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Twelve ideas for Democratic debate themes

AOC is right: a themed debate would be more entertaining

February 20, 2020

7:06 PM

20 February 2020

7:06 PM

‘Honestly, there should be themed debates,’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter last night. ‘Doing so educates the public far more on issues & actually serves the purpose of distinguishing who knows what they’re talking about +who doesn’t. Climate debate. Foreign policy debate. Healthcare. Racial justice. Labor&Econ. Can’t hide.’

While the ninth DNC debate proved livelier than the previous eight combined, Cockburn can’t help but think the New York congresswoman has a point, even if she did borrow it from former candidate Jay Inslee. A single topic, chosen from one of the key tenets of the Democratic platform, would certainly add some much needed focus.

But AOC’s ideas for topic areas seem a bit…lame. ‘Labor&Econ’? What a snoozefest. Cockburn has some alternatives which are much livelier.

1. Age

Given the current crop of candidates, an age-focused debate seems only apt. We can judge them on correctly remembering the names of those around them, the best use of nostalgia and staying continent for the full two hours.

2. Free stuff

Who doesn’t love free stuff? Rather than a dull night focused on the economy, let’s hear about deals, deals, deals! Free healthcare? You bet! Free college? Sure! Free childcare? Heck, why not?! This one should be hosted by Oprah, who will inform the studio audience to check under their seats for the first installment of their $1,000-a-month and the keys to their free Tesla.

3. Mistakes


It would be much simpler for all of us if we had a single evening dedicated to screwing up, rather than spreading it ad hoc throughout the entire process. Here the contenders can deliver long apologies for unfashionable policies they supported in the Eighties, claim the heritage of another race before furiously backpedaling, flog interns, smell hair and, if AOC herself is competing next time round, talk about towns in southern England instead of leading economists. Let’s face it, this one is the debate that would run over.

4. Trans issues

From the coal-miners of western Pennsylvania to the trawlermen of Michigan, the farmhands of Texas to the church-going grandmothers of South Carolina, only one issue has the potential to energize and unite the entire working-class Democratic base: the right of 0.6 percent of Americans to pee where they want. Yes, nothing will turn out voters like talking trans, so a vigorous televised discussion where every sentence is punctuated by the phrase ‘trans women of color’ is a no-brainer for the DNC.

5. The apocalypse

Chaired by Gov. Inslee and Greta Thunberg in knee-deep water on a Louisiana flood-plane, we need to hear the candidates debate at length exactly how long it is until we all die. Wouldn’t Bernie look rather fetching in a pair of waders?

6. Mueller

If there’s a topic this debate cycle hasn’t paid enough heed to, it’s Robert Mueller, Putin, election hacking and kompromat. These are grassroots issues and the more the base hears about them, the higher turnout will be.

7. Cringe

A 120-minute cringefest, with Amy Klobuchar reeling off mom jokes, Mike Bloomberg licking Big Gay Ice Cream, Elizabeth Warren hugging a Big Structural Bailey, Tom Steyer and John Delaney just existing, encircled by a small army of Mayor Pete fans (do they have a name? Boots on the Ground? Petophiles?) flailing their arms along to Panic! at the Disco’s ‘High Hopes‘. The Democrats are addicted to inducing winces: let’s make a show of it.

8. Pandering to minorities

Encantado de conocerte, candidatos! You won’t win the presidency with only white voters, so time to bend over backwards at a special debate to prove your credentials with communities of color. You can rehash what you learned in AP Spanish, play it cool while talking about how much you love Snoop Dogg and hitting the blunt or max out your credit card to fund reparations. Anything goes during this discussion on BET broadcast live from an ICE detention center.

9. Women

There are more women than men in America, so why not center a debate around them? Swap out the podiums for couches and some throw cushions and replace the microphones with bottles of Pinot Grigio. The candidates get the length of a manicure to respond to each question and bonus points are awarded for the best back-handed compliment.

10. Nanny-stating

The Democrats love nothing more than interfering in everyone’s business, so let’s put that front and center. Watch in awe as Bernie promises to take away your health insurance, Bloomberg pokes a hole in the bottom of your Big Gulp, Biden wrestles your assault rifle out of your hands and Mayor Pete drafts your 12-year-old into his kinky new service corps.

11. Billionaires

Effectively a repeat of last night’s debate, only every five minutes a different billionaire is offered up by High Priest Sanders as a sacrifice to the gods of old. The Vermont senator will toss a flaming torch onto a pyre of dollar bills, willing the one percent out of existence.

12. Losing

It seems untoward that the DNC don’t dedicate an evening to what the Democrats are best at. Cockburn is happy to chair this one: a shame we couldn’t have had it in the Javits Center on November 9, 2016, amid the Hillary Clinton victory balloons.


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