Version 2 of the Democratic presidential debates last night turned into a boisterous shouting match on occasion, to the point that Sen. Kamala Harris raised her arms silencing her opponents and said, “Hey, guys, you know what? America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.”
It was an impressive performance by Harris, the African American senator and former prosecutor from California. She used those prosecutorial skills to put frontrunner former Vice President Joe Biden on the defensive over issues of race and equality, long considered a strength for Biden.
For me, it was the surprise of the night and perhaps the most telling as the campaign unfolds.
“I do not believe you are a racist,” she told Biden, but then said it was “hurtful” that Biden last week, in an effort to show he could work across the political spectrum, told of his working relationships with segregationist senators, who, by the way, were southern Democrats.
Harris turned to Biden’s past opposition to federal busing, resulting in Biden responding that he considered busing to be a local decision, not one that should be mandated by the federal government. But Harris cited a little girl who was bused to school every day. "That little girl was me,” she said.
“I did not oppose busing,” Biden said. “I opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education.” The exchange put Biden on the defensive and seemed to cost him momentum.
In my view, that was the seminal moment of the evening.
"If she can do that to Biden, she can stand up to Trump on the debate stage," I thought.
Perhaps concerned about Harris' strong performance on the race issue, today Sen. Bernie Sanders declared on Fox that if nominated he would call President Trump a racist "right to his face" if they met on a debate stage.
Another key moment, in my view, came during the discussion about Sen. Bernie Sanders' key platform plank, abolishing private health insurance and replacing it with "Medicare for All".
When the moderator asked candidates to raise their hands if they support banning private health insurance to be replaced by a government-run single payer program, only Sanders and Harris did so. Biden and others argued that the fastest way to deliver improved health care to Americans was to build on Obamacare.
But today, appearing on "Morning Joe", Harris said she had incorrectly heard the question and that she would preserve supplemental private insurance, which millions of Americans purchase to cover most, if not all, of the 20 percent of health care costs not paid by Medicare.
Another impressive moment, at least for me, was when South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked why the city's had so few minority police officers in the aftermath of a shooting in which a white police officer shot and killed a black man.
"Because I couldn't get it done," said the mayor. Such an honest statement expressing humility was impressive in today's atmosphere of political posturing, excuse making and braggadocio, much of which, especially the latter, emanates from the White House.
But the most telling comment of the evening may have been uttered at the close of Harris' cross examination about Biden's record on racial issues, which he stoutly and forcefully defended.
"My time is up," he said. "I'm sorry."
We will see if that proves to be true.