The final question at the Democratic presidential debate was an unusual one: The candidates could either choose to ask for forgiveness from one of their rivals on stage, or offer a gift.
The only two women on stage – Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar – asked for forgiveness for getting “really worked up” and being “blunt.”
All of the male candidates opted to give a gift. Some joked about giving out their books, and others said beating President Donald Trump would be a gift.
For both women, their answers seemed to be a tacit admission that it is still a political problem for female candidates when they show anger.
The question was first posed to entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who elicited laughs from the crowd when he paused and then said he would love to gift each of his fellow candidates a copy of his book. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg then joked about also giving his book, and said beating Trump in 2020 would be a gift to the future, the country and to anyone standing on the stage.
Then it was Warren’s turn.
In a remarkable shift of tone, Warren appeared to choke up while asking for forgiveness and explaining why she was fighting to be president.
“I know that sometimes, um, I get really worked up, and sometimes I get a little hot. I don’t really mean to,” Warren said.
“What happens is when you do 100,000 selfies with people you hear enough stories about people who are really down to their last moments,” Warren said. She talked about a voter in Nevada she had just met who was having to share one insulin prescription among three people who needed it.
Klobuchar was the only other woman on stage and was the only other person to ask for forgiveness.
“I would ask for forgiveness any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt,” Klobuchar said.
She said: “We have to remember as Democrats, and if I get worked up about this, it’s because I believe it so much in my heart, that we have to bring people with us and not shut them out. That is the gift we can give America in this election.”
After a 2018 election cycle where women flipped control of the US House of Representatives and surged into office in unprecedented numbers; after several years in which the #MeToo movement has prompted women to redefine their own power – it was a moment where it felt like not much has changed when it comes to traditional gender roles.
In an interview with CNN after the debate, Klobuchar said she noticed that only the two women on stage apologized, but said: “I would not read that much into it.”
“Maybe we’re humble,” Klobuchar said. “And maybe with the guy in the White House right now, maybe we need a little humbleness, instead of the loudest voice or the biggest bank account heading up the ticket.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would like to give every candidate on stage a gift “because they want to do something like I do, making (voters’) lives better because there’s a lot of people who are hurting very, very, very badly.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders joked about giving copies of his book, and then said the gift that every candidate needs to give America is “a very, very different vision of the reality of the Trump administration.” Businessman Tom Steyer said he would like to gift everyone on stage “the gift of teamwork.”