“I trust Bernie Sanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador.” That was GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s tweet about the best presidential debate in many years when five Democratic presidential candidates appeared in Las Vegas (NV). Watchers of GOP debates who like to watch the participants beat up on each other would have been disappointed with the Democratic debate last night. Spirited, funny, and full of exchanges, it was exciting viewing for those interested in the issues, but the five people on the stage didn’t take potshots at each other as GOP candidates are prone to do. In fact, the expected question to Hillary Clinton after emails brought an unexpected defense of her from Bernie Sanders. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails,” Sanders said to rousing applause and a handshake from Clinton.
Lincoln Chafee criticized Clinton for the emails, and moderator Anderson Cooper asked her if she wanted to respond. Clinton scored when she simply said “no.”
Television is supposed to be entertainment full of winners and losers so pundits kept pushing “who won.” Depending on perspective, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were each declared victorious. Rather than turning on each other, the candidates turned questions into criticisms of Republicans.
“Now that was a debate.
“Courtesy of a Democratic Party that’s shifted left thanks to its base, for the first time in American history a national television audience was exposed to a serious discussion about capitalism vs. socialism, expanding Social Security, providing debt-free college, protecting reproductive rights, and jailing bankers…. “
Sanders did take Clinton to task when she said that she “represented Wall Street” as New York’s senator. He answered, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
Asked whether he is a capitalist, Sanders answered:
“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.”
Asked the same question, Clinton gave a softer response, responding that the United States must sometimes “save capitalism from itself”:
“It’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities that were seeing in our economic system. But we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.”
During a lively discussion about gun safety laws, Sanders lost some of his liberal bona fides. Asked if Sanders is tough enough on gun control, Clinton said, “No. Not at all” and followed that answer with statistics about the number of people who die every day from gun violence. Sanders tried to justify his 2005 vote to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits by his representation of a rural state and the need to compromise.
Martin O’Malley followed with the story about the Colorado family whose daughter was killed in the Aurora movie theater. When the parents sued the on-line retailer who sold the killer 4,000 rounds of ammunition, they not only lost the case but were forced to pay $220,000 for the companies that sold the ammunition, partly because of the 2005 law.
Clinton argued forcefully for equal pay, paid family leave, and reproductive rights. She brought up the infamous GOP treatment of Planned Parenthood, and three of the men agreed with her. (It’s always hard to figure out where conservative Jim Webb stands.)
The other three participants had hoped to set themselves apart, but there was no time when this happened. O’Malley kept referring to things that he had done in Maryland, but his answers lacked any passion. He also committed a gaffe during his answer to the question about whether it’s “all black lives matter” or “all lives matter.” (The question may have come up because O’Malley found himself apologizing for changing the phrase to “all lives matter” last summer.) His use of the term “illegal immigrants” last night seems to have been overlooked–thus far.
Chafee got into deep water with Cooper’s question about why he had voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall act in the 1990s. He made a weak answer about just having been appointed after his father had died didn’t wash with Cooper who asked him, “What does that say that you cast a vote about something you didn’t know about?” Cooper asked. Chafee said that Cooper was being “a little rough,” and Cooper moved on. The memory of this won’t disappear.
Jim Webb showed his conservative side when he explained why he supported fossil fuels. Then he turned a question about U.S. intervention in Libya about Syria before he switched to China, explaining that he had waited ten minutes to talk about the subject. That led to an argument about his not being able to talk enough during the debate. Except for one term as Virginia’s senator, Webb’s political career was for four years in Ronald Reagan’s administration, and he appears to be stuck in the Republican party of the 1980s. He may be best remembered for complaining about not having enough time in last night’s debate.
Despite CNN’s frequent comments about “saving a podium” for Vice-President Joe Biden for the debate if he should declare, there’s a strong chance that Biden won’t need that podium. Clinton was at the top of her form and looked presidential. A big threat to her, the select House Committee to investigate her part in the deaths at the Benghazi (Libya) diplomatic outpost, has largely imploded after Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted that its sole purpose is to destroy Clinton’s campaign.
While the debate showed some of the highest moments of Democratic exchanges this year, an ad from the Stop Hillary PAC ran in selected cities during the debate is perhaps the lowest for Republican actions. Called “I’d Live to Ask,” the ad shows photos of all four people who died in the 2012 raid on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The audio, supposedly the four people speaking from the grave, asks Clinton why she ignored calls for help and lied. The final visual is supposedly the grave of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, one of the four men killed.
The PAC spent over $100,000 to air the ad in swing states and early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire. The online ad was pulled because it misspelled “Libya” as “Libia.” Stop Hillary PAC’s counsel and treasurer Dan Backer said, “Stop Hillary PAC was created for one reason only–to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States.” Most family members were furious about the ad, including Stevens’ mother who said “I would sue [the PAC] if I could.” When Backer was asked if he should have talked to the families before using their dead relatives’ images, he said:
“I wouldn’t have the first clue how to contact them. How do you go about it? Google their names? How do you go about finding people like this?”
The huge difference between last night’s Democratic debate and the two previous GOP debates is that last night’s stage had grown-ups on the stage. Thus far Republican presidential candidates have looked like a batch of junior high schoolers squabbling about personalities. They fought about insults to Jeb Bush’s wife, polling numbers, appearance, business acumen, and more juvenile bullying. Foreign Policy described the GOP debate as “heavy on insults, light on details.” In contrast, Democrats last night kept to policy– race, gender, income inequality, and problems that people in the U.S. face as this comparison between debates shows.
At the end of both GOP debates, many people agreed that the loser was the Republican party. Last night, people thought that the real winner were the progressives policies and ideas. The infantile arguing of the GOP debates left me feeling dismayed and disgusted. Last night’s debate left me with hope, encouraged by the way that candidates addressed vital topics. The next GOP debate is October 28. I’m waiting to see if the moderators learn from last night’s experience–and how it compares with the next Democratic debate on November 14.