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Pivot and Shout: Analysis of the September Presidential Debate
September 14, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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Biden is too old

If you did not watch the Democratic Party Presidential Primary debate Thursday, you probably got a very distorted picture of it from the news coverage. Biden did well, said most pundits. So did Elizabeth Warren. Only Julian Castro did poorly, attacking Biden without cause.

Part of the problem is, among the relatively few Americans who watched the debate, most fell asleep or tuned out before the last hour.

The key take away is that Biden is not fit to be President of the United States, even if his mind is not as addled as Donald Trump's. Whatever drugs they give him to keep his 76-year old brain sharp (and sure, it might just be caffeine) stopped working as the debate wore on. He lost his cool, he angered easily, and most of all he started uttering gibberish. This was also a good example of a pivot: the former vice-president was about how in 1975 he had said "I'll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago," by launching into a stew of remedies for schools, notable more for the slurred, part of my brain is still high while other parts are crashing delivery, rambling on and up to " Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there."e Then his time is up, but he pivots to an entirely different topic, Venezuela.

So that would leave 9 people still marching along the sane-enough-to-be-president track, except that Bernard (Bernie) Sanders gave his usual I-look-like-a-crazy-person-even when-I-say-reasonable-things performance. Bernie is an expert at pivoting, challenging the capitalist system, and painting pie in the sky. When it was pointed out how much his (as opposed to various other) Medicare for All plan would cost, he declared it would decrease the total cost of the medical system in America by half. Allow me to split some hairs. I agree with Bernie and the other single-payer health insurance proponents that it should not matter to consumers or businesses whether they pay for insurance as a premium to a private company or to a government bureaucracy. But the private insurance companies, in reality, do not double the cost of healthcare. They take a small profit margin, they overpay their executives, but they underpay most of their workers and they are as efficient as they can be. Even if very efficient, any single-payer system can't shave off much cost, and could cost more if the savings from reduced executive pay and not paying dividends is offset by higher worker pay or lack of efficiency.

The real problem, the one that not a single candidate is willing to address, is that American doctors are paid over 3 times what doctors are paid in Great Britain, one of the national systems with low-cost universal health care.

Elizabeth Warren can pivot like a ballerina. No doubt her mind is still sharp, but when asked why she won't let people keep their current employer-provided health insurance, she lied. She said for-profit health insurance companies make their profits by denying claims. They do hold costs in line by denying some claims, but if they did not, under Obamacare, they would have to raise premiums. And the claims they deny are often more to line doctor's pockets, or pharmaceutical company pockets, than to give any real benefit to patients.

Kamala Harris can also pivot [disclaimer: I am supporting her]. No matter what she was asked, she launched an attack on President Trump. Some of her attacks were telling, and some were funny, but it is sad that a person who has very substantial ideas does not feel it works to put them forward in these debates.

Amy Klobuchar stood out as someone who pivoted minimally, though she did when asked about her record as a prosecutor back in the neolithic. Her best line was about the Sanders-Warren healthcare bill. She said something like, "Yes, Bernie wrote it. Well I read it. And on page 8 . . .". It is a complex issue, and both the final system and the best path towards it needs to be debated. Sadly, if Medicare for All is the Democratic Party campaign slogan, Your Employer Will No Longer Provide Your Insurance will be the Trump one.

Cory Boooker pivoted repeatedly to how he has led fights for racial justice. Beto O'Rourke pivoted to gun control and the recent massacre in El Paso. In case you have not heard, Pete, who was born 13 years after Stonewall, came out as gay a few years back once he decided it would further his ambitions. Only Julian Castro did not pivot much, but he made up for that by whining about having to give up a $100,000 per year legal job to avoid a conflict of interest.

So why ask questions when candidates will just pivot? Just give them time to say whatever they want. They will accentuate the positive, delete the negatives of their histories and positions, no matter what. It is up to the rest of us to praise or criticize them, and remind the voters of the facts.

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