Democratic debate review


The fourth Democratic party debate was spirited. While the positions of the candidates were already known to me, it would have been informative to the more casual voter. It was refreshing to hear people who are science and reality-based. There was no immigrant-bashing, refugee-bashing, or Muslim-bashing, and little chest-beating and jingoism about how America is the greatest country so suck on that, world! Yeah! (You can read the transcript here.)

Although the positions of each of the three candidates should be pretty clear by now to those who have been following the campaign, I thought that this debate brought into sharper focus their worldviews.

Bernie Sanders took aim at the systemic failures of the current system, with biting critiques of the role of Wall Street and other big money interests that he said had pretty much bought Congress and was corrupting the political process and preventing the government from working for ordinary people. He is not a socialist in that he is not calling for the nationalization of the major sectors of the economy. The farthest he goes is in calling for the elimination of the private health insurance industry and the break up (but not takeover) of the big banks. But he is running a strongly class-based campaign and uses the word political revolution freely, which must scare the pants off the oligarchy.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is comfortable within the existing system and wants to take incremental steps to improve things. Hers is the kind of insider, technocratic politics that the Democratic party has long been playing, trying to give some crumbs to the poor, working, and middle-class while retaining the favor of the oligarchy or at least major sectors of it. This is why the party has been heavily tilting the process in her favor, limiting the number of debates and scheduling them at low viewership times, like this one which was on a Sunday in the middle of a long weekend. She is exactly the kind of politician that the oligarchy can easily control because she wants to please them. You see it in the way she says that Sanders’s’ policies will threaten what has already been achieved. She points to some hedge-fund billionaires who are running ads against her as evidence that she is not the pawn of the wealthy but that hardly counts as evidence that she is an enemy of that class.

Martin O’Malley can’t seem to find a niche to distinguish himself, which is a pity because made some good points on all the issues and there was nothing that I really disagreed with him on. His problem is that he likes to invoke metaphors and anecdotes but does not do it well and loses the thread. I think that his time has not yet come and in four or eight years he could be a strong candidate.

Sanders stressed the need for universal health care for all as a fundamental right which he would achieve via a Medicare for all program that would eliminate the private health insurance industry and countered the power of the pharmaceutical industry. He said that public universities and community colleges should be tuition-free so that students are not crippled by debt. He stressed the need for a political revolution that would destroy the power of the wealthy and break up the big banks and prosecute the executives for their actions. He pointed out that he does not have a Super PAC or megadonors nor does he get speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. Clinton got $600,000 just last year and he promised that his administration would not have a Treasury Secretary from Goldman Sachs the way that prior Republican and Democratic administrations have had. He pointed out that just recently Goldman Sachs paid a $5 billion fine and yet not only are no executives prosecuted but the billionaire head had the nerve to come to Congress and call for cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.. He said that Congress is owned by big money. He and O’Malley called for the re-introduction of a modernized Glass-Steagall law to curb the activities of the banks but Clinton, of course, did not sign on.

Clinton tried to balance the need for progressive politics demanded by the Democratic base with her desire to not alienate the big money interests and so she took the more technocratic tack as well as bringing up false charges around details such as that the Sanders health care plan risks destroying Obamacare. She and the moderators seemed to be willfully obtuse about the simple point that health care costs consists of premiums paid to the health insurance companies plus the costs and contributions of individuals. Under the Sanders plan health care premiums would go down by a lot while individuals would pay a small tax that still leaves them with a net gain. Clinton and the moderators focused only on the tax and ignored the premium reductions. Clinton tried to wrap Obama around her and say that Sanders undermined him and Obamacare

Sanders’s weakest moment again was on the issue of gun control where Clinton tried to imply that he was a friend of the NRA. It is true that Sanders has not been as supportive of gun control measures as Clinton and been wooly on the issue but he is hardly a friend of the NRA.

