MODERATOR: Hello, again! You may feel as though we have already done this, and that is because we have. But this time, Joe Biden is here! And so is Marianne Williamson! And someone you loved last time is back: Bernie Sanders! Bernie, will the middle class pay more under your presidency?

BERNIE SANDERS: UNDER MY PRESIDENCY WE WILL FIX WHAT IS WRONG WITH AMERICA, AND THE WRONGS ARE SURELY LEGION! WE WILL HAVE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL — GOOD, UNDENIABLE HEALTH CARE! EVERYONE WILL GAIN, AND THREE PEOPLE WILL NOT HAVE MORE MONEY THAN … ALL PEOPLE!

MODERATOR: This all sounds lovely, but I did have a specific question about the middle class paying more.

SANDERS: yesisupposetheywould BUT THEY WOULD PAY LESS IN HEALTH CARE, AND IT WOULD BE MUCH BETTER! TO ALMOST AN UNIMAGINABLE DEGREE!

[At the end podium, MARIANNE WILLIAMSON starts to imagine. This levitates her up above her lectern, where she remains, hovering majestically.]

JOE BIDEN: Uh, hi, everyone. I look forward to being the next president and continuing my uninterrupted lifetime of doing nothing that seemed to anyone to be a problem, ever. Heh, heh, no debates till you’re 30!

MODERATOR: Gov. Hickenlooper, you criticized socialism before and were booed before. Do you care to repeat that experience?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER: Colorado did for real all the things that socialism just promises to do! Such is the power of Colorado.

WILLIAMSON: [Silently, with her mind.] Compared with the power of Love, the power of Colorado is nothing.

SANDERS: SOCIALISM WILL NOT REELECT DONALD TRUMP! DONALD TRUMP IS A PHONY, A CORPORATION’S BIRTHDAY GREETING AUTOMESSAGE. HE LIED TO THE WORKERS OF AMERICA, TO WHOM I HAVE SWORN A SACRED VOW NEVER TO LIE, ALTHOUGH WE AGREED THERE WERE NO LIMITS ON WHAT I COULD PROMISE.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: If I could? Capitalism is not the same as greed!

MODERATOR: Wait, are you defending capitalism or greed?

GILLIBRAND: Neither! I just was starting to worry I might not get to say something!

MODERATOR: Senator Bennet?

MICHAEL F. BENNET: Oh my gosh, me? This is a surprise. I was fully prepared to just stand here at this lectern all night and not get to make any remarks. Uh. Didn’t Vermont reject Medicare-for-all?

MODERATOR: Andrew Yang, your plan involves giving everyone in America $1,000?

ANDREW YANG: Sorry? Yes. It does. Because, if Amazon (JEFF BEZOS, THE FOUNDER AND CEO OF AMAZON, ALSO OWNS THE WASHINGTON POST! COINCIDENCE???), then, simply, you understand.

MODERATOR: Eric Swalwell, perhaps in our lifetime, we will witness the rise of the robot. How will you, Eric Swalwell, deal with the robots should you become president?

ERIC SWALWELL: I don’t know about robots. I do know that 32 years ago, Joe Biden said it was time to pass the torch. Well, he was right 32 years ago.

BIDEN: You need to leave! I am still using the torch. I use it to read by. Don’t you try to take the torch from me, young man.

MODERATOR: Speaking of aging and the inevitability of death, who here favors Medicare-for-all?

[HARRIS and SANDERS raise hands.]

PETE BUTTIGIEG: [Pleasantly.] Everyone who lets the phrase “Medicare-for-all” escape from their lips has a responsibility to account for how we get from here to there. Ladders? Taxes? A big boat? Yes, this is a synonym for "How will we pay for it?" but I am saying it much more affably than that phrase is usually said! Tender mercies!

MODERATOR: Sen. Sanders, how will you implement this?

SANDERS: BEAUTIFULLY! FIRST OF ALL, I WILL LOWER PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICES.

MODERATOR: I guess, in a sense, that is an answer to the question “how?”

SANDERS: YOU BET THAT’S AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION “HOW,” A WORD THAT CAN MEAN “IN WHAT MANNER,” AND THE MANNER IN WHICH I WOULD IMPLEMENT THIS WOULD BE A MANNER IN WHICH PRESCRIPTION DRUG PRICES WENT DOWN VERY QUICKLY.

WILLIAMSON: [From above.] Plans, plans, plans! I’m so sick of all this talk about plans! Nothing great was ever accomplished with a plan. We need a vague but elemental slogan, like Make America Great Again. My slogan could even be Make America Great Both Again and for a First Time. The difference would be that I would mean it, on a truer level.

MODERATOR: Show of hands, whose health plan would cover undocumented people? [Everyone raises hand, BIDEN does something weird with his hand.] And why is that, Mayor?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, everyone deserves care when they are sick, and undocumented people already pay taxes indirectly! Immigration is an issue on which Americans agree, and the White House has managed to divide us on it.

MODERATOR: Mr. Vice President, did you raise your hand?

BIDEN: Yes? Yes.

MODERATOR: Why?

BIDEN: Because of, uh, what the mayor said.

MODERATOR: Back to the mayor: Please explain what South Bend is facing after a police officer there killed a black man.

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely. It’s a mess. We’re hurting. We’ve been working, but it didn’t save the life of Eric Logan. We need to move from under the shadow of systemic racism, the wall of mistrust put up one act at a time.

HARRIS: Excuse me, can I, the one black person on this stage, speak about the racism question, please?

MODERATORS: Oh, gosh, yes, we were, you know, absolutely about to definitely, 100 percent, um —

HARRIS: Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist.

[A chill wind blows across the stage. A tomato plant labeled “Joe Biden’s Plant” withers and dies. The lecterns rustle. BIDEN alone fails to notice.]

