Did you know that there were more than three Democratic presidential candidates this election cycle? Neither did I, until last night, when I made what was ultimately the most self-destructive choice I’ve made since…well, at least since the Halloween Whopper I ate last Friday (the bun tastes like Jack Daniels Honey and the sauce stained my only good pair of jeans). That is to say: I watched the first Democratic primary debate. Below I have done my best to transcribe an accurate account of my thoughts and responses in real time.
9:02 pm: In the middle of a failing attempt to catch up with The Walking Dead, I suddenly remember that there is a Thing tonight. Surprisingly, Googling “watch democrat debate online” gets me nowhere, and I have to ask someone to link me to the livestream. In my thoughtlessness, I’ve only left myself two beers in the fridge for this event—strong beers, but not “debate-sponsored-by-Facebook strong”—and I already powered through half of the first one while watching Rick Grimes make pained expressions. I press on.
9:04 pm: Jesus, Bernie Sanders has a weird voice. I knew he was from Brooklyn but I never thought about what this meant for his speeches.
9:05 pm: I drift off into a reverie, imagining Sanders snarling, “Ey! Trump! I got your revolution right here!” and gesturing to his crotch. I am pulled back from the brink by Anderson Cooper, who sounds annoyed and will continue to sound annoyed until the very second he hits the pillow tonight.
9:07 pm: Cooper asks Sanders if he considers himself a capitalist. Sanders squirms. We at Empire of Loathing make no secret of the fact that (as actual socialists, communists, anarchists, and political nihilists) we don’t much care for Sanders’ “imperialism with a raised-fist pin on its backpack” style of democratic socialism, but essentially I think that in a perfect world, the guy would say no. But this is a world where the Democratic centrist base are still a bunch of fucking McCarthyists, and he weasels past the question with “Do I consider myself paht of the…casino…capitalist process…by which so few have so much?” and ends with something about Wall Street. Clinton shouts an apologist blurb about small business and capitalism being good for the middle class. My face has been frozen in the same glazed position for two full minutes.
9:09 pm: I am briefly surprised by how well Lincoln Chafee comes off (at least, early on). Unfortunately, he looks like a mortician’s assistant, and will never be president, so I don’t know what to do with this information.
9:12 pm: Jim Webb, an overt racist, is somehow being allowed to say things. Not enough things, apparently, because he keeps squalling about not being asked enough questions, and also about China. I Google Jim Webb, with whom I am not familiar, and find that not only is he “a part of white culture,” in his own eloquent words tonight, but that he is an avid defender of the Confederate flag. I chug the rest of my beer.
9:39 pm: Sanders, a man for whom many of his supporters’ endorsements stem directly from his smattering of historical anti-war stances, is now walking back those stances. Apparently he is not a pacifist, and he was proud to support the war in Afghanistan, and he supports the current president’s drone program in Syria. Cool! Also, one of the generic white people on stage just said that “cyber warfare against this country is its greatest threat,” which I agree with because some asshole in Korea hacked my World of Warcraft account last year.
9:51 pm: I quietly moan “Ohhhhh my Lord” to myself as the words “I want to talk about issues of race in America and for that I want to turn to Don Lemon” are spoken without a hint of irony.
9:52 pm: A random citizen is apparently Skyping in to ask, “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” There is a palpable silence after this question is asked. Clinton’s face has defied expectations and gone even whiter. Webb looks like he’s gauging the location of the closest emergency exit.
Eventually, Sanders and O’Malley both do acknowledge that yes, black lives matter, and Sanders even manages to toss in Sandra Bland’s name for the conversion. I am not really surprised, though—both these candidates have been specifically targeted by BLM activists and urged to fix their race problems, and they’d have to be even dumber than they look to ignore that message. Clinton hedges, and avoids actually acknowledging that yes, black lives matter, and basically does the establishment candidate thing. Her answer is not bad but not memorable either. No one cares what Lincoln Chafee thinks.
Webb is…telling a story about Vietnam. He has completely ignored the question (aside from saying “Everyone’s life matters when you’re the president,” which was a nice laugh), and is embarking on a minutes-long screed about a black Vietnam veteran who was brought up on murder charges, committed suicide, and had his name cleared by Webb. I think idly about just how many innocent Viets one would have to massacre during the Vietnam War in order to actually be charged with murder in the United States.
10:20 pm: Mike Huckabee just made a tweet comparing Sanders’ fiscal plans to…a Korean person eating Mike Huckabee’s dog, or something. He says it isn’t racist because the DPRK is repressive. I think about shotgunning my second beer but decide against it.
10:22 pm: Both Clinton and Chafee admit that they voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, but weren’t actually expecting the Bush Administration to do any of the things in the bill. Okay then!
10:26 pm: Webb and Clinton agree that Edward Snowden is a criminal. One or both of them use Vladimir Putin’s name in this response.
10:28 pm: COOPER: How would you not be a third-term President Obama, Secretary?
CLINTON: Well, I think that’s pretty obvious. I’m a woman.
COOPER: …Any policy changes?
I miss her response, as I have gone outside to get some fresh air, and finish my drink while lightly sobbing.
10:35 pm: COOPER: How do you respond to claims that you’re a Washington insider, as opposed to Senator Sanders’ outsider appeal?
CLINTON: I can’t think of ANYTHING more outsider than being the first woman president!
I am in the middle of writing down notes about this exchange when I suddenly realize that, since it’s no longer being audibly enforced at thirty-second intervals, I am suddenly no longer sure whether or not Hillary Clinton is, indeed, a woman. I hope someone will let me know soon.
10:36 pm: My Sanders-supporting mother gets into an argument with a Clinton-supporting college acquaintance on one of my Facebook statuses. I long for the velvet embrace of sweet oblivion.
10:45 pm: I realize that the studio audience essentially functions as a laugh track for Sanders and occasionally Clinton, and start wondering whether Sanders could say pretty much anything, as long as he looked angry enough and slammed his fists on the podium, and still get applause.
10: 50 pm: I am interrupted from my daydream of Bernie Sanders receiving a thunderous standing ovation as he repeats a Mussolini speech verbatim by the closing question—”Who is the enemy you are most proud to have made in politics?”
10:58 pm: I black out briefly when the camera turns to Jim Webb and he opens his mouth. All I can remember is Richard Nixon’s face, big enough to blot out the sun, shimmering across my field of view, as Webb growls over and over, “My greatest enemy is the teeming, savage, yellow hordes of Asia…but Charlie’s dead and I’m not. Charlie’s dead and I’m not. CHARLIE’S DEAD—”
11:00 pm: I take half a Klonopin and go to bed. I dream of Joe Biden, perched on a Las Vegas rooftop with a thermos of cranberry juice and a Remington 700, taking out each candidate as they emerge from the CNN debate center, and saving the last bullet for me.
Art by Rilo Harris.