Last night's presidential debate disclosed a Democratic Party with no real consensus on a series of major issues.
A 70% top income tax rate? New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came out in favor of it, but Beto O'Rourke would not.
Outlaw private health insurance and force those who now have it onto government-run plans like Medicare or Medicaid? Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor de Blasio were for it, while John Delaney, a former congressman from Maryland, warned that it would put hospitals out of business and punish union workers who had negotiated for health plans they like.
A congressman from Ohio, Tim Ryan, complained that the Democrats are too "coastal and elitist and Ivy League," and "are not connecting to the working people." Senator Warren is a Harvard Law School professor who lives in Cambridge, Mass.
A congressman from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, insisted, "we have to bring our troops home" from Afghanistan. Congressman Ryan pressed for continued American engagement. "When we weren't in there, they started flying planes into our buildings," he said.
A question about the greatest national security threat facing America drew a variety of answers. Some said China, some said climate change. Mayor de Blasio said Russia, while Senator Klobuchar mentioned Iran.
De Blasio was probably the most open about scapegoating businesses and economically successful Americans, telling struggling workers at one point, "the immigrants didn't do that to you. The big corporations did that to you. The 1% did that to you."
Senator Warren used similar language, denouncing "giant oil companies" and "giant pharmaceutical companies," calling for "structural change," and at one point accusing insurance companies of having "sucked $23 billion in profits, not counting executive pay" from the health care system.
One thing they did seem to agree on is the need for "green jobs" — electric cars, solar panels.
Identity politics surfaced from time to time — Senator Cory Booker at one point said America needed to take better care of "African American trans Americans."
It's worth mentioning not only the answers, but the questions. I had written a column earlier in the week with suggested questions from the moderator and was pleased to see the NBC News team ask some of them, or close variations. Savannah Guthrie started early by pressing O'Rourke on whether he'd support a 70% top marginal income tax rate. The candidates were also asked about whether they'd get back in the Iran nuclear deal and about the greatest national security threat. Perhaps NBC arrived at its questions independently and this is a case of minds thinking alike. The greatest threat question is certainly a staple of these sorts of events. But I found the confluence of my suggestions and what was actually asked to be one of the night's pleasant surprises.
The other pleasant surprises were John Delaney and Tim Ryan. Delaney, in pushing back against "Medicare for all," and Ryan, in pushing back against the idea of American withdrawal from Afghanistan, both were signs that the Democrats are perhaps not as hopelessly far gone to the left as some write them off. Now, neither one of them is exactly the front-runner or appears to be getting much traction in the Democratic primary electorate, at least so far. But it was somewhat reassuring, nonetheless, for a listener who prefers a more centrist Democratic party, to hear the views Delaney and Ryan expressed on the debate stage.
Overall though, to hear the candidates seriously debating a 70% income tax rate and banning private health insurance did leave an impression of a party that wants to move policy probably farther left in the direction of socialism than most Americans want to go. And this was the debate without Bernie Sanders.