Even before Hillary Clinton dropped the most cynical line of the Democratic debate cycle, it was not a great debate. A human troll doll didn’t talk about menses. A neurosurgeon who sounds like his debate prep consists of gluing a nitrous oxide mask to his face didn’t say that the U.S. special forces are in the Bible, and Jeb Bush didn’t accidentally rack himself in the junk with a podium.
Saturday night’s second Democratic debate, in Des Moines, wasn’t great on its own terms, either. All three candidates spent the first half hour sounding like students who dedicated the week to cramming for one exam, only to find that the syllabus changed right before the midterm. Which, essentially, is what happened, when a coordinated ISIS attack in Paris killed more than 120 people and demanded that we solve Islamic terrorism right now.
Each candidate fumbled his or her way through a proposed response to ISIS. Bernie Sanders mentioned the attacks in Paris for just a pair of sentences in his opening statement, then transitioned baldly to his stump appeal. He later called for Arab states to take a more active role in combating ISIS in a “war for the soul of Islam,” and came about as close as an American politician can come to saying, “Saudi Arabia needs to stop trying to deflect threats to its stratified, cosmopolitan power structure by paying go-away money to every murderous band of dead-end shitkickers who rattle an AK magazine homeward at them.”
Hillary Clinton distanced herself from the Obama doctrine by stating that “ISIS cannot be contained, it must be defeated,” as she must, and couldn’t bring herself to commit to what terms we should use to describe ISIS. Lastly, despite a moving moment when he recalled a supporter asking him not to refer to her son as merely a pair of boots on the ground, Martin O’Malley said this was a 21st century war that called for 21st century tactics, although he rightly praised Muslim Americans as our first line of defense in terms of gathering human intelligence against domestic Islamic terror.
In basic terms, each candidate said that ISIS presented problems that call for solutions, which requires that we do things. If elected, things will be done, and none too soon, you can bet on it. These are people who can get things done, and you will begin to see things immediately. It was a stark contrast to the Republican Party debates, which have the animal subtlety of a teen in sweatpants tent-pitching a yearning boner at a topless woman on an album cover. While the Republicans’ plans for ISIS are no more practically or programmatically enumerated, they are at least clear. They are the words EXTERMINATE THE BRUTES scrawled across the page in grease pencil and a fevered hand. You know where you stand with that attitude: behind a rifle stock, firing at anything with a keffiyeh or a hijab on it.