Sanders said that the first priority is to get rid of ISIS and that we have to work with Iran and Russia to do that and only then, after that is achieved, negotiate Assad out of office. To get rid of Assad now would make the situation worse. He pointed out that he had opposed the war in Iraq that began the slide into chaos. Clinton of course is a warmonger, who supported that war and bombing campaign and destabilization of Libya all of which has led to the chaos. All three of them rejected calls to send in more US troops to the region.

All of them agreed that the criminal justice system was unfair to minorities, that the high incarceration rate of minorities was a scandal, and that police abuse had to be addressed. Sanders said that any death at the hands of police should automatically be investigated by the US attorney for that region since the local prosecutors could not be trusted to be impartial.

On the issue of encryption and privacy and whether the government should be given backdoor access to our communications, O’Malley said that our privacy must be protected and the government must get a warrant before being able to access out information. Sanders agreed and said that our privacy must also be protected from private corporations and pointed out that he had opposed the USA Patriot Act too. Clinton said that the government could strike a deal with Silicon Valley companies, implying that she favored collusion between them and the government to give the government access to our information. She had voted in favor of the Patriot Act.

In general, although it was a good debate, I think the moderators did not ask O’Malley enough questions nor give him enough time, and there were far too many commercial breaks

Comments

  1. says

    uses the word political revolution freely, which must scare the pants off the oligarchy.

    Nah. They’d just deadlock congress for 8 years and he’d come to stand for “socialism = accomplishes nothing” and the oligarchy would just roll.

  2. says

    Clinton said that the government could strike a deal with Silicon Valley companies, implying that she favored collusion between them and the government to give the government access to our information.

    You mean the Clinton that kept her email in a private server in order to bypass government records-keeping requirements that were put in place after Iran/Contra? That Clinton? Backdoors for thee but never for me.

    (I don’t think the server issue is a particularly big deal; it’s just another example of how Clinton favors the kind of system where oligarchs do whatever they want and everyone else can just shut the fuck up and take what’s coming to them)

  3. Vincent says

    I think the metaphorical ship has sailed on the privacy issue and so called “backdoor access.” I have a close friend doing IT work for the navy and even when silicon valley doesn’t cooperate, I’m told they essentially impose their will on various companies (facebook, google, etc.) Part of his training (on day 1 out of boot camp) involved gaining backdoor access to any device he wants in a 2 mile radius (a weakened version of their full capabilities). I’m told I’m allowed to talk freely about this as it isn’t even classified. I was extremely alarmed. It’s my impression that the entire security apparatus now operates independently of any policy or democrat we manage to elect. And any illusion that Future President Clinton will do more of this stuff than Future President Sanders is well, an illusion.

    That said, I still believe Sanders is a far better choice for many reasons, as you have outlined many times, Mano. I’m just skeptical about his ability to effect real change should we be lucky enough to have him win. But carry on. I will continue feeling the Bern.

  4. lorn says

    I hate to break the bad news to everyone but there will be no revolution. Not if Bernie becomes president. Not if Hillary becomes president. The reason is that anything short of a historically massive run of the ticket in favor of the Democratic party there will still be enough of a GOP majority in either the House or Senate to block any major changes.

    This is going to be two years of trench warfare followed by the GOP winning back seats followed by two to six years of trench warfare. All to the night music, at six and eleven, of investigations and impeachment hearings.

    The only real difference is that stonewalling Hillary leaves open the story line that we still haven’t tried a real liberal. Four or eight years of Bernie with nothing getting done, no president can get much done without congress, will have thoroughly discredited liberalism. A whole lot of voters will look at this as having given liberals a shot and gotten nothing. Things will swing in the opposite direction and look toward a strongest and most charismatic authoritarian figure willing to tell them it isn’t their fault and offer them a return to power and unity. Which has been the point behind GOP obstructionism and their working hard to make sure government doesn’t work.

  5. Knight in Sour Armor says

    Hillary should really be running for the Republican nomination… her ilk is what the Republican party was SUPPOSED to be.

