I Watched the CNN Presidential Town Hall On Climate Change So You Don’t Have To

I’m glad CNN held this town hall  (or is it a series of town halls?).  Climate change is a major issue that could help Democratic voters select their nominee to take on the Republican in 2020.  The town hall format allowed the candidates to give more thoughtful answers to questions that would have needed to be fit into one minute blocks in a debate format.  I came away with some different views on the candidates and the issue itself.

At a minimum, pretty much all of the candidates checked the obvious boxes.  The US should be a leader in this area.  Work toward environmental justice.  They would reverse Trump administration regulation or reinstate regulations that were eliminated by the Trumpies.  Many said they would go farther than that and use executive authority extensively.  Most would ban any more leases on federal lands and off shore drilling. Everybody but Cory Booker would try to end nuclear power.

By the time I finished watching all 10 town halls, there were a couple of things that I started to look for.  The term “existential threat/crisis” was thrown around a lot.  I started to think that, if you’re going to call it an existential threat, then you need to act like that and your policy should reflect that fact.  If your focus is on what we can’t do or you rule things out in advance, then you must not really think it’s an existential threat.  I also really liked when a candidate tried to compare their plan to a “moonshot” (hello, Cory Booker) or like the mobilization of the American people in World War II (Mayor Pete).  If it’s truly existential, then we ought to be looking at it like that.  I also must admit that the focus on how beef affects global warming made me think back to my days as a vegetarian.  I also did a quick google search for solar panel installation and thought about recycling,  composting, and using different light bulbs as my way of helping out.

A lot of the focus from the moderators and some questioners was details of the plans of the candidates and how they differed among themselves.  On that point, I’ll borrow from Mayor Pete’s analogy here (see below).  The differences between the candidates are not that great, compared to Trump and many in the GOP.  It’s like a group of doctors are trying to figure out how to treat a patient with cancer.  Half of the doctors are discussing whether to go with medication or surgery and the other half deny that cancer exists.  So, at the end of the day, it’s pretty clear that I would go for the plan of any of the Dems over any GOP plan on climate change.  Still, there were some clear winners and losers among the candidates.  Here’s my ranking.

1.  Elizabeth Warren. (Chris Cuomo) Senator Warren has a great grasp of the issues and answered questions directly.  She is very good at bringing the questions back to the theme of her campaign.  She showed great passion and acted like this is an existential threat.  I liked her adoption of terminology from one of the questions about how climate change is affecting oceans.  She said maybe we need a Blue New Deal.  She also defended the Green New Deal in an effective way.  It’s not just the Green (climate), but also the New Deal (jobs).  I noted she was able to contrast her position with Bernie regarding public ownership of utilities, which he’s in favor of.  She said she’s not opposed to companies making profits, just not at the expense of everyone else.  She also didn’t shy away from a question about Native Americans.

2. Pete Buttigieg. (Chris Cuomo) Mayor Pete started off weaker and seemed like he was going to stick to a “let’s bring the country together” schtick.  He almost lost me there, but he picked things up after that.  He had a good section on revitalizing and modernizing agriculture.  He also was very smooth in discussing the moral component, both from a religious and secular view of morality.  Mayor Pete raised the idea of a national mobilization which is a good point for me.  He had the best two lines of the night.  He was asked what question would he ask Donald Trump about climate change in a debate?  He focused on Trump and his GOP enablers and made the analogy I referenced above about the doctors who don’t believe cancer exists.  He finished that answer, though, with another great line.  He said that the only thing he could think to ask him is whether he would just step aside and let us do something about this issue because he’s clearly not ready to lead.  Great audience reaction.  He earned #2 on this list for those two lines.

3. Cory Booker.  (Don Lemon) Senator Booker also started slowly but improved as he went along.  He said that climate isn’t something that you need one plan for, but it’s a lens through which you look at everything.  His best moment was his anecdote about the factory farm in North Carolina in a predominantly black area.  I’m not sure where I stand on nuclear energy as part of the puzzle.  I think I’m probably against, but I appreciate that he has the courage to stand alone among the other candidates saying we may need it.  I liked his observation that the Republican Party in the US is the only major party in the Western world which denies climate change.

4. Julian Castro.  (Wolf Blitzer) I’ll admit that I’m partial to Castro and that might have affected his place in this ranking.  Still, what sets him apart from the candidates below him in the ranking is the fact that he gave answers to the questions, rather than rambling.  He showed a good knowledge of the issues and how his plans can help those issues.  He mentioned his PAW plan and I’m a fan of that.  He stands alone among the candidates on that issue.  I liked the fact that he quit his job at a law firm to avoid conflict of interest issues so that he could vote as a city councilman against an environmentally harmful project in San Antonio.

5. Bernie Sanders.  (Anderson Cooper)  Bernie came out of the gate at Trump.  He said, “I think Donald Trump is dangerously, dangerously wrong.”  His demeanor and answers were very in line with Elizabeth Warren as far as the existential threat issue goes.  You have to go big because this is existential.  When he was explaining how he would pay for his VERY expensive plan, he included the fact that his plan would create more jobs which would mean more tax revenue.  Very trickle down Republican sounding to me.  Bernie does a good job, just like Warren, of keeping on message for his campaign when he answers questions.  He looked like the much better choice among 70-something white men.

6. Beto O’Rourke. (Don Lemon)  Beto didn’t do a very good job of directly answering the questions he was asked.  He didn’t show a great facility for the issues or the specifics of his plan and how it would help.  He saved himself in his answer to the question from the climate refugee from Puerto Rico.  He highlighted a number of issues in that answer and showed that he will be strong on immigration.  Just too many of his answers boil down to “I’ll be a leader on this.”

7. Andrew Yang.  (Wolf Blitzer) Yang has gotten better as a candidate as the campaign has gone on.  He had a good grasp of the issues and direct answers to the questions.  He still comes across as a businessman, not a politician.  But that could be a good thing.  He was good in this format, but he’s still not going to get the nomination.

8. Amy Klobuchar. (Erin Burnett) Senator Klobuchar tried hard to stay in the moderate lane.  She went after Trump a little bit.  Otherwise, she was right in the same place as most of the other candidates on the main issues.

9. Kamala Harris.  (Erin Burnett) I’ve been a fan of Kamala for a while, but she just didn’t have it on this night.  She was right where everyone else was on the mainstream ideas.  But she was erratic and her demeanor was not suited to the format.  On the other hand, she was one of the more combative candidates on the night.  She really went at Trump and Republicans.

10. Joe Biden.  (Anderson Cooper) Biden seemed like he was arguing with the questioners or the crowd.  He was called out on the fossil fuel fundraiser early on and that issue came up a couple of times.  Anderson Cooper did a good job of following up after Biden’s answer.  He leaned too much on his experience as the answer to every question and he rambled WAY too much.  He also did that thing again that he did in the debates where he just stopped talking – “I’m taking too much time.”  He might be trying to follow a clock or CNN’s rules, but we don’t know that, so it just seems like he’s trying to get out of the question.  Not a great performance.   I did like his phrasing on one thing.  He was talking about Trump and he said something like, “he does this it means Boom!, he does this it means Bang!”


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