Are the Democrats being too polite to each other?

That’s the complaint lodged in this morning’s NY Times by columnist Frank Bruni. He wants Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet and Steve Bullock — lower-tier candidates “who have won statewide elections in red, purple or purple-ish places” — to go after the front-runners. Elizabeth Warren, for example should be asked to explain “how she can be sure” her wealth tax “will raise as much money and pay for as much as she says it will” and why she once seemed to be a supporter of for-profit charter schools.

“If she can’t answer the question well, let’s find out now, before it’s too late,” Bruni reasons.

His argument rests on at least three bogus assumptions. The three I have in mind are that (1) substantive argument will form a significant part of the Republican general-election campaign, (2) the Dems don’t already face enough pesky questions from their media inquisitors, and (3) the eventual standard-bearer will be better equipped to handle criticism if she gets more practice in the here and now.

The Democratic debates have not been hugely edifying exercises, thanks to the absurd number of candidates vying for airtime and the party’s readiness to have the format dictated by self-important TV celebrities and their ratings-crazed employers. But the comparative politeness of the debates up to now has been a plus. It suggsts that the candidates agree about many things, above all about the transcendent evil of the President and the Party they are up against.


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