Last night’s Democratic debate

Due to other commitments, I did not watch last night’s Democratic debate and so had to read reports of it. As I expected, much of the media attention on the debate was focused on the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren tension that CNN, the network that was airing the debate and which provided two of the moderators, did all it could to promote.

Jeet Heer of The Nation says that the blatant nature of CNN’s anti-Sanders bias was obvious and that it clearly has it in for him, a blatant example of which was where the moderator completely ignored Sanders’ denial of the charge made against him and asked Warren as if the charge were true.

The big loser of the night was the network that hosted the event. CNN was so consistently aligned against Bernie Sanders that it compromised its claim to journalistic neutrality.

Take the issue of the argument between Sanders and Warren. Sanders flatly denied that he told Warren that a woman could not win the presidency. Since Sanders and Warren were the only two people present at that conversation, there is no way to know who is giving an accurate account of it.

The exchange with CNN moderator Abby Phillip went like this:

Phillip: You’re saying that you never told Sen. Warren that a woman could not win the election?
Sanders: That is correct.
Phillip: Sen. Warren, what did you think when Sen. Sanders told you a woman could not win the election?
Warren: I disagreed.

The audience laughed when Phillip asked Warren the question and Sanders shook his head.

Podcaster Katie Halper was also unimpressed with how CNN commentators tried to minimize foreign policy differences between Sanders and Joe Biden. She tweeted, “These @cnn commentators are appalling. They’re making it sound like [S]anders created a false controversy over the foreign policy differences between him and Biden as if it’s not actually an existential distinction between the two of them.”

The economic questions were similarly ideological, taking right-wing talking points about the dangers of deficit spending as axiomatic. As my colleague Elie Mystal tweeted, “Jesus Christ I hate these biased questions from the moderators. ‘How would you keep your plan from bankrupting the country?’ JUST ASK THE KOCH BROTHERS TO MODERATE NEXT TIME!”

Heer says that the anti-Sanders bias was so obvious during the debate and in the after-debate analysis that even other mainstream commentators noticed.

Much attention was paid to the fact that Warren conspicuously refused to shake Sanders’ offered hand, even pulling her hand back, just after the debate though she had just shaken Biden’s hand. I am disappointed in Warren. This seemed churlish of her. She may be smarting from the fact that as more information comes out, her version of events is being doubted.

The team at The Intercept wrote that the moderators carefully avoided asking Biden hard questions, and pointed out how absurdly biased the questions to Sanders were, giving this example from noted hack Wolf Blitzer setting up his question: “Iran’s Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei has again called for all U.S. troops to be pulled out of the Middle East, something you’ve called for as well.”

Democrats assembled in Iowa Tuesday night for the opportunity to take him on in the upcoming general election. This time, though, it was CNN moderators who brought out the bat and swung it hard at Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Vermont independent had topped a major Iowa poll last week, compounding fears that have only recently emerged among the party establishment that he may be on course for the nomination.

In contrast to Sanders’s treatment, former Vice President Joe Biden, the national frontrunner, was barely touched — either by moderators or his rivals.

The debate watch team at Rolling Stone listed the four lowlights of the debate, showing how they framed the questions in right-wing terms.

Later, the moderators dropped the pretense and asked simply: “Sen. Sanders, your campaign proposals would double federal spending over the next decade, an unprecedented level of spending not seen since World War II. How would you keep your plans from bankrupting the country?”

The candidates were too polite to tell the moderators that a country cannot, technically, go bankrupt. People can, though — and a half a million households are driven to bankruptcy by medical debt every year in America.

The moderators for Tuesday’s debate were quick to grill the candidates on how they’d pay for their ambitious health-insurance plans.

Sanders was noting broad environmental opposition to President Trump’s NAFTA update and was pushing for a bit more climate conversation when the moderator cut him off, in the interest of refocusing on trade. The sentence is a tiramisu of bullshit, with each layer richer than the last: On the surface, it’s absurd (as Sanders noted) to try and disentangle “trade” from “climate,” given how interconnected the two are.

I think the pattern is becoming clear. The political establishment and its allies in the corporate media (like CNN) are terrified that Sanders will be the Democratic nominee and (oh, the horror!) beat Donald Trump and become president. They are pushing for Biden, and failing that for Pete Buttigieg, and failing that for Amy Klobuchar. But if the progressive tide is too strong to defeat, they will try to use Warren to undermine progressive support for Sanders and displace him as the nominee because she is seen as more friendly to the establishment. The issue is whether she will repulse the effort to use her as a pawn.


