The Not So Great Debate

The Latest Word:

 So, they went at it again, the Democratic Candidates, in another poorly planned presidential debate. It was the usual suspects (Biden, Bernie, Warren, Klobuchar, Mayor Pete) plus Michael Bloomberg, who joined the crew for this debate..his first  one (and it showed).  

Missing–but eligible–was former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Steyer and Bloomberg are both billionaires (a good thing, especially when running for office) but Bloomberg is the biggest money of anyone in the 2020 race and that includes Trump, who may (or may not) have as much as Steyer, but who can tell, because Trump intentionally keeps his finances opaque, that way he can tell anyone anything about how much he’s worth and no one can prove otherwise. For those keeping records, he does the same things with his high school and college grades (going so far as to hide his military school records so that no one can dispute him).  Trump was not a direct entry into Wharton; he went in as a junior transfer from Fordham, which is ranked #no 74 in acceptance difficulty; Wharton is ranked #9 or #12 if you want to rank Penn instead of the college of Wharton. Draw your own conclusions about Trump’s native academic skill. But note: there is not a darn thing wrong with transferring to a very prestigious university from an OK university and graduating from it; it’s not where you start out, but where you finish that counts. But please discount all of Trump’s bleating about his top grades at Wharton. There aren’t any: he’s not listed on any Dean’s List or other academic recognition program. Those honors go to the top 15%. Trump didn’t make the cut. Period. He went to Wharton and he graduated, a semi-normal Joe College with a rich real estate dad.  He does not have an advanced degree. Bloomberg went to Johns Hopkins (undergrad) and Harvard (MBA). Steyer went to Yale and Stanford (MBA); Klobuchar to Yale and UChicago (Law); Mayor Pete Went to Harvard(Undergrad) and Oxford (Rhodes Scholar, MA); Elizabeth Warren went to University of Houston and Rutgers (Law); Bernie Sanders to University of Chicago; Joe Biden t0 Delaware and Syracuse (Law). But, we digress…..

The Demo Debate was a basic disaster for Bloomberg and not so good for anyone else. From our perspective, the whole process needs a good review and maybe just needs to be dumped, but it was bad from the beginning. Let’s start with the basics:

Network: NBC

Panelists/Journalists: Lester Holt (NBC), Hallie Jackson(MSNBC), Chuck Todd (NBC/MSNBC), Vanessa Hauc (Telemundo), Jon Ralston (Nevada Independent)

Location: Paris Theater, Las Vegas, Nevada (in advance of the Nevada caucus, which is this weekend)

From a critical and non-biased viewpoint, the Dems just blew themselves up in their own debate. Let’s start with the obvious culprits, because they’re involved in this process and should not be.

1. Who is Tom Perez and Why Does He Think He’s At a Gospel Meeting

Tom Perez is the current head of the Democratic Party. Thus far, he shows all of the administrative sharpness of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who he succeeded. Wasserman Schultz will best be remembered for managing the previous Democratic primary process so that her Amigo Hilary Clinton could finally get the Democratic  Nomination (over Bernie Sanders…hmmm). Everyone saw how that worked out. Perez is on the same track. He started the primary year by green lighting a never-tested vote counting software app to be used in Iowa, the first contest of the year. It was a disaster, and weeks later some still don’t know who won the primary. Perez started the televised Vegas show with a call to organize for the attending democrats but it was not the type of thing that should have been telecast and he is not an inspiring speaker. For his massive failure in overseeing Iowa and his failure to date in creating a unified strategy and pushing the persuasion power of a debate, Perez needs to go. Sorry–this is a brutal game with a country’s future on the line and if I was a Democrat, I wouldn’t feel comfortable following Perez’s leadership. He doesn’t have it.  Please leave. 

2, The Moderators Lacked Gravitas. 

The panelists, there to inquire, inspire, probe, and keep the debate moving did not do a great job of controlling the debate participants. It was an unsupervised 5th grade classroom. No one got the right amount of time (either too much or too little…where are the PA’s keeping track of this stuff) and all too often the contestants were talking on top of one another, shouting, interrupting, and digressing. They needed more control from the moderators, but didn’t get it. This is not Holt’s speciality and it showed; Chuck Todd is polite but soft and not as tough as the late Tim Russert–Chris Mathews, who can be brutal on cross examination would have been a much better choice; Hallie Jackson is good and road- tested tough but there’s only one of her. Jon Ralston was solid but he didn’t insert himself quite enough; the Telemundo rep,  Vanessa Huac,  could have brought some insight into Mexican/American relations, economics, trade policies and general over-all can-we-get-along questions, but instead wasted her time and intellect on asking simplistic questions like “who’s the President of Mexico”…the correct answer is, “which week?”, but that didn’t come out and the scene devolved into a discussion of whether or not that’s actually a good question for a debate like this (no, it is not)…it smacked of “gotcha”, which is not what you want to play with millions of futures on the line. 

