Durst column: An Ambien Thunderdome
If the first round of Democratic Party debates were distilled into five words or less, it would be “pass the No-Doz please.” Vini, vici, dormeo. They came, they saw, they slept. Ambien Thunderdome: “20 go in, 6 remain awake.”
There were two separate two-hour debates between the 20 frontrunners for the Democratic nomination for president. Four of their 24 major candidates weren’t included, and those lucky innocents would have to be considered the big winners.
Also winningish were Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Donald Trump, maybe Elizabeth Warren, but definitely the entire viewing public that had better things to do than watch potential opponents to the current occupant of the Oval Office argue over who dislikes him more.
24 candidates. Literally, dozens of Democrats. Which sounds like a Sondheim song. “Dozens of Democrats, all in a row. Most of them chasing some guy they call Joe.”
The two ways to qualify for the Miami debates were 6,500 unique donors or 1 percent support in three sanctioned polls. 1 percent?! That’s only 1 percent more than you or I currently sport. And with such crowded panels, the goal was simple: find some way, any way, to stand out from the pack. Meaning that belligerent, argumentative and contentious ruled the day. Luckily enough, the Democrats’ default state.
A couple of candidates strove to be noticed visually. Senator Warren wore purple and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, red. Governor Jay Inslee wore a green tie because he’s the environmental candidate. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang didn’t wear a tie because he’s cool. Congressman Eric Swalwell wore an orange ribbon to honor victims of Parkland. And New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was tall.
Others tried to stand out by their statements. Marianne Williamson announced her readiness to fight the 45th president with the Power of Love. It was a performance that attracted numerous donors anxious to keep her in the race. Many are suspected to be Republicans. Or Russians. Or both.
Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro spoke Spanish in varying degrees of fluency. Castro also defended a transgender woman’s right to have an abortion. Warren hinted at more plans than there are blueprints to the Pentagon. And MSNBC was confused by the concept of microphones.
Senator Kamala Harris jumped on former Vice President Joe Biden so hard she runs the risk of having an aggressive prosecutor charge her with elder abuse. Then Vermont curmudgeon Bernie Sanders piled onto Biden in a grisly example of Grey on Grey crime.
There was shouting, finger-pointing, accusations, elbows, head butts and a couple kicks to the groin but not a single authentic moment over two nights. Most of the time was spent ignoring moderators’ questions and responding with soggy snippets from canned stump speeches. The only thing everybody agreed on was Donald Trump needs to be a one-term president. Although, its hard to imagine any of these lightweights helping accomplish that task.
The Democratic National Committee is teaming with CNN for the next round of debates at the end of July in Detroit, and 21 candidates are nearing qualification standards. So tie-breakers might need to be employed to get down to two nights of 10 each. The least they could do is make the cut-down interesting. A competitive round-robin of Indian wrestling or axe-throwing might raise ratings.
Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed columnist, comic and former sod farmer in New Berlin, Wisconsin.
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