Those who long for civil and reasoned debate were sorely disappointed by the explosive and sometimes adolescent tirade masquerading as a debate between candidates for an Ohio State Senate seat.
The Monday night debate was between Republican candidate Josh Mandel and Democrat Morgan Harper, frontrunners in the election that may have four other names on the ticket.
It did not take long for the candidates to begin calling each other names and sparring with spectators in the audience.
One of the unbecoming exchanges involved Mandel, the debate moderator, and an audience member.
Before Mandel could answer a question from the moderator regarding a previous comment in which he referred to participants in Black Lives Matter riots as “thugs,” an audience member yelled, “You ain’t coming in the Black community. Put ’em out.”
The moderator quickly responded by saying, “Hey, hey, we’re not doing that,” meaning engage in audience-led debate.
Not able to remain quiet, Mandel engaged the audience member:
“You mean like put him out with a, with a bullet? What do you mean put him out?” Mandel asked.
This time the moderator tried to gain control of the situation by addressing Mandel: “No, no, no, Mr. Mandel. Mr. Mandel. Mr. Mandel,” but the situation continued to escalate.
“Ask him to leave,” the spectator yelled. “He don’t belong in the Black community.”
Again Mandel engaged the spectator saying, “I thought this was America where we debate freely.”
At this point, the moderator, who happened to be Black, addressed the spectator, who, Fox News reports, is also Black: “Hey sister, listen to me. Don’t do that…This is America. He can be here. Don’t do that. Don’t embarrass me.”
This opened the door for another unwelcomed response from the audience.
“I’m not embarrassing you. But to bring that White man in the Black community like that, I’m finished,” the audience member said. “Don’t you suck up to him.”
Mandell thought it best to continue engaging the audience member saying:
“Let me tell you something, ma’am. I put my life in the hands of young Black guys. I had young Black men put their life in my hands in the United States Marine Corps in two tours in Iraq, so don’t stand there and lecture me,” said Mandel tersely.
Speaking over the moderator, Mandel continued, “Those were my brothers, whether they were Black or they were White or they were Hispanic or they were Asian.”
Explosive comments followed when Mandel questioned Harper on her position regarding student loans later in the debate. Harper argued the U.S. needs to “cancel” student debt, saying it would be good for the U.S. economy.
Mandel responded by pointing out that student loan forgiveness is regressive and would benefit most, those who need it the least.
Mandel made his point by inferring his opponent was privileged and uninformed: “Why is it fair to Teresa, that [the] waitress at Waffle House, or other blue-collar workers, to have their tax dollars pay for someone like Harper, who went to Princeton and Stanford?”
Harper responded by arguing people care less about the regressive nature of student debt forgiveness than about the regressive nature of corporate tax cuts.
Later, Mandel charged that Harper was “out of touch” and not electable. Harper responded by disparaging Mandel’s election record:
“Interesting, because I do believe, third time running for the same seat, so let’s talk about track record of winning elections,” Harper said.
Harper then charged Mandel was privileged saying, “you’re just used to getting whatever you want,” pointing out that she grew up in an “abusive household” and had to “work [her] butt off to get scholarships to Princeton and Stanford.”
At which point Mandel asked Harper, “Why are you so angry?”
And the debate continued to devolve.
Without citing examples or specifics, Harper accused a candidate of being funded by “big insurance companies and big pharma,” “special interests,” and “corporate interests.”
When Harper advocated for “Medicare-for-All,” Mandel responded by saying:
“I told the story earlier about being at a town hall, the bar and restaurant down the street, where I told folks I’m going to debate Morgan Harper. She’s like AOC only smarter. After hearing that [statement], I actually think she’s like AOC only dumber,”
“Because the reality is if we had universal health care in this country, it would bring down the quality of health care for every American citizen. In fact, there are Canadians when they have heart problems have to come across to the Cleveland Clinic.”
The evening’s civics in action lesson was capped by Harper refusing to shake Mandel’s hand when the debate ended.
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