That Bernie Sanders will retain his U.S. Senate seat in next week's election is a foregone conclusion. So you could be excused for not tuning in to the formality that was the U.S. Senate debate on Vermont Public Television last Thursday night. But if you were one of the estimated 26 people who did watch, then you were witness to perhaps the strangest and most unintentionally hilarious 90 minutes in the history of Vermont politics.
When ol' Bernardo is the most even-keeled voice in the room, you know you've entered a political Twilight Zone. Nothing against the distinguished gentleman from Vermont, but subtlety and nuance has never been his strikeout pitch. Yet in comparison to the rogue's gallery of challengers he faced on this night, Bernie was a vision of stoicism. To call these folks eccentric would be an act of charity so generous that Paul Ryan would probably enact legislation against it.
What follows is a brief rundown of some of the evening's highlights, with a declaration of who really won the day. You can view the entire debate — highly recommended — right here.
LINE OF THE NIGHT: "Fuck you, Bernie." OK, he never actually said that. But he might as well have — and did catch himself just before dropping a nuclear f-bomb on at least one occasion. Regardless of the question or topic, the ever-agitated Diamondstone attacked Bernie's voting record on military spending, accused the Senator of being a puppet for Lockheed-Martin and repeatedly bemoaned Burlington's impending Sanders-led transmogrification into "Bagram 2." Bonus points for rocking shorts and a t-shirt at a debate for national office.
LINE OF THE NIGHT: Where to begin? Every time the camera panned to Ericson, we found ourselves giggling in anticipation like a stoned 15-year-old. While Ericson's assertion that the F-35s could turn Burlington into a smoldering crater because increased solar flare activity might trigger the planes' nuclear weapons was breathtaking, we're going with this gem from early in the debate regarding the danger of China's relationship with Iran: "When President Obama spoke about the big yellow bird, I don't think he was talking about [Big Bird]. I think he was talking about China. You know, Chinese people, Oriental people are referred to as yellow."
BASIC PLATFORM: No relation to former Burlington mayor and current state Senate candidate, Bob Kiss, or, sadly, the band Kiss — or even Mini-Kiss. LaFramboise's central idea is a constitutional amendment shortening and simplifying legislation to create transparency in government. The KISS part stands for "Keep It Short and Simple."
LINE OF THE NIGHT: One of the more coherent candidates on the panel, LaFramboise made a salient point in her closing argument regarding Sanders' bloated campaign cache: "What he's gonna do with $6.9 million when he's a shoo-in is beyond me."
BASIC PLATFORM: We gotta send somebody out there, right?
LINE OF THE NIGHT: In those moments when he appeared to actually be awake, the Republican Party's sacrificial elephant certainly looked the part of a GOP candidate: a stiff, graying, affluent white guy. MacGovern also seemed to be comically under-informed on issues that didn't overtly involve gobs of money, in particular, the F-35 debate, which he admitted to only having learned about recently. But we found endearing his reliance on the pseudo-catchphrase, "Get the facts and let the chips fall where they may," as an answer to pretty much every question posed.
LINE OF THE NIGHT: A mix of your kindly Old World grandfather and Colonel Klink from "Hogan's Heroes," Moss is just friggin' adorable. And paranoid. On term limits to discourage career politicians he said, "This helps the real decision makers, who are the Bohemian Club, who meet once a year in July in California. … The politics you see on the media, which the Bohemians own and manipulate, are a make-believe of two parties, which are really one party with a donkey face and an elephant face. I am running to reveal the truth of these machinations."
LINE OF THE NIGHT: Under constant attack from all sides for most of the night, Bernie was his usual curmudgeonly self. But both longtime foil, Peter Diamondstone, and moderator Mark Johnson landed blows that seemed to rattle the champ. In particular, when Johnson pressed the senator on whether he'd still support the F-35 as a weapons technology if Vermont were not in the running to land the planes, Sanders not-so-gracefully skirted the question, declining to delve into hypotheticals. It was a cop-out and fairly nonsensical, which, on this night, was par for the course.
AND THE WINNER IS!: Moderator Mark Johnson, for keeping a straight face throughout. His performance was reminiscent of Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek on those old "Celebrity Jeopardy!" skits on SNL. We have to imagine the respected WDEV radio host was calling into question the entirety of his distinguished journalism career when he had to ask Ericson to clarify her breathtakingly goofy Big Bird statement: "Were you suggesting that Mitt Romney, in the debate when he used the reference to Big Bird, that he was not talking about the Big Bird from Sesame Street?"