After a little switcheroo last week, we’re back on track again (though there may be some changes to the column coming — oooooh, intrigue.) But for now, the Democrats held what felt like their hundredth debate last week. While almost every person in the world of journalism has already given their takes on it, there’s still one opinion that hasn’t been voiced, arguably the most important opinion: mine. So, here we go.
There’s plenty to talk about from the debate. Everyone ganged up on Elizabeth Warren, which is a big indicator that she is now a solid frontrunner with a genuine chance for the nomination. Tulsi Gabbard said the phrase “regime change war” six times in one answer, an unfortunate side effect of trying to get a good sound bite out of the debate. (A concept which was, for me, vaguely reminiscent of this bit from the hit political drama The West Wing). And Joe Biden… well Joe could’ve had a better night. But there’s one thing I think hasn’t been talked about enough: Tom Steyer’s tie.
Regardless of what’s being said at the debates, whether it’s exciting, quick, Sorkinese political quips back and forth between candidates or a slow debate of intricate policies, the actual visuals tend to be pretty boring. Occasionally, we get thrown a bone with something interesting or funny, like John Hickenlooper telling Bernie Sanders to throw his hands up in a debate in July, or — for our older readers — Richard Nixon’s unfortunate sweating incident. But even when we get moments like those, they’re short, quick bits of entertainment. (Richard “you thought my election meddling was bad” Nixon slowly melting into a puddle on live television notwithstanding). But on Tuesday night, there was a glimmer of hope.
Most of the candidates stuck to the usual solid or oxford striped tie. Well, most of the male candidates. All the women stuck to the traditional pantsuit. OK, and to be fair, Andrew Yang didn't even wear a tie. But first of all, that’s become his thing, along with desperately trying to convince Americans that math is cool (See his slogan and MATH pin). Second of all, the absence of something is not inherently interesting.
What is interesting is what billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer showed up in: a vibrant red, plaid tie. It was truly a breath of fresh air. It looked like something from an English boarding school, or a Scottish kilt or another stereotypical outfit from the U.K. It really made Tom Steyer stand out. It highlighted him even more than Amy Klobuchar’s “Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires” zinger or people frantically googling “Who is Tom Steyer” when he came onstage.
Honestly, when I first considered writing about Tom Steyer’s tie, it was entirely a joke (as I am a “comedian”). But the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense. If you’ll allow me to get symbolic, Tom Steyer, much like his tie, is quite an outlier in the Democratic field. He’s a billionaire among candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who rail against the uber wealthy and advocate drastically increasing taxes on the one percent. He joined the still very large field just when it started to shrink down. And he’s not really a familiar face for everyday Americans. Sure, that’s true of multiple candidates, (I’m looking at you, various governors and senators of Rocky Mountain states) but since they’ve been in the campaign for several months, Americans have gotten a chance (to attempt) to learn their faces. But Steyer joined the race over the summer, and outside of his announcement hasn’t made much news. It was impressive that he even qualified for the debate, where his biggest moments were his tie and being the subject of the above Klobuchar line.
So that’s Tom Steyer. Much like his tie, he’s interesting and (somewhat intentionally) eye-catching, but I’m not really sure if he’s necessary, why he’s here or what he’s made of (OK, maybe the last one was just about the tie).