Klobuchar and Biden put America first with two memorable debate moments

BALTIMORE —  One o’clock Saturday afternoon, I’m watching CNN and wondering how much money they blew on a presidential poll that makes them look so blatantly out of date.

As we head into Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary, the CNN poll says Bernie Sanders leads all opponents with 28 percent support, slightly ahead of Pete Buttigieg, but never mind that. It says Joe Biden has slipped to 11 percent, and Elizabeth Warren slipped to 11 percent and Amy Klobuchar’s stuck at 5 percent.

But never mind any of that.

Interviewing for the poll finished Friday night – just as the three-hour Democratic debate was getting started.

And so, as CNN admits, “The survey does not reflect any reaction to that debate.”

Then why bring it up at all? Why bring it up when these candidates for president spent three full hours telling America what they think of such contentious matters as health care, race relations, climate change, job creation, and the ongoing, soul-killing atmosphere revolving around President Donald Trump.

And why, if the poll is already so outdated, am I bringing it up at all?

Because there was a moment at Friday’s debate that seemed to cut through all the political nit-picking, all the economic double-talk, all the nerdy statistics that leave you feeling chloroformed, and it spoke to us in human terms, and maybe even changed some people’s thinking.

It took, by the clock, precisely 32 seconds, and it came near the very end of the debate, but it touched on an American family legacy – and, in a week of poisonous retribution from Donald Trump to Andrew Vindman, it reminded me of that family legacy, as well.

But this time it was Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota senator who offered us this, in her closing statement Friday:

“Donald Trump built his fortune, over time, on $413 million that he got from his dad. My grandpa – he was an iron ore miner, a union member, worked 1,500 feet underground, and he saved money in a coffee can in the basement to send my dad to a community college.

“That’s my family trust. And I figure, if you are given opportunity, you don’t go into the world with a sense of entitlement, you go into it with a sense of obligation – an obligation to lift people up instead of hoarding what you have for yourself.”

She had me at “grandpa.”

I’m sentimental about family histories, and I’m ferocious when it comes to people with money looking strictly to enrich themselves even further, and like millions of Americans, I know about grandparents saving money in something like a coffee can so that kids’ lives can be a little bit better than their parents’ lives.

I can’t think of another moment in Friday’s debate that touched me as deeply as Klobuchar’s family recollection.

Except when Joe Biden brought up Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the wounded Iraq war veteran who rose to become director for European Affairs for the U.S. National Security Council – until he mis-read the American promise.

Biden, who’s not doing well these days, brought up Vindman’s name Friday night. Biden finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses, and he’s spinning his wheels in New Hampshire – at least, according to that CNN poll.

But that poll didn’t capture Biden’s most memorable moment Friday, when he brought up Vindman’s name and asked all spectators to stand up and salute him. And everyone stood and cheered.

The moment came hours after Vindman was escorted from the White House and dismissed from his job by this president.

It reminded anybody who’s been paying attention about Vindman’s opening statement when he testified in the Trump impeachment hearings. He dared to tell the truth. Vindman was born in Ukraine, and he and his father and twin brother fled Russia for America.

Was he scared to testify, he was asked.

“In Russia,” he said, “my act of offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life. I am grateful for my father’s brave act of hope 40 years ago and for the privilege of being an American citizen and public servant, where I can live free of fear for mine and my family’s safety.

“Dad, my sitting here today, in the U.S. Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

That’s what he thought, because that’s the way people around the world think about America, and tell their children about America, until it becomes part of family tradition and folklore everywhere.

Until now.

So last week, Vindman lost his White House job. His brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, was also fired from his White House job.

Save your regrets for Vindman’s dad.

Save them for a vision of America where we treasured the image of grandparents collecting money in coffee cans for their kids’ future, and save them for an America where we treasured immigrants who came here, and served the country lovingly and imagined they’d be honored for telling the truth instead of getting fired for it.


Feature Photo Above: Amy Klobuchar and her husband John and daughter Abigail at her side, waves to the crowd after announcing her bid for the presidency at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Lorie Shaull.)