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