Occasionally, in life, you can reach a point where you can no longer tolerate the sound of human voices.
That point often coincides with presidential primary debates in late February — when days seem both 68 hours long and disappear, and most people in, around, or observing campaigns develop a radiant, ambient stress that never leaves. Technically, Tuesday’s debate probably should have clarified something about the future of the Democratic Party, between Bernie Sanders’ blowout win in Nevada last week, and South Carolina and Super Tuesday in the next week.
Instead, the whole enterprise slid into woozy exhaustion and dragged everyone watching in too. Only 144 hours separated last week’s debate and this one, but even the loose anger from last week’s debate seemed diminished into a burnt-out “end of the tour” feel.
Midway through an answer about what he'd do about the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Pete Buttigieg turned and said, "I want to come back to something — and I promise it relates to international affairs."
Bernie Sanders had asked him a question, he said, about whether guaranteeing health care was radical. It isn't, Buttigieg said.
"What is a radical idea is completely eliminating all private insurance," he went on. "And part of how you know it is is that no industrialized country has gone that far. He and I both like to talk about Denmark, for example. But even in Denmark, they have not abolished the possibility of private insurance.
"So this is an idea that goes further than what is acceptable in Denmark the country, let alone imagining how that’s going to fly in Denmark, South Carolina."
After this health care–Denmark line — in response to a question about Syria — when Margaret Brennan turned to Elizabeth Warren, Warren appeared to have forgotten what the original question was.
But the whole debate had that kind of irked, “alley-oop to someone who isn’t there” vibe. Every time they cut away from one person, the entire stage seemed frozen in the same stances: at podium, hand raised. At one point, Gayle King told Joe Biden he was a gentleman, to which he responded, "Yeah, gentlemen don’t get very well treated up here."
It’s a surreal time, where Sanders is probably headed toward the Democratic nomination and six competitors don’t quite know how to win themselves.
Even the debate didn't know how to end. To quote the transcript:
O'DONNELL: Well, thank you. That concludes our debate.
KING: No, no, we have time for one more break, Norah, one more break. Time flies when you're having fun. You're watching the Democratic debate right here on CBS.
O'DONNELL: Thank you. That concludes our debate. We want to thank the candidates, the moderators, and to you watching at home tonight.