Nel's New Day

January 19, 2016

Tale of Two Debates

Presidential candidate debates from two political parties last week demonstrated a world of difference. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In the first of two presidential candidate debates last week softball questions gently thrown by Fox Business facilitators turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight among seven GOP candidates. Donald Trump came out on top, Marco Rubio failed, and all the others except Ted Cruz disappeared. Several of them complained about the lack of release of ten sailors who were released the day before, after only 16 hours.

The “big time” GOP debate began with bashing the President of the United States. Cruz accused President Obama of “betrayal,” and Chris Christie described him as “a petulant child” before he claimed he would kick his “rear end out of the White House.” Rubio charged that the president “doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” Then they battered Hillary Clinton, who Jeb Bush described as “just a disaster.”

The real fight, however, started as Bush talked about “backbench senators” and Trump’s “unhinged comments” and Rubio attacked Christie as a liberal. Then they got serious, delving into birther and flip-flopping accusations toward their candidate colleagues. GOP solutions were more guns, more income inequality, and more anger and violence. Marco Rubio actually said that everyone needs to buy guns because ISIS is coming to your house.

Both debates took place in South Carolina where black people comprise 27 percent of the population. Both debates occurred the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and were staged just one block from the historic church where a white man killed nine black people during a prayer service less than seven months ago. Yet the word “black” was uttered only twice among GOP candidates: black lung and black market. Also missing during the GOP debate was any reference to issues of specific concern to over half the population—women. The result was a pack of jackals in a cage where they were tossed red meat from laissez-faire moderators and wild audience applause.

Recent presidential debate moderator Hugh Hewitt, however, managed to even out-bizarre the GOP candidates. In talking about positions espoused at the GOP debate, Hewitt said:

“Fact checking doesn’t matter in these things. What matters is personality, an aura and your command presence. And of all those two, the best command presence last night was Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. And I keep marveling at how Donald Trump can dominate a television screen.”

The fact-free zone of GOP presidential campaigns is not new: Mitt Romney used this style against President Obama in 2012. It’s just that Republican pundits now admit that their candidates are welcome to make up anything that they want on the spot, leaving the audience misinformed rather than just ignorant. Jeb Bush explained he knew Clinton was going to be indicted because “I only get my news from Fox & Friends, so that’s all I get.”

The fact-free approach has become so blatant that full-time fact-checking would result in volumes rather than articles. They even lie about falsehoods easily checked, for example Cruz’s answer to a question about his not disclosing a $1 million loan from Goldman Sachs, his wife’s employer at the time, for his 2012 campaign. He first talked about how hateful the New York Times is and then launched into pretending he had done so. The problem was Cruz’s failure to list any bank loans on his FEC report. All his publicity about how he and his wife had scraped the bottom on their financial barrel to fund the campaign was bogus. So was Chris Christie’s claim that he didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court justice, a claim disproved by a New Jersey Star-Ledger headline.

Even Mitt Romney is disgusted with the candidates. He called the Republicans “nuts” for not raising the federal minimum wage, something he calls part of GOP orthodoxy. “As a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal,” Romney said. None of the GOP candidates pays attention to Romney, however, some of them suggesting that this wage should be $0. Fiorina thinks that the law is unconstitutional.

Rand Paul boycotted the “also-ran” table, but Carly Fiorina tried to carve out a place for her by abandoning her promise to make no personal comments about Clinton. Fiorina’s attack: “Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband.” Mike Huckabee wants to train poor people as if they were dogs. The comments just came coming.

“Politician turned reality show star endorses reality show star turned politician.” That’s Ari Melber’s response to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump. The newest NBC/WSJ poll shows that almost two-thirds of Republican voters could vote for Trump, an increase of 42 percent in the past ten months from 23 percent to 65 percent. The same NBC/WSJ poll shows that 42 percent of voters view the GOP less favorably compared to 19 percent who like it better.

University of Massachusetts PhD candidate Matthew MacWilliams conducted a poll to determine what lies behind the “Trump phenomenon.” His research showed that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a GOP voter’s preferred candidate—only authoritarianism trailed by the less significant fear of terrorism. Authoritarians obey, rally to, and follow strong leaders while responding aggressively to outsiders. Trump promised to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border and closing mosques through iron-fisted solutions to sometimes manufactured dismay, agitation, and fear.

Writer Rick Salutin compared Trump’s rise to that of European dictators in the 1930s. Trump’s favorite word is “strong”; Chinese and Japanese are “killers”; and the nation has been lost because of “stupid,” “weak” leaders. Trump mocks opponents’ weakness through “low energy.” According to Trump, the growing economic inequalities affecting whites comes from non-whites who are poised to become the majority within the U.S. The unchallenged occupiers at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (OR) are prime examples of “Trumpers”—trigger-happy, anti-Islamic, and power-hungry. Trump doesn’t need a platform of informed policy because of his “patriarchal self-proclaimed omnipotence.” Like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Trump knows the value of “spectacle and incendiary propaganda” appealing “to emotion, not reason.”

MacWlliams concludes:

“Those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

Even if Trump doesn’t win the primary, he has poisoned GOP campaigns. Benjy Sarlin wrote:

“Trump has defined the Republican primary and the debate showed just how far he’s shifted the conversation. His rivals — even the supposedly more moderate candidates running on their appeal outside the party — are adopting a darker tone, more bellicose rhetoric, and shifting their positions to the right as the contest continues.”

Another reason for the possibility of Trump becoming president is ignorance. Jimmy Kimmel honored MLK Day in his Lie Witness News segment to interview people what they thought about the announcement that Martin Luther King, Jr., who was murdered in 1968, was endorsing Donald Trump.

One woman answered, “I figure if he’s going to endorse Donald Trump for president, then maybe he thinks he will be a good president,” one woman said. Some people thought King should have voted for President Obama, and others believed were surprised when they were told that King didn’t vote for Barack Obama, and others thought that Malcolm X and Hillary Clinton vacation and play golf together at Martha’s Vineyard.

In the Democratic debate, two leading candidates and one polling at two percent argued about how to improve the country. Bernie Sanders is mad at the system, wants universal healthcare, and doesn’t get paid by Wall Street for speeches; Hillary Clinton wants to improve the health care law, thinks that Sanders doesn’t fight enough for gun safety laws, and supports President Obama’s policies. Martin O’Malley complained about not getting enough questions. Discussions were intense as they criticized each other’s positions, but the event was nothing like the free-for-all cage fight of the GOP candidates just three days earlier. It was the “best of times” because it was opposite of the GOP debate.

Now we’ll wait for the first primary results after the Iowa caucus on February 1.

October 14, 2015

Clear Winner in Democratic Debate

“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.

clinton sanders

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.

Joan Walsh wrote:

“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.

attack ad clinton

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.

debate issues

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.

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