  6. doublereed says

    @4 lorn

    Political revolutions start somewhere, you know. You assume a lot of things. You assume, for instance, that Sanders would not encourage congress or the states to overturn citizen’s united and the like. The fact that Sanders is pushing so hard publicly about campaign finance when the media never wants to cover it. You assume that Sanders on the ticket would not trigger a massive run in favor of the democratic party. Getting people involved in our political system is massively important in of itself. You also assume that voting for Sanders is the end, rather than the beginning.

    The president has a massive amount of power for enforcement of the law. Of course he can accomplish things without Congress. Specificially when it comes to the DOJ, he has a lot of discretion when it comes to prosecuting banks and the like.

  7. StevoR says

    It was refreshing to hear people who are science and reality-based. There was no immigrant-bashing, refugee-bashing, or Muslim-bashing, and little chest-beating and jingoism about how America is the greatest country so suck on that, world! Yeah! (You can read the transcript here.)

    Thanks for that,Mano Singham, and agreed.

    . Clinton of course is a warmonger,

    I think that’s unfair to Hillary Clinton and not true. Not being as anti-war as some people are and voting for the second Saddam war based on what seemed like very good reasons at the time and like most politicians in that situation – and then later regretting it – doen’t make Hillary Clinton a warmonger. I think that language goes too far and isn’t fair or correct.

    I wish the USA would reform its political system in a number of ways – I’m tempted to say that scrapping Congress completely and then starting over would be a really good start. I’d certainly argue for reform when it comes to gerrymandering, political donations esp. the ones where Corporations buy congresscritters and SuperPACs are allowed and also I’d love to see you change to preferential voting so that for instance you could vote 1) Nader 2) Gore 3) Bush and have second preferences count so that say Gore rather than Bush got elected.

    I largely agree with what Lorn wrote in comment #4 although I hope we’re mistaken. It seems to me that Repubs winning back more seats is far from inevitable and the Repub party is in a really bad state and may even be torn apart and reduced to a useless rump by Teaparty vs establishment divisions. It could be that metaphorically politically the darkest hours in US politics are before the dawn.

    I’m not sure how much sway these debates ever really have and suspect perhaps not all that much outside of helping parties choose their nominees. But I certainly think the Democratic party debates compare vastly favourably in quality and substance to the Repub ones.

  8. lorn says

    Fairly decent, and recently updated, examinations. I don’t agree with every point but it is well thought out:

    http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2016-house/

    http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2016-senate/

    The numbers just don’t support a huge Democratic sweep. There is some chance of the Democrats taking the house by a slim margin but for them to take the House would require a thirty seat gain. Odds of that happening is about the same as Gumby riding a unicorn coming to my door and giving me a billion dollar winning lottery ticket.

    But that is just the beginning of what would have to happen. Democrats having the majority in both the House and Senate, and the presidency, that race isn’t settled yet, still doesn’t get you all you need. You need more than just a majority to keep the Republican minority from blocking things.

    But, let us, for the sake of argument, say we get a strong enough majority to go wild. Even then, it is only for two years. Historically, the midterms go the other way. Even a string of highly unlikely and extraordinarily favorable events just buys you two years.

    The bottom line is that the GOP, bless their evil conniving hearts, have been quite busy, since the days of NIxon, building their political machine and prospects. They spent millions setting up think-tanks like the AEI and Cato, they bought newspapers like the Washington Post, they set up their own propaganda TV network (FOX – fair and balanced), they own publishers, and radio stations. A lot of what media they don’t own they have control over. And they ran candidates, starting at the bottom with school boards and library districts. They dominate as mayors and governors. Was anyone surprised when Katherine Harris, a GOP placement in Florida decided in favor of Bush instead of Gore? Everything is easier when you write the rules, design the field, and hire the referees.

    You are not going to undo the dedicated work of millions of Republicans for fifty years in any short amount of time. It is going to have to be a concerted effort over decades to do that. Democrats, and progressives, have to stop thinking short term and top down and start thinking long term and bottom-up.

    The Democrats have never, as Will Rogers pointed out, been an organized party. We are nice people who don’t want to impose our will on anyone, even if it is just as a school board member. So we pin our hopes on winning the presidency every four years.