HARRIS: I believe you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But it was personal and hurtful to hear you talk about two United States senators who built their reputation on segregation. And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

BIDEN: That is a mischaracterization of my record! I will not apologize!

[The letter J falls off every Biden yard sign, spontaneously. All the Free Joe Cones being given away outside the debate (“There’s no debate! Everyone loves Joe Cone!”) curdle in the stomachs digesting them.]

HARRIS: You did not just say you considered school desegregation to be a states’ rights issue, did you?

BIDEN: Would it be wrong if I had?

[The GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE appears behind him.]

HARRIS: Yes, extremely.

BIDEN: Hey, I am in favor of every form of civil rights there is and I have a long record on this issue which I could list right now — anyway, whoops, sorry, my time’s up.

MODERATOR: No one said it was your time. You could have continued.

BIDEN: No, happy to pass that torch! So sorry this debate ended at 10:30, really wish we could have had more time.

MODERATOR: The debate is not over.

BIDEN: What was that? Oh, no, President Obama, my best friend, called, he, uh, he needs me to go. Right now.

MODERATOR: Sen. Sanders, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, what would you do?

SANDERS: I would have a litmus test for judges so that they would 100 percent defend Roe v. Wade.

MODERATOR: Once again, your answer disregards the premise of the question.

GILLIBRAND: I have a message for America’s women, and the men who love them! Happy Pride month! But seriously, compromises have been made on our backs, when the door is closed. Who do you want dealing with Mitch McConnell? I fight battles no one else wants to fight, which is why all the comments on my Facebook page are people still upset about Al Franken.

MODERATOR: Climate change, anyone?

[JAY INSLEE leaps out of a box and is returned to the box.]

BUTTIGIEG: First, in Indiana, we had a 1,000-year flood! Then we had a 500-year flood! But please, I don’t want you to get the impression from this debate that my mayoral term has been continually plagued by serious troubles!

BIDEN: We have to up the ante of the climate accord! We are 15 percent of the problem, which means that the rest of the world is 85 percent of the problem!

WILLIAMSON: You know, John F. Kennedy did not say, “I have a plan to reach the moon.” He just said, “We’re going to the moon.” Really makes you think. And thinking — but more importantly, the imagination, is what will get us where we need to go. [Locking eyes with RACHEL MADDOW and CHUCK TODD, somehow simultaneously, she unfolds a lotus containing a road map for a viable space program, but then CHUCK TODD loses concentration, and it vanishes.]

MODERATOR: Now, in one or two words only, please describe the first thing you would do as president. Your first priority, if you will. Please be concise, and do not use redundant, extra, unnecessary words, as our time is limited, constrained and precious. When I tell you to begin or commence, please do so.

SWALWELL: Ending gun violence.

BENNET: Climate change, and also the things Bernie is concerned about!

GILLIBRAND: A full slate of programs from family leave to affordable child care that will allow women to succeed in the world —

HARRIS: If I list the things, does it count as one thing, since the things are contained in one list? The middle class, DACA, guns —

SANDERS: I reject the premise that we can only solve one issue “first.” I love all my issues equally, tied, as they, integrally, are to the rigged system.

BIDEN: My first act as president would be to remember my close relationship with President Obama, and my second would be to defeat Donald Trump.

BUTTIGIEG: Climate change, or rebuilding South Bend, should it suffer yet another devastating once-in-a-lifetime disaster.

WILLIAMSON: My first phone call is to the prime minister of New Zealand, to tell her that she is wrong.

MODERATOR: How do we reverse the damage done by Trump?

BENNET: When the president of the United States says that something happened in the Strait of Hormuz and the world doesn’t know whether to believe it or not, that’s a problem! On the other hand, when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!

HICKENLOOPER: Ever played the game Pandemic? I have! It’s a cooperative game. And it taught me that to fight a pandemic, you have to have relationships with everyone! That’s what we need.

BUTTIGIEG: We need to model our values at home, not just value models, as the president does! Although models, too, have value. Everyone has value.

GILLIBRAND: I will engage Iran. To stabilize things! I said that the most terrifying way.

MODERATOR: Please, conclude!

SWALWELL: We can’t be looking to the past for leadership. Not, as Senator Harris has just demonstrated, because sometimes people from the past bring bad ideas with them, but because of my thing, the torch thing! I change diapers, but Washington is much stinkier!

BENNET: I just enjoyed being here and listening to everyone’s ideas!

HICKENLOOPER: In Colorado, we actually did all the big progressive things everyone else is talking about! I was supposed to be here to attack socialism, so let me leave you with the idea that socialism will reelect the worst president in American history! Go ahead and boo; it will cut into the next speaker’s time, not mine!

GILLIBRAND: WOMEN IN AMERICA ARE ON FIRE, AND I AM THE GIRL ON FIRE! No, this is the “Hunger Games” script.

YANG: Let’s move not left, not right, but forward, always forward, and no twirling.

HARRIS: You know the things that keep you awake at 3 a.m. with worry? I have a list of those things. Joe Biden is no longer on my list, but I am now on his.

BUTTIGIEG: Do not let my paradoxical low-key intensity distract from my inspiring personal story! I had to write a letter to my parents in case I did not make it back from war. My marriage exists because of a Supreme Court decision. I am running because the decisions we make in the next three or four years will determine the course of the next 30!

HARRIS: That is a frightening thought that will be added to my worry list.

SANDERS: I am sure the people on this stage are good people, but they lack the warrior’s heart I possess, the heart to take on WALL STREET, THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY, THE MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX and the FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY!

BIDEN: I am running to restore the soul of this country. After all, this country has always tried its best, and that is what counts. I hope.

[WILLIAMSON slowly vanishes until all that remains of her is her peaceful smile.]

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