Raise your hand if you want to look silly and gift-wrap an easy attack ad on your demeaned self for Donald Trump for the fall of 2020.
That's what NBC moderators essentially asked three times of the ever-pliable Democratic presidential candidates in those debate sessions last week.
From his grave, Fred Thompson probably smirked.
As a bored Republican presidential candidate in 2008, appearing at an Iowa fair sockless and hiding out in a shaded tent because it was hot, Thompson huffily balked the third or fourth time debate moderators called for a show of hands on whether the candidates had a simple "yes" or "no" on something or other.
Fred--lawyer, actor and Tennessee senator too cool for politics--said he wasn't going to do it.
He said it looked silly. He said he wasn't in the first grade. He said questions required words, context, and that the moderators could leave him out of any hand-raising, though he'd be glad to go into detail if the moderators liked.
Joe Biden would have been better off channeling Fred on Thursday night.
Doddering Joe's debate performance becomes steadily more awful the more you review it.
To hand-raising directives, Biden twice looked around at the other candidates to see what they were doing, then meekly raised a finger or a wrist. You give that signal in the Situation Room and the generals will wonder if you want only to fire a couple of duds at the Iranians.
On whether the candidates favored doing away with private health insurance in implementing Medicare for all--a position that would beat a Democrat next year--Kamala Harris raised her hand. But she said after the debate that she'd heard a different question. She said she'd thought the query was whether candidates--individually, personally--would give up their own health plans for Medicare for all.
I can sort of see how she might have gotten that idea.
But if she'd had the right spunk and deftness for the occasion--if she was the serious contender for president she presumes to be--then Harris would have interjected that the question was unclear and that she couldn't give any hand signal until the specifics of the inquiry were clarified.
How about if she had said: "Lester," meaning Holt of NBC, "I'll give you a straight answer just as soon as you give a straight question."
Boom. That would have been four points for her in the polls, all taken from nervous Joe two podiums down sticking an index finger tentatively above his midsection to demonstrate the depth of his command and commitment.
Beating Trump is entirely too epic an objective for Democrats to tolerate a presumed best vehicle who would blunder through a debate the way Joe blundered Thursday evening.
He committed front-runner malpractice.
As I wrote Sunday, Elizabeth Warren won the first night and Harris the second, although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed up both on The Late Show minutes after the first debate heat ended Wednesday evening.
But, more broadly, the real winner was Trump.
The Democrat presumed to be Trump's greatest threat was revealed instead as weak and confused. The other likeliest opponents ... well, one of them, Harris, made a bold and successful primary play against Biden, but used a losing retro-1970s issue--school busing--to do it.
And the other, Warren, raised her hand high to say, danged straight, she wanted to do away with private health insurance for single-payer Medicare for all.
She did it because her first assignment is to wrest the populist left from Bernie Sanders, and Bernie is out there ranting and raving about doing away with private health insurance. Warren finds herself needing to be as maniacal as he on this point.
But nearly every progressive, successful democratic socialist system in the world that has national health insurance permits supplemental private insurance coverage for out-of-pocket costs and/or secondary insurance policies for dental and vision care and optional procedures such as cosmetic surgery.
In some democratic socialist jurisdictions, you can buy extra insurance for private hospital rooms.
I n today's America, Democrats need to counter Trumpism with the positive notion of a Medicare alternative for everybody, not a restrictive mandate on anyone.
Government shouldn't kill an industry. It should reform an industry and let the dinosaurs die a natural death.
To carry into the general election a position to do away with all of private health insurance is to take an advantage, the health-care issue, and make it an albatross.
It's to tell everyone happily on a company group plan to become unhappy.
It's to worry seniors already on Medicare, most of whom enjoy their supplemental coverage.
The far-left economic populist position that private health insurance runs up costs unnecessarily and favors the rich perhaps will have its day.
It could be well after Trump's second term and when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is fully grown.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 07/02/2019
Print Headline: Hold back on the silly