    Obama had both houses for two years and he heroically saved the country and managed to get the ACA, as ugly as it is, through. No, he didn’t prosecute Wall Street. In large part because it is damned hard to put out the fire and chase the arsonists at the same time. Like it or not, the bailout was only possible with the cooperation of the same people who broke the system. Same with the ACA. It was a close run deal. He had to buy off the insurance companies to get them to go along. Democracy is ugly. As much as we want the evil ones to be prosecuted the simple fact is that mostly they get away with their crimes. They have the money and we live in a system where you can get all the justice you can buy. It isn’t right, or good, but it is real.

    I agree that every revolution has to start somewhere but, if you want change to last, you can’t do it top-down. Hillary or Bernie will, either one, be just be a holding action if they can’t get serious majorities in both houses. They can hold the line, possibly make a little progress, but their main job is giving the Democrats a few more years to work on state legislatures and governors.

  9. Nick Gotts says

    voting for the second Saddam war based on what seemed like very good reasons – StevoR@7

    Only to warmongers and numbskulls. Millions of us could see quite easily that the drive for war was based on lies, and did our best to stop it. Either Clinton didn’t realise this, meaning she’s a numbskull – which is implausible – or she did, and is herself both a liar and a warmonger. Still infinitely to be preferred to any of the Republican candidates, of course.

    Lorn@4, 8,
    From what you say @4, it looks like you would prefer Clinton to Sanders, because of predictions you’re making about what will happen in 4 or 8 years’ time. But any and all predictions made about politics on that kind of timeframe are little better than literal crystalgazing; they will, almost certainly, be rendered irrelevant by “unknown unknowns” – events no-one expects. It make much more sense to ask: “Who, if elected, will at least try to fight the power of the oligarchy?”

    You need more than just a majority to keep the Republican minority from blocking things. – lorn@8

    And the most vital of them is the determination to try – which Obama clearly lacked, and Clinton, with her membership of “The Fellowship”, almost certainly lacks too.

  10. doublereed says

    @8 lorn

    Perhaps I should go further.

    If Sanders is president, if we have an actual progressive as a president, that would do wonders for the Democratic party as a whole. Obama campaigned on Change, and many people hoped he would be the face of more progressive ideas. But the reality is that he was never going to deliver it. What has Obama done in terms of Campaign Finance? Remember when Obama talked about how he was going to change the way the system was played, rather than just play it a little bit better? Yea, apparently that was all BS.

    The Democrats have never, as Will Rogers pointed out, been an organized party. We are nice people who don’t want to impose our will on anyone, even if it is just as a school board member. So we pin our hopes on winning the presidency every four years.

    This is such obvious nonsense. It’s both too nice to the Democrats and too mean. Are you talking about when the Democrats courted the Dixiecrats and such? When the Democrats had FDR? When the Democrats had Carter?

    Political parties change. We’ve seen them change with the Republicans. Do you think Sanders would change the Democratic party? Because I think he would. I don’t think Hillary Clinton would.

  11. lorn says

    “If Sanders is president, if we have an actual progressive as a president, that would do wonders for the Democratic party as a whole.”

    And what happens when you watch no legislation or budget pass that doesn’t critically undermine Progressivism, for four years, even as the nation crumbles. Four years of unified obstructionism from a minority rump in the House and Senate, four years of helplessness, four years of dashed hopes and lost opportunities. Four years of impeachment hearings and investigations. Four years of a steady media drumbeat of manufactured scandal. Four years with the Bernie Sanders at the helm and the reputation of Progressivism on the line.

    Remember that a failed revolution sets back progress for many years. You only get one shot to prove that Progressives can make things happen. Time your best shot well.

    IMO, the next four to eight years is not going to be a time for heroes or accomplishments. A democratic president is going to have to hold back the GOP counter attack while being able to accomplish essentially nothing. Obama got the bailout and ACA through with the tacit acceptance of the last of the moderate Republicans. There are no moderates left in the GOP.

