Wednesday, July 31, 2019


I largely agree with Joshua Holland's take on last night's debate:
If the first night of the second Democratic primary debate is remembered for anything, it will be for how poorly moderated and uninformative it was.... the moderators, eager to encourage the candidates to engage in heated exchanges that might go viral, were happy to assist them by framing the questions exactly the way a Republican pundit might....

The question that was asked over and over again, in slightly different formulations, was whether the Democrats had become “too extreme,” and were poised to hand the election to Donald Trump as a result.

[Jake] Tapper’s very first question, directed to Bernie Sanders, set the tone. “You support Medicare for all, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans, in exchange for government-sponsored health care for everyone.” He said. “Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy. And previously, he has called the idea ‘political suicide that will just get President Trump re-elected.’ What do you say to Congressman Delaney?”

His second question, to Elizabeth Warren, was, “At the last debate, you said you’re, quote, ‘with Bernie on Medicare for all.’ Now, Senator Sanders has said that people in the middle class will pay more in taxes to help pay for Medicare for all, though that will be offset by the elimination of insurance premiums and other costs. Are you also, quote, ‘with Bernie’ on Medicare for all when it comes to raising taxes on middle-class Americans to pay for it?”

He then went on to ask almost all of the other candidates if they, too, supported “raising middle class taxes” to pay for expanding public healthcare. Later, Tapper offered this prompt: “I want to bring in Governor Bullock. We’re talking about whether Democrats are moving too far to the left to win the White House. President Trump won your home state of Montana by 20 points. How do you respond, sir?

Dana Bash was obsessed with the idea that a slew of Democratic policies might “encourage more illegal immigration.”
And on and on. Holland is correct when he notes that
There were no questions along these lines in the similarly crowded 2016 Republican debates, when the candidates debated dark conspiracy theories popular on Fox News and vied to be the most fervent deniers of anthropogenic climate change.
You can read the transcript of one of those Republican debates -- also with Jake Tapper as a moderator -- here. The questions don't have Democratic or liberal frames. Instead, there are a surprising number of questions about Common Core, which was a controversial topic within the Republican Party at the time.

But I disagree with Holland about the reason Tapper and the other moderators approached the questioning this way. I don't think it was because they were "eager to encourage the candidates to engage in heated exchanges that might go viral." It's correct to say, as Holland does elsewhere, that Tapper and the others "all but begged the candidates to rumble" -- but I don't think it was because the moderators believed a rumble would be good television.

So what was happening? Let's recall what the manistream media regarded as appropriate coverage of politicians in the pre-Trump era. The MSM embraced the notion of objectivity -- no editorializing unless a candidate was self-evidently loathsome, like David Duke. Quite often the press didn't live up to this standard, of course, but it was the ideal.

President Trump is loathsome and dangerous in many of the ways Duke was, and in many other ways Duke wasn't. I'm grateful to the mainstream media for recognizing this -- if too late to keep him out of office -- and for covering Trump accordingly much of the time.

But the mainstream press also considers progressives loathsome and dangerous. That's what we saw last night, especially from Tapper. Tapper clearly thinks the progressive agenda is as great a threat to our way of life as Nazism or Trump's assault on liberal democracy. I don't think this means Tapper is a conservative, necessarily -- but he does represent a consensus that progressive politics must be stopped by any means necessary. Call it the consensus of the neoliberal media.

Holland writes, "The moderators’ desire to pick fights appears to have made the candidates wary of doing so. Perhaps ironically, there few memorable moments." But creating memorable moments wasn't the point. Framing progressive Democrats as beyond-the-pale extremists was the point. Tapper believed he had a job to do, and he did it with ruthless efficiency.

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