  1. Holms says

    If Sanders becomes nominee, they may even throw in with Trump as the nature of his awfulness is such that it does not affect the wealthy.

  2. philipelliott says

    as more information comes out, her version of events is being doubted.

    I don’t think we’ll ever know with certainty what was said in that meeting, and I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe either is being dishonest or trying to score political points here. But people can have honestly differing opinions about a shared event, and I think that’s what’s happened here. If i were to guess, it would be that he said something, without intent, that she reasonably interpreted to mean a woman could not win.

  3. says

    I have to say I’m disappointed in you, Mano, for being disappointed in Warren. I would have thought you, of all people, would understand the concept of unconscious bias and, given how sexist of a society we live in, that it would be reasonable to conclude that Sanders could have unconscious biases toward women.
    I’m disappointed with how you and many others are pointing to “more information” as being reliable in any way. As Jeet Heer notes, “Since Sanders and Warren were the only two people present at that conversation, there is no way to know who is giving an accurate account of it.” So is it true or not that they were the only two there? If it is true, then what good is this “more information” because this information would then, at best, be a second-hand account. That leaves me to question if it is really “more information” or just different people recounting essentially the same information, giving a false appearance of there being more information.
    You also damn well know how people, especially men, will protect other men for shady behavior. You just wrote about some of the crap going on at MIT. You should be careful of falling into the trap of “The guy I like said it’s true/not true and that’s good enough for me!” Also be wary of the “He has a reputation of being progressive!” argument that Sanders supporters have been using, and one Sanders even used himself in the debate when he noted that people found some 1988 video of him saying something about a woman president (I haven’t seen the video myself, so I can’t really describe it beyond what I have heard about it). Let’s not forget, for example, of the problem Al Franken has had of groping women.
    With that said, I find it to be essentially an argument from ignorance to suggest Abby Phillip was displaying anti-Sanders bias. Another possibility here, that should be easy to recognize three(?) years after #metoo gained national attention (and so there is no good excuse for ignorance), is that she’s taking the approach of believing the woman over the man. Perhaps call that an anti-man bias instead, if you wish, but I would say it’s a bias that’s justified.
    So let’s go back to this disappointment you have expressed over Warren not shaking Sanders’ hand. Let’s assume for a moment that Warren is telling the truth. Perhaps you have not seen all the vitriol that’s been thrown at Warren, but it should not surprise you. There have been a number of Sanders supporters who have had, like Trump might, a nickname for Warren for some time now. It’s “Lyin Liz.” Clever, huh? Well, that nickname has definitely been back in circulation these past couple of days now. And, I should not need to explain to you, these attacks are largely sexist in nature because Warren is also being painted as the manipulative woman who will say anything to gain power. Sanders could help put a stop to that. He could acknowledge that he may have said something, even if he doesn’t remember doing so! (Note, too, that his denial of it happening could be an honest statement on his part and yet it could also be true that he did say something to that regard. I need not tell you that it is reasonable he may not remember saying it.) But he instead allows that sexist behavior to thrive by denying it. Again, we’re assuming Warren is telling the truth here and, under that scenario, I wouldn’t be very happy with Sanders right now if I were her.
    With that, let’s now assume that Warren is lying. I cannot understand what she would have to gain by lying. As I’ve noted, a segment of Sanders supporters have gone into overdrive painting her as a liar. Despite #metoo, we’re still in a society that generally believes men over women. Would anyone like to propose some theories as to what Warren has to gain by lying?

  4. Mano Singham says

    Leo @#5,

    My disappointment with Warren was because of her drawing her hand back when Sanders tried to shake her hand.

  5. Holms says

    #5 Leo
    But the “more information” is the record of Bernie’s stance re. female presidents, and his support of them. That seems quite relevant. My guess is that the conversation was misunderstood, or misstated, or misremembered, or some combination of those.

  6. says

    I’m going to have to reevaluate my previous indifference to Warren’s claim of Indian heritage.
    And white women are not immune to lying if it gains them something.

  7. Brenda Riggs says

    ⁰”Believe women” should actually be heard as women can be believed and that women in general arent just lying to get jollies off of harming men. Exceptions are noted to all rules. And neither are white men immune to lying but as we have seen in recent years they sure are able to get away with it .

