Back in May, I vowed not to watch the upcoming Democratic debates. “Too early,” I grumbled. “How can voters possibly be ready to consider potential candidates for an election that is nearly a year and a half off?”
Perhaps I was somewhat soured by the Republican presidential debates of 2016.
Besides, there are far too many candidates — 20 — well, actually 22 by the first set of debates; the last two to enter the race were excluded. How could the viewer do much more than put a name to a face? Plus, the rules allotted contenders only 60 seconds to answer each question and 30 seconds for each rebuttal. Granted, NBC, the hosting network, and the Democratic National Committee had split the contest into two separate nights with 10 and 10 participating in each event. To be fair, I’m not certain how a debate of such proportion can be set up effectively.
However, to me, the debate looked more like a T.V. contest. I accused it of being a political “American Idol.” While singing and dancing in a competition is quite acceptable, political candidates performing antics struck me as more of a sideshow.
So, I was adamant. I refused to watch it. And, on the first night, Wednesday, June 26, I held firm. No debates; give me books, instead!
But, my spouse accused me of political snobbery and convinced me to take a peek at the second night.
OK, I was captivated, but not by the specific questions and answers. What caught my attention was a brief, but intense focus on a racial issue.
Despite the fact that we elected a black — twice — to the presidency, there is still very little, if any, discussion by candidates about racial discrepancies.
When Sen. Kamala Harris put her racial issues front and center in the debate and was not disqualified by the audience, who, in fact, cheered, that was a remarkable feat. Whether the voters will welcome her forthrightness is yet to be seen, but the prospects, at the moment bode well.
In the unlikely event that you missed the moment, Sen. Harris addressed Sen. Joe Biden by describing her experiences:
“Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents (said they) couldn’t play with us because...— because we were black.
“And I will say also that — that, in this campaign, we have also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe, and it’s personal — and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And, it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
“And, you know, 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,” she concluded with a slight quiver in her voice that revealed the intense impact those childhood recollections had on Sen. Harris.
Obviously, being bused provided Harris an alternative educational path which led her to be on that stage, that night, engaging in a presidential debate. She succeeded in pointedly, politely and yet firmly — despite faltering a couple of times — challenging Sen. Joe Biden on his record regarding school busing.
Biden offered little in the way of a response, protesting that he was not against school busing. He exclaimed that he was for voluntary busing. It was forced busing that he was against.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, when Sen. Biden was starting his political career, audiences’ reactions were much different.
In the 1970s, at a town-hall meeting, Biden walked into a packed school gymnasium, in his home state of Delaware. As he entered the meeting, he could readily hear his own Democratic supporters calling him foul names and suggesting that he should be killed. They were angry because they presumed that Biden supported forced busing. Now, we can argue over Biden’s response. Perhaps he could have stood firmly in favor of school integration by required busing, and perhaps, there is a chance that he still could have won a Senate seat. He judged that his constituents would not only have booed and hissed at him, but they might have tossed him out, and perhaps violently. After all, that was an era of civil unrest that reflected deep divisions over racial issues.
So, whether you think Sen. Biden made the right choices or whether you believe he shrank from his duties, this fact remains, our nation has changed, fortunately!
After the first round of debates, Biden was — and continues to be — roundly condemned for that response — a response that essentially dismissed school busing.
In today’s world, Biden’s past words haunt him.
Early in his career, he labeled school busing “an asinine concept.” Later, he characterized it as a “liberal trainwreck.”
As to be expected, he is still struggling to explain both his words and his actions.
There is no doubt that our treatment of persons of color during the 20th Century was, still, by moral standards, unconscionable.
The audiences’ reaction to Sen. Harris’ poignant statements displayed a shift in the general populace’s attitude. We appear to have gained greater insight into how terribly we have treated some members of our society — particularly the way we have treated persons of color. Granted, we should be further along in our effort to ensure civil rights for everyone.
“In terms of racial issues we are not nearly done. Communication is the key that helps us make progress.” -Steven Naevada.
After watching the last Democratic debate, I am anticipating the upcoming ones.
I hope to see more open discussions regarding the issues that confront us.
Beyond selecting a presidential nominee, this long and cumbersome debate process may help open our eyes to the ills that our nation faces. And, that may put us on a path to greater communication and, thus, more functional communities.
So, come July 30 and 31, at 9 p.m., you will find me in front of the T.V.