3. Get the New Guy

The entire theme of the night was “get Mike”. From the opening shot to the end, the other six debaters piled on Mike Bloomberg, bringing out every conceivable negative event from his past and trying–in ways both odd and sad–to run him down and make him seem less desirable as a potential Democratic candidate for the Presidency. The negativity was so sharp and focused on Bloomberg at some times, I was waiting for the makeup crew to run out on stage and take his makeup off. While I know that they were mad at him for a)spending a lot of money on commercials b)being a billionaire  c) entering the race “late” and d)organizing in all states faster, the pile-on strategy made for very good popular television but very poor political communications. The Democrats are going to need Bloomberg. He’s accomplished, he’s wealthy, he’s well educated. Give him some room..he may very well be the ultimate nominee and even if he’s not, they need him. Why destroy your own team members when you have a very formidable opponent to deal with?

4. Enough of the “got cha” debate points. 

Far too often, the debaters engaged in “got cha” style questioning of one another, i.e. “will you release your medical records?”, “have you made your tax returns public?”, “why isn’t the culinary union backing you?” etc. etc. etc. This may give the questioner some momentary lift (and some temporary audience support) when the recipient of the “got cha” inquiry gets tagged,  but these intensely and snarky lines of questioning don’t have much to do with policy positions or tax strategies or how to defeat Trump. The single objective of each person on the stage should be  to defeat the current occupant of the White House, not ask self-serving questions.  By overdoing the snarky stuff and underplaying the big points, debaters are giving Trump’s campaign all the key oppo they need to defeat Democrats–no research necessary. Just pull a transcript, see who said what, find the video clip, and your oppo file is filled up with the stuff that the candidates say about each other…not about Trump. “Got-cha” is small potatoes guys. Cut it out. Go for big points, with some detail (but not so much it blunts the message). Talk about policy. Benefits to voters. Change. A new vision for America. Economic plans (anyone think to discuss the huge trillion dollar debts being run up now by the current administration, one that loves debt and doesn’t believe in paying it back?). No one even mentioned gun control in the city that suffered the largest gun violence in American history.  Will someone pay attention to the big stuff?  Get real. 

5. Don’t Read Too Much Into Anyone’s Performance…Including Mike Bloomberg’s. 

Afterwards, the inevitable rush to the “spin room” as pundits gathered to say what they thought people saw and heard from the candidates:  “Warren got her game back”; “Biden had his best debate yet”; “Bernie did not get derailed”; “Bloomberg’s terrible..he wasn’t prepared” (Trump is not a great debater either but he won the Presidency). Hold on, folks. Debate comprehension is an imprecise skill and two weeks from last Tuesday night’s debate, few people will even be able to tell you who was on the stage and what they stood for. It’s a very long process and message attrition is a campaign strategy.

We know a few things coming out of the Las Vegas debates: Bernie still has his energy and emotional commitment to his campaign; Elizabeth Warren (and Mayor Pete) can debate with the best of them; Biden is still capable of bringing it (although it’s a little rougher now); Amy Klobuchar has run out of accomplishments to boost her as a candidate and Mike Bloomberg–bloodied but not bowed–is not going anywhere. You don’t create a sixty billion dollar fortune in data/communications by refusing to get up after you’re knocked down. My bet is that Bloomberg is a very quick learner and if he does another debate ( and I would advise against it..the TV ads are doing just fine), he’s going to be killer at it. Give the man credit for accomplishment; he’ll figure it out. 

6. The Entire Debate Format is Terrible

The TV coverage as very good and the debate drew a big audience. Good for the network, bad for the candidates. But the substance of the debate had a pro wrestling attitude lurking over it.  The candidates went far too much into unimportant details and not enough into substantive issues: why one one program is better than another; their visions for America; what kind of damage has been done to the American system of government and can it (or should it) be restored. I don’t care about Bernie’s Medical Records; I care about his health if he  gets elected, but only then. And I don’t care about Mike’s NDA’s. That’s been settled, signed and delivered. No one cared enough about Trump’s NDA’s to keep him out of office–who’s running on last year’s standard? Are the Democrats judging themselves on standards they won’t apply to Trump? Let it go, folks. And it’s not illegal…..Bloomberg asked the one question of the night that stopped everyone on stage in their tracks: “Have you ever started a business?” The implication being “If not, what makes you think you can run something as complex as the USA?”

This morning, Warren tossed another stink bomb into the campaign by bringing up Bloomberg’s NDAs again (“I used to teach contract law”) and saying she had a piece of paper that would get signees out of their agreements. Stop it. That is not the issue here, she should stop the self-promotion. Just a diversion from the other things we’re facing–deficits, Russian meddling (again), Afghanistan, coronavirus, presidential pardons going to presidential cronies, no term limits in Congress, medical care. Liz would rather get a big rush out of a tabloid issue than advance the cause of defeating Trump at the ballot box. He’s got an easy path–just let the Democrats wipe themselves out and say nothing. 

The debate format is killing the candidates’ chances to get their points across. It’s not very dignified and is certainly not very informative. All the talking over one another, abstract deliveries of information, and spur-of-the-moment thoughts muddle all messages. 