  8. Steve Bruce says

    @ Holmes. Also what I find strange is that this thing allegedly happened in 2018 so Warren kept quiet/ forgot that Sanders made a sexist remark for more than one year while praising him during that time and now when her campaign is going down and Sanders is leading, she suddenly remembers it. And as you say the reason to support Sanders on this is his record of supporting female candidates including Warren herself and saying that women can be president as far back as the 80s.

  9. anat says

    Steve Bruce, the likely reason Warren brought it up now is because Sanders’ campaign has been attempting to delegitimize Warren’s supporters as ‘highly educated more affluent people’ in contact with potential supporters. It’s a warning that she will not take trash talk quietly.

    BTW in 2016 Sanders claimed he wouldn’t have run if Warren had done so. Now that she is running he still is.

  10. Steve Bruce says

    @anat. Is that claim wrong?
    Why shouldn’t he run? Clearly he has built an incredible movement and wants to take advantage of it. And polls after polls show that he is the candidate most likely to defeat Trump. So if Democrats are actually concerned about defeating Trump as they pretend to, they should be backing him or at least not attacking him like this. I mean criticise his policies, that’s fair, but this is ridiculous.

  11. anat says

    The use of the claim is wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if on average the claim is true (even if not individually) but it is irrelevant and using it is playground bullying. Do we really want to reinforce the message that being educated is a negative thing? (Hey, Sanders was a student at the University of Chicago, how elitist of him!) That education somehow makes your political opinions somehow less valid? can’t we leave that stuff to Trump?

    As for who is more likely to defeat Trump, the big question is who will get a better turnout. All 3 top candidates have some areas of strength and some areas of weakness in this regard. Also, IIRC 538 warn against trusting polls of the general election before primary voting even started.

  12. pjabardo says

    #5 Leo: Are you comparing a woman lying about rape to a woman lying about politics? The first one is rare but the second one, I’m sorry to inform you, is one of the most common things for a politician, whether male or female. Does this mean we have to take what Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann says seriously? This is absurd.

  13. Holms says

    #13 Anat
    “BTW in 2016 Sanders claimed he wouldn’t have run if Warren had done so. Now that she is running he still is.”

    Yes? You present those sentences as if the latter disproves the former, but they are completely compatible. He checked with her to see if she was running, and only entered as a nominee in 2016 when she declined. He built a grassroots campaign and is continuing to use it, building on the work his team had already done. Are you suggesting he throw that away because she changed her mind four years later?

    “As for who is more likely to defeat Trump, the big question is who will get a better turnout. All 3 top candidates have some areas of strength and some areas of weakness in this regard.”
    No need to look at polls, have a look at the donor map that was released some months ago. You will see that Sanders has by far the broadest support across the nation.

  14. lorn says

    I think you are falling for a very old trick. Yes,CNN management/owners, the stockholder class in general is very much more comfortable with Biden over any other Democratic candidate. I think Buttigieg is destined to fail and really isn’t in play given that he is both too neocon and insufficiently progressive. A fresh new face and captivating presentation can’t change that.

    CNN doesn’t really favor Warren over Sanders. Their intention is to wreck both Warren and Sanders and bring Biden forward. They seemingly favor Warren simply because she is behind in the poles presently. Setting up a fight intending to maximize destruction on both sides you want the two sides to be about equal so favoring Warren gets you closer to that ideal.

  15. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Moreover, “believe women” tends to be in the context of repeated separate plausible accusations from parties with nothing to gain pitted against suspicious denials. That doesn’t apply here. Warren is relaying a statement that contradicts Sanders’ public views, that he has now clarified he never believed and certainly is not arguing now (so the harm is nowhere near the private harm of rape). No one else is backing her up. Clinton never heard anything of the sort. She just makes guilt by association arguments. It would be as if one coworker of a man said he groped her and he denied it unequivocally, and another woman who had openly feuded with him and competed for the same job then came along and said that he had made a sexist joke and also had no evidence or even examples. That case would not be a slam dunk. Clinton and Warren cannot corroborate each other.

    Worse, part of the reason for “believe women” is that people know when they have been raped or groped or repeatedly harassed. But misunderstanding what someone said in a private conversation? That happens ALL OF THE TIME.

    Let’s say Sanders was saying to Warren “By the reasoning that I am too left wing to capture Trump voters, aren’t you too female? We shouldn’t think that way”. That reductio ad absurdum could then be misconstrued as an argument otherwise.

    And because it is so easy to misconstrue what people say privately, we need to be very careful about allowing that to trump people’s public statement of opinion. And yes, I and many other folks have applied that to conservatives too.

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