Fear & Loathing 2020: Sitting At The Loser’s Table

Gabbard’s a no-show again.  Most of us weren’t expecting her, but some of her supporters were quite crestfallen.  After all, if you can’t handle a teeny little February ice storm, how can you possibly expect to deal with the stress of being president?

Earlier today, Rianna was telling us about a Tulsi cancellation where she apologized by video, then sang her loyal peeps a song while her sister danced a hula in the background.  It’s no wonder her followers love her so much.  But the silence today is disquieting; we’re wondering if she might drop before Tuesday.  Truth be told, the irony of her followers chanting “LET TULSI SPEAK!” and then her being a no-show yesterday is going to be tough to top.

Fortunately, the other four candidates were fascinating, and the presenters were brilliant.  Today’s topic was the student loan debt crisis and the runaway price of college, and it was an excellent learning experience.

Yang jogged around the room and smiled, and when the time came he showed a real grasp of the nuts and bolts of the problem.  He explained the details of the crisis, showed us how we can easily fix it, gave us a thousand bucks a month while creating 10% economic growth, and danced off to his next event.  Man looks tired as hell, but his pitch is hopeful and makes good sense.

Michael Bennet is a complete unknown in national politics, and it’s easy to see why. Don’t get me wrong:  I love the man.  He reminds me of my Uncle Chuck, one of my favorite people in the entire world.  He’s brilliant, sincere, makes perfect sense, and communicates… quietly.  He’s a former school superintendent; after listening to him, I believe it.  But every word he said was perfectly true and accurate, and unlike every other Democratic candidate I’ve -ever- heard, his plans are both reasonable and effective.  Naturally, he has zero chance.  (Actually, by the polls, once you allow for the margin of error he’s well below zero.  What the hell is wrong with our political process that this man isn’t on top of the damn polls?!)

(I caught Bennet in an unguarded moment and asked him why we can’t get federal spending under control.  He said, “It’s that the Democrats don’t care, and the Republicans say they care but are lying.”  I can’t fault him on this even a little.)

Governor Bill Weld was next.  He’s a Republican, but on the education issues he sounds a hell of a lot like Yang and Bennet both:  We need to fund community colleges, encourage states to fund state colleges, cap interest rates on student loans, and come up with a good faith forgiveness program.  He likes performance-based metrics for everything, which is interesting because Bennet just explained in convincing detail exactly why that doesn’t work for education.  But overall, it was an excellent performance.

One remarkable note about Weld:  Alone among the candidates, he stuck around for the rest of the event and listened politely to Deval Patrick’s time behind the microphone.  Patrick is another alumnus of the governor’s mansion in Massachusetts, and he’s got charisma and a lot of knowledge.  Also a becoming humility; alone among the candidates he frankly confessed that he doesn’t know exactly how to do something yet — bridge the federal-state divide in school funding.

(If you’re reading this, Governor, the answer is to do it the same way they do with transportation:  targeted matching grants for specific programs.  That way you can help without encouraging the states to reduce funding.  Also, the word you were searching for later in your speech is “Modularization”:  state colleges need to set up compatible and interchangeable standards across the board so people can transfer credits painlessly.)

During the last question session, Weld stood up and applauded Governor Patrick’s ability, character, and willingness to run.  In a bipartisan moment so rare as to be almost nonexistent these days, each actually said nice things about the other, and the entire hall applauded when Weld added Senator Mitt Romney to the “good guys club” after his vote to convict Trump on Wednesday.  Deval Patrick replied with this:  “A lot of democracy depends on unwritten rules:  duty, decorum, restraint, honor.  I have other quarrels with Candidate Romney – 2012 – [but] he did a stand-up thing this week.”

And again:  These are four people I would definitely want running this country.  Any of the four, and I’d have no complaints.  So why in God’s name are none of them winning?!

One answer might be what Bernie said this morning at the Politics and Eggs event (the TNFN Team apparently sucks way too much to rate an invite):  “We’ve got a corrupt political system,” he said, and went on to explain exactly why and how this is.

But there’s a second explanation that I’m leaning toward.

By far the most charismatic person in attendance, the most engaged, and the most passionate, was Angelique Palomar.  Don’t be confused; you never heard of her.  She’s not in the race — but she should be, and if there’s any justice in the world she will be before long.  We need our best and brightest if we’re going to survive.

Angelique is communications associate for TICAS, one of the nonprofits involved in setting up the forum.  A recent graduate and an expert on college debt, Ms. Palomar was one of several to question Gov. Patrick on his proposals, forcing him to backtrack and correct himself on the matter of national service versus the real cost of college — not just tuition, but also mandatory fees and the high cost of living.

The Governor danced about on his errors and behaved like a politician.  And I’m not saying he isn’t engaged; he’s very well-spoken, highly intelligent, and well-informed.  Unlike some corporate-owned candidates, he honestly intends to make the world a better place, and he’ll do his best to make it happen.  But the contrast between him and his questioner was striking:  He’s witty, urbane, and polished; she’s passionate — tiny, but fierce.

(Why the hell can’t she run?!  She’s someone I could actually vote for, for a change.)

Perhaps after all that’s why I feel depressed, like I’m sitting at the loser’s table again:  the Democrats are fielding a broad slate of losers this year just like every year.  The best of them is Bernie Sanders, and he’s most famous for his loss to Hillary, who then went on to lose to Donald.  Mayor Pete Stepford is bought and paid for by Wall Street; Warren’s perceived as unlikeable; Amy’s got no base — and the rest are polling so low as to be negligible.

And not one of them has even a fraction of the fire in them that I saw from one of the event coordinators.

So, yes, the candidates are all losers.  But unless we get our acts together really fast, the real losers will be We The People.  Just like always.

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