In the third Democratic debate, we saw much of the same as in the first two debates: candidates attacking each other, almost no discussion of concrete policy and plenty of unnecessary, pandering Spanish phrases. This debate improved on the past two because it showcased the opinions of several previously-undercovered candidates like entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). However, candidates failed to be transparent about their intended agendas if they were to be elected, and ABC failed to distribute speaking time equally to the detriment of audiences.
The ABC moderators made the rules of the debate clear. Candidates would lose time if they interrupted one another, and they could only respond to a question for a maximum of one minute and 15 seconds. That said, like the rest of the debates, we saw the same people talking over and over again, despite a few questions directed specifically toward lower-tiered candidates. This consistent disparity in speaking time makes it difficult for viewers to decide which candidate to support in the coming months. This debate was probably the most I’ve ever heard Yang speak, but he only spoke 1,546 words, compared to former Vice President Joe Biden’s 3,363 and Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) 2,769, according to FiveThirtyEight. But just because some candidates spoke more than others doesn’t mean that anything substantial was discussed. While Biden spoke the most at this debate, he spent most of it defending himself from attacks rather than explaining his own plans.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg even called out the rest of the candidates on stage, stating that “this is why presidential debates are becoming unwatchable. This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington — scoring points against each other, poking at each other.”
The candidates did not sufficiently discuss some important issues like climate change, nor did they offer meaningful solutions to the ones that they did talk about. As someone who believes the government must act quickly in response to climate change, I was extremely disappointed to see another debate pass in which the candidates barely discussed the impending threat. Topics like foreign policy, immigration, guns and education took center stage instead. However, 56 percent of Americans believe that people should address climate change right now, according to a CBS news poll, so the lack of discussion about the topic is worrisome. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was the only candidate that adequately addressed the issue with mentions of strategies like regenerative farming to protect our environment.
Although the candidates discussed a plethora of topics, they presented very few firm plans of action. Biden claimed to have a concise plan on health care, building off of Obamacare and claiming that Americans would only have to pay a maximum of $1,000 out of pocket per year, and that his plan would work best for people who prefer their private insurance plans. He even went as far to say that Medicare for All would cost more than double our federal budget. Health care made the disparity between moderate and far-left candidates especially clear, as candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) claimed that Medicare for All would save the United States approximately $20 trillion in the long run and that no American would pay more than $200 per year for prescription drugs.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Booker, Sanders and Yang all support a Medicare for All plan that eliminates private insurance, and they claim that it would better suit the average American’s needs. Although such a plan would work in theory, Warren and Sanders failed to provide the exact logistics of their plans. The rest of the candidates support an alternate plan that preserves private insurance.
For example, Buttigieg has stood his ground on his “Medicare-for-All-Who-Want-It” plan, which essentially treats Medicare for All as an experiment, giving Buttigieg the time to observe the effects of a plan that provides Americans choice before fully eliminating private insurance.
The lack of policy nuance from progressive candidates on healthcare in America as a whole shows how ill-prepared the Democratic party is headed into the upcoming election.
That said, some candidates did present clear, well-designed plans. Booker provided a detailed and compelling case for fundamentally changing our country’s criminal justice system, including the release of individuals serving sentences for marijuana-related offenses, ending life sentences and authorizing $2 billion dollars a year to encourage states to reduce prison populations and keep crime rates low. However, he was one of very few candidates to do so.
From Sanders and Warren’s lack of transparency on Medicare for All to the failure of most candidates in mentioning how we would negotiate with China to reduce tariffs, I’m still waiting to see someone hold their ground on their policies rather than trying to avoid certain questions. It’s time for the Democratic candidates step up and become more transparent about their tentative agendas with the American people.
Sara Khan (23C) is from Fairfax, Va.