Democrats scramble for momentum in Motown

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(CNN)Janus, the Roman god of entryways and beginnings, is depicted as two-faced, looking left and right, to the past and the future. After last week's Robert Mueller hearings, Democrats are facing a Janus moment. The choice: Focus heavily on investigating the 2016 election, with a view to impeaching President Donald Trump, or build their case for defeating him in 2020.

The next round of Democratic debates, on CNN Tuesday and Wednesday from Detroit, will offer clues about which way the 20 candidates think the party should head. CNN Opinion's Yaffa Fredrick asked them to write about an experience in their lives that relates to the policies they're proposing. We'll be rolling out their responses through Tuesday.
Julián Castro's grandmother never made it past third grade and worked as a cook, maid and babysitter, Castro wrote. But his mother knew the value of a good education. When a school official warned that half of his sixth-grade class wouldn't make it through eighth grade, mom pulled Castro and his brother Joaquin out of the school and into a magnet school two miles away. They wound up attending Stanford University and Harvard Law School. "We need a new commitment by the federal government to ensure that every student has quality educational opportunities, from pre-K through college and beyond," he wrote.
For Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is appearing in a 2020 debate for the first time, surviving $100,000 in student debt led to plans to shrink the college cost burden: "We should limit student loan interest rates and crack down on predatory debt services that charge exorbitant rates. You shouldn't be charged more for a loan to go to school than for a loan to buy a home." But he rejected the idea, advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders, to cancel all $1.6 trillion in student loan debts.
    Watching his steelworker cousin lose his job helped prompt Rep.Tim Ryan to develop a strategy for reviving American manufacturing: "It's time for Democrats to take a stand and play offense when it comes to the rights and well-being of working-class Americans."
    Entrepreneur Andrew Yang also argued for doing "much more to rebuild the parts of this country that have been adversely affected by job loss, automation and a lack of economic opportunity." What led him there? "After getting a law degree, I spent five unhappy months as a corporate attorney," he wrote. Here he saw smart young people "toil away on corporate mergers that just shifted money from one millionaire's account to another." Yang has offered a raft of ideas, including a guaranteed income: "the Freedom Dividend -- $1,000 per month for every adult" which he called, "the single best way we can invest in our people, our families and our communities, to help them through this difficult time and build a 'trickle up economy.'"
    Read more candidate op-eds:
    And look for others @CNNOpinion in the coming days.

    Joe Biden won't be so polite

    Joe Biden has signaled that he'll be taking a more aggressive stance in the debates this time as he seeks to defend his frontrunner status in the polls.
    As David Axelrod pointed out after the random draw for the CNN debates: "Biden, who has struggled on questions of race, will find himself competing on the second night of back-to-back debates on a stage that includes every candidate of color in the Democratic field. Standing to the left of Biden will be Sen. Kamala Harris of California. Her riveting, made-for-TV takedown of the former VP in Miami over his opposition to mandatory school busing in the '70s was the iconic moment of the last debate. On Biden's right will be Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who led the charge for a public apology after Biden boasted at a fundraiser of his working relationship in the 1970s with two of the Senate's most virulent segregationists."
    Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, who is backing Biden, was 8 years old when she "came home from school one afternoon to see my dad being led away in handcuffs as police officers raided our home." She said the imprisonment of her father, Grammy-nominated singer Major Lance, on cocaine sale and possession charges destroyed her family. She supports Biden's proposals to reduce the prison population an issue on which he's taken criticism: he supported tough-on-crime bills in the 1980s and 1990s.
    "As a little girl, my weekends went from ballet classes and dance recitals to weekend trips to visit my father in prison. I still vividly remember seeing swarms of black men in prison and the tears streaming down the faces of young mothers and children desperate for more time with them."
    These policy debates are important, wrote Nicole Hemmer: But that's not what the 2020 election will really be about. It "will be a verdict on the resilience of American democracy." She noted, "If after four years, the American system re-elects a president who openly scoffs at democracy, who encourages political violence and election interference, who revels in corruption and ignorance, then something is deeply wrong with either our system or ourselves."

    Man of few words

    Josh Campbell, a CNN analyst who worked at the FBI under Robert Mueller, nailed it when he predicted before the hearings that the former special counsel would frustrate the hell out of Congress.
    Afterward, Frida Ghitis asked: Why doesn't Mueller just say what he thinks?
    "The Special Counsel has presented extensive, persuasive evidence of Trump's culpability, but he won't say the words ...For a country eager to see some resolution, he stubbornly refuses to offer with clarity his own professional judgment. The question is: Why?"
    Drew Westen was harsher: "Instead of answering any of the questions we Americans had hired him to answer, Mueller pleaded 'no contest.' This was not a 'neutral' political move. It provided Republicans good reason to argue that the investigation was a two-year, multimillion-dollar waste of time."
    And they did. Alice Stewart wrote, "Despite Democrats' best attempts to pull Mueller outside the parameters of his report, he did not take the bait. With that, it's time for Democratic leaders to stop obsessing over this closed case and to put the American people first."
    "Justice Department policy prohibiting indictment of a sitting president saved the day for Trump," wrote Paul Callan. "Yet the case for impeachment is weak, as Trump's defense will be that his obstructive acts were those of an innocent man (no collusion proven by Mueller) angry at having a special counsel relentlessly investigating him and 'obstructing' his ability to serve as chief executive."

    Now what?

    The cryptic Mueller was "clearly not comfortable being cast as an extra in somebody else's drama," wrote Errol Louis. "It's ironic that the man who drove and directed the investigation has been reduced to a taciturn, slightly baffled secondary character at a hearing about his own work."
    But Elie Honig argued that Mueller "said several important things out loud." He confirmed that he didn't exonerate Trump and he didn't find "no obstruction' "as Trump has endlessly -- falsely -- claimed to the American public...No, Trump did not fully cooperate with the investigation. Yes, a president can be indicted for obstruction after leaving office. Now comes the moment of truth. Will House Democrats cower at the dated, preconceived, speculative notion that impeachment -- or even an impeachment inquiry -- might hurt them politically by a few polling points?"
    More op-eds on politics:

    Enter Boris

    They both wear their ties and their hair long, but the UK's new Prime Minister Boris Johnson is no Donald Trump. An astute observer of UK politics, Luke McGee, wrote, "While Johnson has talked about controlling immigration, he is pro-immigration, just as one might expect from the former mayor of liberal, cosmopolitan London. And the idea he would say that British citizens who happen to be an ethnic minority should 'go back' if they don't like one of his policies is unthinkable." Johnson's mission now is to unite his country in the face of the Brexit challenge, rather than to follow the Trump playbook of cultivating his base in a divisive way, McGee wrote.
    From the American side, Doug Heye agreed the comparisons between Trump and Johnson are "overblown," but "the two, undeniably...are politicians who are communicators first and foremost, unafraid to speak their minds." And their good working relationship may be crucial to a post-Brexit Britain, Heye argued. Incidentally, the new Prime Minister, who was born in New York as Alexander