Defying predictions that it might be a snooze fest, last night’s debate between the five Democratic candidates for the party’s nomination turned out to be both lively and substantive. The comparison with the two Republican debates was like night and day. The topics ranged over gun control, climate change, income and wealth inequality, Glass-Steagall and breaking up the banks, immigration, criminal justice reform, and recreational marijuana. You can read the transcript here
The format where people who are name-checked by a responder get to reply resulted in Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders (and less so Martin O’Malley) getting most of the time. That seems unfair to Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb. Webb kept complaining that he was not being asked enough but when he did get the floor he tended to ramble on about issues other than the question asked.
As for my overall impressions, Chafee (whose policies I really did not know much about before) was surprisingly good on many issues. He was not the most articulate but I didn’t find much to disagree with him on, except that he thinks the Clinton email issue is a big one that reflects on Clinton’s character, subtly contrasting her with himself that he has not had a single scandal in a long political career. He was undercut by having a slightly goofy expression.
Jim Webb seemed really stiff and dour and spoke about himself and his family and his war record far too much instead of policy issues. I thought he was the big loser.
Martin O’Malley had a good night, able to say that in his state he had already enacted policies on immigrants and gun control and the environment that the others were advocating for the nation.
Clinton emerged as the most right-wing of the five, the most warlike and big-bank friendly. She deservedly got hammered on being a warmonger based on her votes to invade Iraq, her disastrous Libya policy, and her calls for a no-fly zone in Syria. She made it a point to refer several times to the fact that she would be the first woman president. Clinton was vague on many of the issues, seemingly split between wanting to take a populist tone and yet maintaining her solid establishment and oligarchic credentials.
She was pressed on the email issue and said she made a mistake and hit the congress committee for being a partisan attack on her. Sanders got huge applause when he came to her defense and said, “Let me say something that may not be great politics, but the secretary is right — and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails. Enough of the emails, let’s talk about the real issues facing the United States of America… The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens United. Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” Moderator Anderson Cooper and Chafee tried to bring up the issue again but it went nowhere.
I though Sanders was very strong, especially on the issues of inequality and Social Security and health care. The only time he got outflanked on the left was on gun control where he was attacked by Clinton and O’Malley for not being tough enough. Although he said he gets a D- rating from the NRA, O’Malley trumped him by proudly saying he gets an F.
Sanders hit hard and repeatedly on the issues of income inequality, pay equity for women, expanding Social Security and Medicare, raising the minimum wage to $15, and free public college tuition for all. O’Malley said he agrees with Sanders and added a call for reinstating Glass-Steagall (a wonky issue that people actually applauded!) and hit Clinton for not supporting that call. She ducked the question. In the senate Chafee voted for getting rid of G-S but apologetically said it was his first vote after he was appointed to the senate after his father’s death. Sander said that fraud is a Wall Street business model and calls for breaking up the big banks. Clinton comes across as wishy-washy and far too friendly to Wall Street. Sanders again calls for a political revolution to combat corporate control of the country. He said that the problem is that “Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
Free college tuition is another big Sanders applause line. Clinton’s ideas for controlling college costs are a mess. Her criticism of Sanders’s plan is that it would give Donald Trump’s children free tuition but was easily countered by Sanders saying that under his administration, Trump would be paying far more in taxes. He also made the point that college now is what high school was 50 years ago and just as we provided free high school to all then, so should we for college now.
A citizen question came from a young black man who asked “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter”. Sanders has clearly learned from his earlier clumsy response and said that black lives matter and why, and he went on to name-check Sandra Bland and call for criminal justice reform. O’Malley also said that black lives have been undervalued. Webb said he supported criminal justice reform from way back in 2006.
Another citizen question asked a general question about climate change. Sanders said that the science is clear that climate change is happening and is the most important question facing us. O’Malley seems to really care about creating a sustainable 100% clean energy policy by 2050.
Each person was asked what they thought was the biggest threat to the US. Chafee said it was the instability in the Middle East. O’Malley said it was Iran, which is rubbish. Clinton said it was nuclear material falling into the wrong hands. Sanders said it was climate change. and Webb said it was China and cyberwarfare.
O’Malley praised the role of immigrants in the US and wants health care benefits and education extended to all people.
Chafee and Clinton both voted for the odious USA Patriot Act back in 2001 if the heated aftermath of 9/11. Sanders voted against it. Chafee now wants to reform section 215 of the Act under which many of the surveillance abuses took place but Clinton waffles all over the place. Sanders said he would “absolutely” shut down the NSA spying program and went on to condemn all kinds of private spying too. On the question of whether Snowden is a hero or traitor, Chafee said that Snowden was right. Clinton says he broke the law and that his information went into the wrong hands, a baseless charge that has no evidence in support of it and is used by supporters of the NSA to discredit Snowden. She deserves to get truly hammered for that. O’Malley really disappointed me by also condemning Snowden. Sanders says that while Snowden broke the law, he did a service to the nation and that should be taken into account in the punishment. Webb said he would leave it up to the legal system.
I though O’Malley gave the best closing comments. He did not talk about himself or what he had done but made uplifting remarks and drew contrasts with the hateful demagoguery of Republicans. His words are worth repeating here because it clearly shows the difference in attitude and tone between the two parties.
I am very, very grateful to have been able to be on this stage with this distinguished group of candidates tonight. And what you heard tonight, Anderson, was a very, very – and all of you watching at home – was a very, very different debate than from the sort of debate you heard from the two presidential Republican debates.
On this stage – on this stage, you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants, you didn’t hear anyone speak ill of another American because of their religious belief.
What you heard instead on this stage tonight was an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward, to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050, to take the actions that we have always taken as Americans so that we can actually attack injustice in our country, employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more of our people in the economic, social, and political life of our country.
I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a new era of American progress. Unless you’ve become discouraged about our gridlock in Congress, talk to our young people under 30, because you’ll never find among them people that want to bash immigrants or people that want to deny rights to gay couples.
That tells me we are moving to a more connected, generous, and compassionate place, and we need to speak to the goodness within our country.
I thought it was a good evening in which important issues were discussed in a fairly substantive way. I haven’t read the reviews by the professional pundits yet.