A few years back, it fell to me to arrange the seating at a donor appreciation dinner for which there would be four tables of eight. Taking the guest list, I split the couples and assigned places, keeping an eye on having one half of each couple at the table for the guest of honor, for whom the donations had been gathered.
There was the luxury of the dinner not being exclusively gay, which always makes placement more challenging. But having a mixture of same sex and opposite sex couples allowed for more diversity at each table than a bunch of gay guys with one straight and one lesbian couple thrown into the mix. Not unexpectedly, the guests were disproportionately white, so I placed the persons of color with the most visibility possible and lamented to myself that a gathering of progressives would even have this issue.
Once the guests arrived, the surreptitious checking out of everyone’s placement began. And not surprisingly, one guest asked if he could be “promoted” to the guest of honor table. Of course, I declined as politely as possible, while making a mental note of his gall. After all, this was a seated dinner, not a pot luck supper.
So when I heard that the candidates would be placed in this week’s Democratic debates by a random draw, I just knew things would be interesting. First off, the probability that the five candidates of color would end up on the stage on the same night was extremely low. But it happened.
And with position at center stage going to the candidates with the highest poll numbers, there was a 50-50 chance that Biden and Sanders would be on different nights and right in the middle. And that happened, too. So, there was the visual of Bernie standing next to Pete Buttigieg, forty years his junior. Biden was flanked by Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, an interesting juxtaposition to say the least.
For those who tuned in to hear the candidates talk about policy, both nights might have been a bit frustrating. It was more wonky-tonk than wonky talk, with the CNN moderators frequently pitching questions along the lines of “Senator X says your ideas on [fill in the blank] lack [fill in the next blank]. What say you?” Trolling for the political equivalent of a barroom brawl, Jake Tapper and crew got some of what they asked, even if it was at some cost to their own credibility.
Candidates got dragged into a basketball bracket fight of limited duration or meaning, creating awkwardness similar to the tortured metaphors that I’m currently mixing. After almost six hours of these kinds of exchanges, I suspect the average viewer had no better understanding of any candidate’s particular policies. I know I didn’t.
What the two nights did show was who came prepared, or as Mother would say, who was loaded for bear. Since this was less seated dinner and more pot luck, we got to feast on what the candidates brought. Several of them came with more than one dish (in every sense of the word), but it was less right hook and more cream pie. Instead of bruises and broken noses, we got flying meringue.
Since these debates were built on a random basis in the first place, it seems appropriate to offer some random thoughts of my own. About Buttigieg. I think he may be “The Best Little Boy in the World” all grown up, which makes no sense at all because I read that book before he was born. About John Delaney. I had to go to Google to prove to myself that he isn’t Ernie Douglas from My Three Sons.
The best line of both nights was Bernie Sanders saying, “I do know. I wrote the damn bill.” Gee, Bernie, maybe that damn bill will join the three others–two of which renamed post offices—you’ve written in your nearly 30 years in Congress that actually got enacted.
Here’s hoping the September debate is less pot luck, or the smorgasbord at the Golden Corral, and more like an overpriced, fashionable restaurant with a limited, but more thoughtful, menu.
And place cards. Place cards would help.