What’s Left: Caution About Political Games

Governor Jay Inslee (WA), former Governor John Hickenlooper (CO), Representative Seth Moulton (MA), Representative Eric Swalwell (CA) and most recently Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY): the Democratic candidate pool is, slowly but surely, shrinking. After watching the first two debates, I was both excited and exhausted. It felt like I was watching tug-of-war between people whose ideas I could connect to but also felt distanced from. Each candidate battled to have their 30 seconds in the spotlight. Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the divide between politics and entertainment has lessened. The debates similarly felt like a twisted game show; every candidate wants to be the audience favorite and advance in the polls, but at what cost? The 2016 election demonstrated just how splintered the Democratic party was. Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) fanatics refused to support Hillary Clinton, even if it meant electing Donald Trump into office. I couldn’t help but wonder: is the political arena even centered around parties in this day and age? Or just individual personalities?  

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at Colgate in the Spring of 2017. I remember he revealed his plans to run for president in the 2016 elections and how the death of his son, Beau, prevented him from doing so. Biden sat on stage at the Stanford Field House next to President Brian Casey and remarked “Do I regret not being president? Yes. Do I regret not running for president, in light of everything that was going on in my life at the time? No.” Flash forward to the 2020 election cycle. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, Joe Biden is currently leading Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) by 13 points. But is he fully committed now? Or does he feel pressured to run given that his widespread popularity and political experience could entail victory over Trump? Biden was asked how badly he wanted to be president after a speech in Prole, Iowa. “I think it’s really, really, really important that Donald Trump not be re-elected,” Biden answered. 

I could not agree more with Biden. I will personally support any Democratic nominee. However, I cannot help but proceed with 

caution. Before the Democratic debate on July 31, 2019, Joe Biden said “Go easy on me, kid” while he shook Senator Kamala Harris’ (CA) hand. Biden received backlash for this comment. During an interview with Anderson Cooper following the debate, Harris said she was unbothered by the comment: “No. But, I’ll tell you why. Because we’re both on that stage running for president… I’m pretty clear about who I am. So, nobody’s going to define me on that stage.” Harris’s strong sense of self was met with criticism. 

“Her attacks on him resonated less in part because there were fewer opportunities to demonstrate her moral superiority on a galvanizing topic like busing,” said New York Magazine writer Zak Cheney-Rice.  

Debates are critical for public engagement with the political process. They also spur excitement and interest. At the same time, however, debates also have the ability to turn politicking into a game show. It’s something to keep in mind when you curl up on your couch with popcorn to watch the upcoming Democratic debate on Thursday, September 12.