Reflections on the Democratic debate


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.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    … 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.

    Glass-Steagal was removed during Bill Clinton’s administration (under pressure from a Republican-dominated Congress). Which brings up the odd and uncomfortable question of whether a candidate should be held accountable for the record of their spouse.

  2. says

    “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.”

    And, yet, establishment media is declaring her the winner, largely because she was “confident.” (CNN’s wording.) I said to one of my coworkers that Donald Trump is confident, too. So what good is confidence? Sadly, many people will likely be fooled by this. Then again, she may have shot herself in the foot a bit on issues like marijuana and Snowden where younger voters may have picked up on her hesitance whereas the establishment media would not.

    “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.”

    I noted that Clinton handled the hammering fairly well in noting that Obama trusted her judgement enough to nominate her for Secretary of State. That could have been turned into a remark on Obama’s own judgement, but, given the response of the crowd, would likely not have been a popular move. Thanks, Obama! *sigh*

  3. says

    Reginald Selkirk (#1) –

    Glass-Steagal was removed during Bill Clinton’s administration (under pressure from a Republican-dominated Congress). Which brings up the odd and uncomfortable question of whether a candidate should be held accountable for the record of their spouse.

    Given that she wanted to be a part of the cabinet and effectively was in determining policy (unlike all other first wives who only did public appearances and feel good stuff), her feet absolutely should be held to the fire for that one. She wasn’t an observer to Bill Clinton’s presidency, she was a participant.

  4. lorn says

    A bit of background the American people need to understand for future reference:

    No-fly zones are not simply imaginary lines bloodlessly positioned on a map. A no-fly zone is an area of air dominance verging on hegemony. You create a no-fly zone by sanitizing the area, and ideally a considerable distance outside the area, of anything that might interfere with total dominance from the air. All major fixed anti-aircraft systems have to be forced out or destroyed and mobile systems which might quickly enter the area have to be destroyed or forced to move far enough away to no longer be a threat. Any anti-aircraft system with the range to reach the no-fly zone has to be neutralized in some way. Forced to move farther away, destroyed, or disabled through electronic means are all options.

    Establishing a no-fly zone means establishing a space free of any credible means to stop or interfere with coalition overflights or other air actions. If any party refuses to remove their anti-air assets, missiles and guns, but also radars and other aircraft, they have to be destroyed.

    Establishing a no-fly zone takes weeks of surveillance, coordinated sweeps, and, not uncommonly, weeks of bombing and air strikes. In Iraq we spent weeks hunting down and destroying radar and missile systems. Once established the area, ground and air, has to be monitored 24/7 and patrolled by aircraft credibly capable of enforcing the zone with deadly force. It also means dealing with, possibly shooting down, any intruders sent to test how tight your net is, and your resolve to maintain control of the space.

    No-fly zones are serious business and establishing one in anything but a very permissive environment brings you very close to open warfare. With cooperative opponents it is just this side of an act of war. Against an uncooperative opponent it is an act of war.Typically things get blown up and people die establishing and maintaining no-fly zones.

    It pisses me off to hear candidates casually talk about no-fly zones as if it was just a line you draw on a map with a sixty-eight cent highlighter and no big deal.

  5. doublereed says

    I actually found it really odd that Hillary pushing the idea of her being the first woman president. It’s just bizarre.

    Also, wouldn’t Bernie Sanders be the first Jewish president?

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t O’Malley be the first Irish president?

  6. moarscienceplz says

    (unlike all other first wives who only did public appearances and feel good stuff)

    Oh really? I take it you’ve never heard of Eleanor Roosevelt.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    Come to think of it, wouldn’t O’Malley be the first Irish president?

    Ummm, does JFK ring a bell?

  8. Chiroptera says

    doublereed, #5: I actually found it really odd that Hillary pushing the idea of her being the first woman president. It’s just bizarre.

    Not really; a lot of women — meaning one column I read by Katha Pollitt — are making the same point.

    The issue isn’t just her gender, but that she’s a woman candidate who is taking seriously the issues that are important to women.

  9. brucegee1962 says

    In American politics, it seems as if we’ve developed a tradition of a practice run, or series of runs, for president. You go through the motions through an election cycle where you have no chance of winning, staying as long as possible to make sure everyone sees you and hears you. You also make lots of contacts in the states where a candidate needs them, and you practice running a national campaign. Then in a later election, after the people who were in line ahead of you have either won or been knocked out, you suddenly become a frontrunner. McCain did that, Edwards did that, Romney did that, and on back.

    It seemed to me that this was O’Malley’s intent last night. He’s young — in 2020 or 2024, he will be a very strong candidate.

  10. Chiroptera says

    PS, I just realized that the “not really” in my last comment may sound curt and dismissive; if so, that was not my intent. I meant my response to be a respectful answer to a legitimate point, and I apologize if my comment was offensive in any way.

  11. lanir says

    #1 & #3: Which brings up the odd and uncomfortable question of whether a candidate should be held accountable for the record of their spouse.
    Given that she wanted to be a part of the cabinet and effectively was in determining policy (unlike all other first wives who only did public appearances and feel good stuff), her feet absolutely should be held to the fire for that one. She wasn’t an observer to Bill Clinton’s presidency, she was a participant.

    No. That’s not uncomfortably like women having rights through their husbands, that IS women having rights through their husbands all over again. She’s accountable for her opinions. Her spouse is separately accountable for his actual actions while in office. That’s all.

  12. doublereed says

    @Chiroptera

    I understand why other people are talking about her as a the first woman president. But she shouldn’t be doing it. That’s bizarre. That’s makes it sound like “you should vote for me because it will be historic!”

    Like the phrasing I would expect from her is “I don’t want people to vote for me because I’m a woman. I want people to vote for me because of my policies and experience.” Bringing up the historicity herself is like the exact opposite of that statement.

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