgeonly attitude and grumpy defensiveness and mischaracterisations of his own policies in the past to make himself look better.
I am, of course, talking about racism and his epic showdown with Harris. The fight that’s sure to launch ten thousand think-pieces over the next couple of days.
The only black person on the stage on the second night of the debates, Harris has a keen understanding of racism in America - she is of Jamaican and Indian descent. After explaining that she does not believe Biden is a racist and his intentions are good, she went on to chide him for the damage his calls for civility actually cause. “I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also I believe, and it’s personal and it actually - it was hurtful, to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country,” Harris explained.
“It was not only that,” she went on, “but you also worked with them to oppose busing, and 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.”
Thankfully, CNN Reporter Daniel Dale had all the facts on Twitter. “Biden’s claim tonight that he only opposed federally mandated busing and did not generally oppose ‘busing in America’ was a flagrant misrepresentation of his position in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” he tweeted. “He’d made crystal clear he opposed busing as a concept, as a matter of principle.”
Time and time again, Biden - once the charismatic political maven of congress - now looked like an old fuddy-duddy who was refusing to, as Representative Eric Swalwell pointed out, “pass the torch.”
Marianne Williamson: watch this space
But there were plenty of other candidates who faltered. There was businessman John Delaney, who got nary a word in edgewise throughout most of the debate; Tim Ryan, who did not know the Taliban did not attack us on 9/11; hyped tech executive Andrew Yang, and firmly-fine-but-problematic Tulsi Gabbard.
The biggest star - at least on Twitter - however, was Marianne Williamson, writer, businesswoman, friend of Oprah, possible host body for Little Edith Bouvier Beale, and former roommate of Big Little Lies star Laura Dern (no really). She plans to fight the president with love and call the Prime Minister of New Zealand. So, you know, we’ll see how that goes.
Immigration and healthcare - the biggest topics
Immigration was, perhaps, the biggest issue of the two nights, what with the startling, heartbreaking images from the United States/Mexican border across all media. Every candidate wanted to make sure they said something on the matter - regardless of whether it was included in the question or not. (You know, normal politician behaviour.) Race and xenophobia also played heavily into that conversation, thanks to insights from the likes of Castro, Warren, and Harris, who sought to end so many of the intellectual debates about these issues that ultimately tend to go nowhere. Where the white men spoke mostly in platitudes of “bridging the aisle,” the women and people of colour on the stage fought hard to shake Americans out of the stupor of wilful ignorance about race, refugee, and immigration relations in America. It was an illuminatingly stark contrast.
It was also nice to see the candidates talk so openly about Medicare-for-all or their own personal universal healthcare proposals. It’s wild to think that it was only a year or two ago where politicians were saying Americans would never go for it. And yet…it seems to be exactly what they want, according to the data: 70% of us, in fact! Several candidates also rallied hard around a woman’s right to abortion access and complete control over their healthcare decisions: a truly maddening sentence to have to type out in 2019, but, I mean, we have a bloviating sock puppet for a president so what would you expect? If we’re going to try and overthrow our new budding Gilead, we have to start calling out bad behaviours and ugly policy decisions for what they are - though I’m not sure these clarion calls would’ve been so clear had there not been as many women running as there are, particularly Kirsten Gillibrand who promised to “guarantee your reproductive rights no matter what.”
Which is another boon of the increased representation in this expansive primary field: more progressive, intersectional politics and agendas are being unfurled. Considerations we once never had as a society are now front and center in our politics. The once-leaders like Biden himself, now look old and stuck in time: it is only when we metaphorically kill our darlings - shedding sentimentality in the name of equality - that we can usher in the more liberal policies and practices of the future.
And we have Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and even, yes, Marianne Williamson to thank for that. What a beautiful new normal Hillary Clinton helped usher in. She walked so these women could run in and rescue us from the darkness. Nobody wants to exist in the middle of the road anymore - so let’s floor it in the direction we want it, shall we?