    Which brings up the question of why “Obama campaigned on Change, and many people hoped he would be the face of more progressive ideas. But the reality is that he was never going to deliver it. What has Obama done in terms of Campaign Finance? ”

    Simple, the legislative mechanism is set up to handle a very limited number of evolutions at any one time. Obama spent the first two years, when he had both houses, on the ACA and saving the economy. By the time they were hammer through it was midterms and Democrats no longer had the House. As Obama said “We got beat”. Not only did he lose the House it was won by Teaparty Republicans who ran on “no compromise” promises. The time for legislative accomplishments was gone. It didn’t matter that Obama had wanted to change the champaign finance system. It wasn’t going to happen.

    Bernie will be in the same situation from day one. As good as he is he can’t pass laws without some Republican cooperation. If you can’t pass laws you can’t reform the champaign finance system, rejigger the tax code to favor working people, institute a single payer system for health care. All his hopes, dreams, and promises are going to be dead in the water. That isn’t pessimism or crystal ball gazing, it is math.

    In the old days the president could persuade resistant congresspersons with earmarks. Let them build a few highways. Perhaps set up a new military base in their district. Perhaps a few million for a badly needed sewer project that will provide jobs and make life in the district better. Earmarks are gone.

    Like most wounded and cornered animals the GOP will get more unified, difficult, vicious and hateful. It is going to be the Clinton years, where every accusation and slur had to be comprehensively investigated (For balance), on steroids with an extra heaping helping of resentment and hate.

    If you didn’t notice, during the Benghazi hearings the questions was asked where was Hillary during the attack. Followed by the question ‘were you alone’. Clinton chuckled and confirmed she was alone. What people not into following the right-wing attack machine missed was that this answered a claim that she was engaged in a lesbian love affair as the Benghazi diplomatic building was being attacked. The knives are out for Bernie. The investigation have already begun. The writers are filling notebooks with accusations, story lines, slanders of every imaginable description.

    Sending Bernie into the presidency is setting him up to fail. If Hillary fails, succeeding in holding the line but not accomplishing anything substantial legislatively, you can say she wasn’t a real progressive and she didn’t get a fair shot because she is a woman.

    If Bernie is seen as failing, by dent of fact or presentation, the Progressive movement is over and it will be another decade in the wilderness.

    Worse case, the American public feeling that it has tried both hard right and left and, seeing both fail at making the system work, will be open to a charismatic populist/nationalist who will sweep into office with stories of a glorious past and how it was all theirs before they were stabbed in the back by the “others”. And no, I don’t think it will be Trump. I’m not so sure about Cruz. His violent rhetoric, he is all about destroying things and people, real apocalyptic stuff, so it seems to fit the bill. I expect to hear from him again in 2020.

  12. doublereed says

    No, all that will show is progressive candidates are useless, can’t win anything just like the media loves, and no progressive candidate will win. It will give the centrist democrats even more of a mandate than they already have.

    Once again, Sanders is the start. Four years of him talking about campaign finance and wealth inequality over and over again. That changes what the media talks about. It changes the whole narrative. And that includes congress and state legislatures.

    We only have “one shot”? What are you talking about? Obama campaigned on change too. No, what matters is momentum and forcing things to change through popular action. We have as many fucking chances as we can get.

    Your idiotic cynicism is the reason why the democrats are paid to lose. Because you have this mistaken belief that constantly losing is somehow great for your cause, and that magically things will all turn around at once.

  13. Holms says

    lorn, the one thing that causes progressivism to wither on the vine is not voting for it.

    I think that’s unfair to Hillary Clinton and not true. Not being as anti-war as some people are and voting for the second Saddam war based on what seemed like very good reasons at the time and like most politicians in that situation – and then later regretting it – doen’t make Hillary Clinton a warmonger. I think that language goes too far and isn’t fair or correct.

    It is entirely true that she voted for every land invasion in recent politics. It is fair to cast her as a ‘warmonger’ on that basis. It has been pointed out time and time again that the ‘WMD’ line was a known lie even then. And yes, frequently voting for war makes you a warmonger… and you are right up there with her.

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