 I propose a different, more intelligent approach. Segments that deal with specific issues and the candidates’ reasoned plans to solve them. Start with a very small group of credentialed experts and academics in the different electoral issues that affect all of us: Foreign relations, military, immigration, medical economics, education, labor, security. These experts deliver a very brief, fact based overview of the current situation, i.e. a SWOT analysis, to the candidates. Then, one by one, the candidates discuss their approach to each issue. Viewers would get an understanding of the background on each issue and the candidates approach to solving each one. Not a complete education to be sure, but at least one that is intelligent and designed to convey the programs of the candidates to the voters.

The current American government operational model is chaotic, uninformed, and not working to a higher purpose. It has to change for America to grow to potential in all areas, not just economics.

A good place to start would be by re-thinking the American presidential debate format. We can–and must–do better than a verbal wrestling match that reveals little and succeeds only in embarrassing the participants. 





The New Year comes in; the old one goes out and you get a re-set.
Whether or not you are the type that likes to stay up until midnight partying and socializing or prefer to bring in the New Year more privately, the time-space effect is going to be the same: you will say goodbye to 2019(really, not a terrific year) and hello to 2020 in just a matter of hours and you will join billions on the planet in doing so.
The New Year’s celebration (New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day)is best understood as a two day event, not a single day one, although a bit of partying can easily make them run together and seem like one never-ending holiday. I’ve had those moments myself, although not as much lately as in the past.
New Year’s Eve is the big celebratory party day, starting, depending upon your schedule, at about 4PM and continuing past (or well past) midnight. It is time for partying, eating, dancing, loud music, and new found enthusiasm for kissing people you do not know particularly well as well as kissing people you know extremely well.
“You must remember this, a kiss is a just a kiss, the fundamental things apply as time goes by”, was how Dooley Wilson summed it up in “Casablanca” and you’ll do well to take his advice. 

New Year’s Eve is the last day of the old year. Congratulations: You made it. You have the right to get silly and celebrate. (Safety note: just don’t drive if you drink; crash in place and tell everyone you didn’t want to miss anything when you wake up the next day).
New Year’s Day itself –the daylight portion—is of course, the first day of the New Year and is for recovery, family, football and begging for forgiveness if your enthusiasm for kissing people you do not know particularly well got out of hand, as it often does on such a night. If that turns out to be the case—well, best of luck to you. You may find out the hard way that the old saying that it’s “better to ask for forgiveness than to seek permission” does not apply to random groping and hot twerking in a tuxedo. Just hope that no one from the press or a particularly well-circulated internet site was snapping photos in hopes of making one reputation (theirs) while crushing another one (yours).
In addition to post-celebration recovery and football, and a full day of grazing at the New Year’s Day buffet table, New Year’s Day is also famous for New Year’s Resolutions. As a matter of fact, that (and begging for forgiveness) might be the very best option for New Year’s Day.
Although one can make a resolution at any time of the year, New Year’s Day is always the very best time to do so. Making them in June or July seems a bit pointless and lonesome.
You’re expected to re-start and re-set on New Year’s Day. This is the day of forgiveness for habits past(see above). Have at it. You’ll be in good company. Literally millions of resolutions will be made by sundown of New Year’s Day (and no doubt another million broken by dawn of the next day) but it’s a tradition and a form of personal positivism that should be encouraged. New Year’s resolutions speak to your best intentions, so indulge and encourage yourself. If you want to re-set some part of your life, career, health program, or diet New Year’s is the very best day to do it. The timing is in your favor.
Take society up on the open book for reconciliation and change it’s given you and understand the dynamics.
New Year’s Eve is the end; New Year’s Day is the beginning.
So do with yourself what you so often have done to your computer. Hit the re-set button. Enjoy shutting down the old days, the old ways, the memories past (both good and bad), flash  your personal RAM and relish the re-start, the new energy, the revised perspective, the bigger dreams. Simultaneously enjoy the freedom of letting go and the exhilaration of unbounded possibilities. Dream a little.
One day is for reflection; the other for projection. One set of stories and days and events are now complete; another set of adventures and trials and days and nights are to come.
More than any other holiday, New Year’s celebrates the possible, the unknown, the future, the passage of time and the new journey.
Once a year, mankind is all on the same page. And while the moment of synchronicity will disappear in just hours, we are all united by the hope (and promise) of a new year, a new start, a new beginning. New Year’s Day 2020 remains what all New Year’s Days have been through time: one more chance to really, really get it right.
It’s the New Year. Celebrate tonight. Recalibrate tomorrow.
This post was originally published on New Year’s, 2014 and has been re-published every year since then. It has been modified to reflect re-posting for 2020. Photo courtesy of our friends at, who have the photographic history of the 20th and 21st century on file. The photo has not been altered in any way. All rights belong to Getty Images and/or their designate. Text(c) 2014 Donald Pierce, all rights reserved; post produced by the Media Bunker and Perception Engineering. Have a Happy New Year, don’t overindulge, and drive safely. See year. 

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