Debates are usually a focused affair, with two people discussing a particular narrow topic. The famous 1965 debate at Cambridge where James Baldwin wiped the floor with William F. Buckley, for instance, was on the question: "Has the American dream been achieved at the expense of the American negro?"
But when 10 people are "debating" multiple large policy topics, as we saw with the first Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday night in Miami, you get about what you might expect: a mess.
The first half of the debate focused on economic policy. There were numerous instances of candidates pandering with some poorly-accented Spanish, flagrantly dodging questions, butting in to attack each other, but at least it stayed sort of on track.
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) dominated this section. She laid out a clear Brandeisian perspective, attacking monopolies and defending her plans to break up big tech companies and jack up taxes on the rich without apology. Savannah Guthrie repeatedly attempted to bait Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) into attacking Warren's ideas as they had done previously, but both largely agreed with her instead. The old neoliberal Clinton-Obama tradition of celebrating entrepreneurs and markets could barely be heard at all.
One notable policy moment came when Lester Holt asked which candidates would get rid of private insurance in favor of Medicare-for-all, and only Warren and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio raised their hands. On previous occasions, Warren has waffled somewhat on whether she really agrees with Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) Medicare-for-all plan. It appears she has decided to stick with him, even if that means promising to obliterate private insurance.
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