As usual, the Democratic debate was far more substantive and featured a lot less childish back-and-forth than the Republican one. (You can read the transcript here.) They quickly got past the whole data breach snafu that had exploded just the previous day, with Bernie Sanders giving his explanation for what happened and apologizing for what his campaign had done.
The debate spent large amount of time on the question of what to do about ISIS and the Middle East, what should be the role of the US when it comes to leaders there whom it does not like (like Syria’s Assad), and how to prevent ‘lone wolf’ attacks by ISIS sympathizers in the US.
While the first two issues are worthy of debate, I can tell you that I am pretty sick of the third. None of the candidates in either party seem to be able to speak the truth on this and that is that once you have created a society that has over 300 million guns in the hands of individuals who can get hold of them with little or no trouble, with tens of millions of those guns being high-powered assault weapons, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can do to prevent one individual (or two or three) from going on a rampage and killing multiple people. That is going to happen with some regularity. The motives will differ. Some will due to anti-abortion fanaticism, some due to anger with society in general because their personal lives are a mess or they’ve lost their jobs and homes and family, some due to political ideology, and some simply because they have become deranged. There are a whole host of other possible reasons that we cannot predict will trigger such actions. The only predictable thing is that such incidents will happen over and over again. We should come to terms with it like we do with auto accidents, which kill a lot more people.
The numbers killed by ISIS sympathizers is small compared to the entire death toll. But people have become convinced that being killed by an ISIS sympathizer is a whole lot worse than being killed for any other reason, though once you are dead, you are equally dead whatever the motives of the killer. Instead this whole issue has become an excuse to increase the government’s surveillance and other powers over the population.
Some of the candidates and reporters and members of the public say things like “The main duty of the president is to keep people safe” so often that it has become a truism. But it is not true. The president takes an oath to protect and uphold the constitution, not to keep us safe. That oath is something that is within his or her power and can and should be done. But when the shift is made to keep people safe as being the main duty of the president, then this tacitly enables them to shred the constitution purportedly in pursuit of that unattainable goal. This is why I reject that statement entirely.
You cannot stop ‘lone wolf gunmen’ while allowing powerful guns to proliferate like wildflowers and we just have to get used to that fact and stop pretending otherwise.
While denying that she was calling for the government to be given a backdoor key to break encryption, Hillary Clinton went full Carly Fiorina in calling for the government and tech companies to collude in spying on people, saying:
I would hope that, given the extraordinary capacities that the tech community has and the legitimate needs and questions from law enforcement, that there could be a Manhattan-like project, something that would bring the government and the tech communities together to see they’re not adversaries, they’ve got to be partners.
I just think there’s got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out. Otherwise, law enforcement is blind — blind before, blind during, and, unfortunately, in many instances, blind after.
So we always have to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety, but I know that law enforcement needs the tools to keep us safe.
Once again, we see her using the ‘giving law enforcement the tools to keep us safe’ formulation as an excuse to violate our civil liberties. Martin O’Malley strongly rejected that premise and said that we should never give up our privacy and that the government should get warrants for any searches, as the constitution requires.
On the other issues, Clinton, like Chris Christie, wants to create a no-fly zone in Syria but when questioned, blandly asserts that it would not lead to a situation where the US is faced with shooting down a Syrian or Russian planes, risking a major escalation in the war. Bernie Sanders rightly says that she is too aggressive and that toppling dictators (something that Clinton is inordinately fond of doing) is easy but leads to unintended consequences. Clinton says that we must fight ISIS and topple Assad at the same time and indulges in some Iran bashing. She also wants to send in special forces to that region.
Sanders says that we should focus on fighting ISIS first. He rightly says that it is not Assad that is attacking the US. O’Malley says that it is not the role of the US to say that Assad must go, saying
Where did it ever say in the Constitution, where is it written that it’s the job of the United States of America or its secretary of State to determine when dictators have to go?
We have a role to play in this world. But it is not the world — the role of traveling the world looking for new monsters to destroy.
Clinton clearly sees the role of the US as some kind of global dictator that gets to decide which leaders of nations can stay in power and which must go. She refuses to acknowledge that her support of regime change in Libya was a mistake, though the growth of ISIS can be directly linked to the chaos that was created in that country by the toppling of Gaddafi.
Sanders was as usual strongest on the issues of the economy and the need to break the stranglehold of the financial sector on the economy, especially the big banks and the large multinationals. He said flatly that he does not expect them to support his campaign and that they will not like him and he does not care. He said, “the greed of the billionaire class, the greed of Wall Street is destroying this economy and is destroying the lives of millions of Americans.” O’Malley also hit Clinton for shielding the big banks for the role in the financial crash, pointing out that “in the last debate, very shamefully, she tried to hide her cozy relationship with Wall Street big banks by invoking the attacks of 9/11.”
Clinton, on the other hand, says that she does want their support and does not call for the breakup of the big banks. She avoids taking a stand and makes banal statements like that she wants to be “president for the struggling, the striving and the successful”. In addition to being solicitous of the big banks, she also avoided committing to a single-payer system, no doubt to avoid alienating the big health insurance conglomerates.
So the debate cemented the positions of the three candidates, with Clinton reinforcing her image as a warmongering friend of the financial and multinational interests, Sanders as the progressive on the side of the 99%, and O’Malley somewhere in the middle but much closer to Sanders than to Clinton.