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The Best Line of the Democratic Debate—and Why

The two-night Democratic debates gave us all a good glimpse of the twenty top candidates for president on the ticket that will oppose President Trump in 2020. There were a lot of things said, most of it said thoughtfully, and most showing us a real picture of candidates’ policy interests, and their personalities, if not their characters. As always, the press focused on the best one-liners and most of the nation seemed to applaud those who were confident and aggressive in their presentations. 

Some of the memorable one-liners were: 

Amy Klobuchar: “I don't think we should conduct foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 in the morning.”

Jay Inslee: "The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump."

Pete Buttegieg: “I couldn’t get it done,” when talking about increasing racial diversity in his city’s police force.

Pete Buttegieg: “a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents that god would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religious language again.”

Kamala Harris: "America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we will put food on their table,"

Kamala Harris: “There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me.”

Most of these lines generated cheers and applause from the venue audience and tweets and retweets from watchers at home.

But there was a one liner that didn’t stand out, except to get mild criticism from sources such as The New Yorker, and that was Elizabeth Warren’s answer to the question about gun control and dealing with the millions of guns that are already on America’s streets. She said,  “we need to double down on research.” 

Warren isn’t a do-nothing on gun control, in fact, she has been a Senate leader on calling for a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks as well as other measures. Her answer reflects two important points: first is that for twenty years, federal legislation (the “Dickey bill”) prevented the CDC from doing research on gun violence. The 2018 spending bill removed that restriction and allowed the CDC to do research but not to advocate for gun control. The second point is that it is not really clear which measures will work to control gun violence in the United States. Gun violence includes not only mass shootings but also gang murders, criminal shootings, family disputes and suicides. All of these have different influences, which affect their prevalence. They have in common that they use guns. An absence or reduction of guns in the population would reduce such killings, but how to do that is unclear. That’s why Elizabeth Warren’s statement was right on target, even if it didn’t have the ring of ideological certainty that pleases both the press and partisan voters.

Gun control isn’t the only issue that is badly in need of research or, as is often the case, of politicians and voters paying attention to the research. The debate about charter schools is almost entirely one being conducted along ideological and political lines. Research—good research with consistent findings—exists, but no one pays attention to it. The CREDO studies conducted by Stanford University since 2009, have shown not only where charter schools do better or worse than public schools, but in many cases the factors that affect such performance. But these studies are ignored.

Climate change is seen by most Americans and by most Democratic politicians, but not Republican ones, as one of and perhaps our most dangerous threat. The Trump administration claims that the science behind climate change predictions is inconclusive, a view that is at variance with the broad scientific community. But even for advocates of attacking global warming, the measures that are advocated are often not the ones that research has shown would produce the most gain in reducing greenhouse gases. The New York Times best-selling study, “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” is almost never cited nor even discussed in political debates.  Yet, the research cited within its pages indicates that the measure that would result in the largest reduction in green house gases is managing and phasing out the use of chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used in refrigeration and air conditioning worldwide, something almost never discussed on the campaign trail. World countries have amended the Montreal Climate Agreement to require phasing out of such chemicals beginning this year and stretching over the next ten and by following these guidelines and destroying refrigerators at the end of their life and fixing leaky ones, approximately 90 gigatons of CO2 emissions would be avoided by 2050. Also in the report are the findings showing that employing rooftop solar panels would reduce twice the CO2 as switching to electric cars. Climate advocates rant about our habit of eating meat being associated with one of the greatest sources of methane from domestic cattle, but a method of grazing called Silvopasture, which combines woodland and farmland and allows grazing of shrubs as well as grasses, would produce a net reduction in methane and CO2 emissions through sequestering carbon in the plants and reducing methane production in cattle stomachs by their eating woody shrubs. Along these lines, grazing cattle on algae contained in seaweed, could reduce methane produced by the cattle by 80-99%, based on laboratory research and tests with live sheep.

Elizabeth Warren made one of the few calls for research in today’s American politics. We are at a crowning moment in science worldwide, yet our public policies often ignore science and research and our politicians nearly always do. Our press doesn’t focus on it as a source of solutions to public problems and jumps on any politician, such as Warren, who dares to ask for research instead of embracing an ideologically pure stance on an issue.

We don’t have to be dumb. We don’t have to take gleeful pride in our candidates “zinging” each other and let those with the most aggression and the best put-downs become our leaders. We can start thinking. We can quit believing that our guts tell us the truth on complex topics and that those who turn to science and research are wonks or ivory-tower procrastinators who are afraid to act. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the federal and state programs that have sounded good to their supporters and turned out to have failed miserably when put into action. 

Real research is out there and it's time we rewarded thinking in our candidates, and in our favorite political pundits, instead of brashness and cleverness  and saying things we like to hear. It’s time we stopped applauding pride in ignorance and started asking for a 21stcentury government that uses research instead of folklore and ideology to design a better world. I’m going to watch the campaign and decide which candidates reflect this view.

Reader Comments (2)

Seemx to me your essay could be re-titled:
The Best Line of the Democratic Debate You Didn't Hear
which is the very valid point of your arguement.
Adding the ...—and Why You Didn't Hear Them... then goes into much deeper territory and gives clues to actually resolve the problems.

June 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

casey, the caps on my computer aren't working properly, so i'll be brief. the summary of the quotes here is an excellent idea. i haven't read one other article on the web that was as well done as this.thank you for all this reseach--very helpful

June 30, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

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