Second debate's top three casualties

Ed Fallon‘s take on the second round of Democratic presidential debates. -promoted by Laura Belin

Bold Iowa likes to give out prizes. (See Climate Hall of Fame Awards.) While we heard some encouraging remarks about the climate emergency during this week’s debate, three moments stand out as worthy of recognition. I’ll simply call them the Wrong, Wronger, and Wrongest Awards.

The WRONG AWARD goes to Joe Biden. After Jay Inslee criticized the slow timeline in Biden’s climate plan, moderator Dana Bash asked, “Would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?”

Biden’s response: “No. We would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated, and no more subsidies for either one of those, any fossil fuel.”

“We would work it out” does not instill confidence. The casualness of Biden’s time frame rings especially hollow given his pro-oil/pro-gas comment earlier this year in response to the Bold Climate Penguins:

“North America is now energy independent. It’s not the Saudi Arabian peninsula. It’s not Nicaragua. It’s not somewhere in South America. It’s not Africa. It’s the United States of America, Canada and Mexico. And the United States is soon going to be the largest producer of energy of any nation in the world by the end of the 2020s. My Lord, what are we so afraid of?”

What I’m afraid of is Joe Biden as president. I wouldn’t trust Biden to make the right call on climate change any more than I’d trust Andrew Yang. Which brings us to …

The WRONGER AWARD. In the debate’s most astounding moment, Andrew Yang said in response to a question about climate change that “We are ten years too late. We need to do everything we can to start moving the climate in the right direction, but we also need to start moving our people to higher ground.”

As Robinson Meyer wrote in The Atlantic,

Yang said that climate change is an inexorable problem, that the U.S. can’t do much of anything about it, and that if the seas take your house … the government shouldn’t do anything specifically to help you. That is quite an argument. It does not strike me as one well chosen for a party whose voters care about climate change.

I’m not surprised at Yang’s comment, given his response to questions from Bold Iowa earlier this year when he said we could slow climate change by packing dirt around melting glaciers. Yup. He said that. Click here for the video.

Yang’s a sharp guy. After the glacier gaffe, I was willing to give him another shot. But the move-to-higher-ground remark disqualifies Yang as a serious contender for president.

The WRONGEST AWARD for climate embarrassment goes to CNN. Over the course of five hours of debate, moderators devoted a total of 20 minutes to Q & A on the crisis that threatens our very survival.

Which again makes it clear that voters deserve a debate focused strictly on climate. That debate shouldn’t be controlled by the mainstream media or the Democratic Party. Let independent organizations who’ve been on the front lines of climate action take a shot at it.


Other debate and post-debate climate moments worth mentioning:

ELIZABETH WARREN’s reminder that “I have a plan for a green industrial policy that takes advantage of the fact that we do what we do best—and that is innovate and create.”

CORY BOOKER’s line, “Nobody should get applause for rejoining the Paris climate accord. That is kindergarten.”

CLIMATE ACTIVISTS who gathered by the thousands for a rally and march outside the debate venue, demanding that the candidates and the Democratic Party take the climate crisis more seriously.

And on the not-so-positive side:

JOE BIDEN. Fox News’ claim that Biden “won” the debate was just what Donald Trump wanted to hear. Fox loves fellow climate-denier Trump. It knows a Democratic nominee pegged to the status quo will lose (see Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton for details). So, Fox gives Biden a bit of love as often as it can, hoping Democrats will make the mistake of handing him the nomination.


Though I’m not a fan of the simplistic “winners and losers” analysis that follows these debates, here’s my take on who benefited, held even, and lost ground:

BENEFITED. Tulsi Gabbard, Marianne Williamson, Booker, Warren, and Bernie Sanders. Warren and Sanders solidified their front-runner status with passionate defenses of their positions. Gabbard, Williamson, and Booker will almost certainly see some bounce from their performance. They carved out niches showcasing their sincerity and ability to think outside the typical political boxes. I suspect all three will be on the debate stage in September.

HELD EVEN. Bill deBlasio, Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, and Steve Bullock.

LOST. Biden, Harris, Castro, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Ryan, Hickenlooper, Yang, and Delaney. Mainstream-media commentators set the bar low for centrist front runners like Biden and Harris. If the candidate doesn’t flub up, that’s considered good enough. Sorry, not buying it. Between Biden’s inadequate responses to pushback by Inslee and others, and Harris’ inability to respond to Gabbard’s critique of her tenure as California Attorney General, expect an erosion of their support.

Among the others who “lost,” Castro, O’Rourke, and Klobuchar might yet regain some traction. Expectations were high for each of them. While they didn’t gaff it up, they also didn’t shine.

Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, and Yang should just drop out. John Delaney might consider challenging Trump for the Republican nomination.

Ed Fallon

Top image: Jay Inslee (right) challenges Joe Biden during the July 31 Democratic debate. Screen shot from a video clip CNN posted on Twitter.

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