Did you catch the Democratic US Presidential Debate, or #DemDebate as Twitter chose to call it? I did. As a Canadian drowning in niqabs and other manufactured scandals pouring out of our current federal election, I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous.
Yes, by and large, American politics is unabashedly a circus. Presidential debates, especially those which happen before the primaries, remind me of WWE wrestling: cheering crowds, commercial breaks and people verbally bashing each other over the head with the steel chair of scandal.
The Republican debates this year have been just that. Ridiculous displays of soundbite-based one-upmanship. And that’s even before you factor in Trump.
What I witnessed from the Democrats, though, was a horse of a different colour. Sure, there were the commercial breaks and the cheering crowds, but the discourse, for the most part, was civil and issue-based.
The candidates genuinely seemed to be arguing their case and sticking to topics which mattered. A sharp contrast not only to the GOP but to our recent Federal Leaders’ Debates here in Canada.
The most beautiful moment, for me, was when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were discussing, not arguing, discussing, the benefits of democratic socialism versus those of capitalism:
While politicians here are afraid of the word socialism (just as American politicians were, well, up until Tuesday), we see it being discussed rationally as an opposition to the dominant economic theory on prime-time American TV in front of millions.
Wow, just wow. The times they are a changing, I guess. Just didn’t thing that ‘Murica would be leading the way. Anyways, back to the debate and my thoughts on it:
The Winner: Bernie Sanders
I’ll admit, I’m a little biased towards the lovably progressive democratic socialist Vermont Senator, but in my honest opinion, he really did win this debate. His best moment came not at the expense of, but in defense of, Hillary Clinton.
When moderator Anderson Cooper asked the former Secretary of State about the so-called Email Scandal, she responded that she was going to testify as she had nothing to hide, but felt the whole thing was a little too partisan and a distraction. While her defense was good, it was nothing like what Sanders had to offer on the subject. Enjoy:
Taking his opponent’s side in such a way may not have been “good politics” in the traditional sense, but it worked great for him politically. He came across as genuine and passionately concerned about real issues even if it meant destroying criticism of a political rival.
Another strong moment came when all the candidates were asked the simple question “black lives matter or all lives matter?” Cooper called on Sanders first and he responded by saying simply and clearly “black lives matter” before explaining his plans to combat racial injustice. When it was Clinton’s turn, she spoke about racial inequality but never answered the question that was posed.
When Cooper asked Sanders about how an admitted democratic socialist could possibly become president given a poll that said 50% of Americans would never vote for a socialist, the senator said it was by explaining to the public just what democratic socialism was. He then did just that, using talking points from his campaign which didn’t sound too different from much of what the American left has been saying for the past few years.
Sanders’ one weak point in the Democratic primaries will be his record on guns. That became quite apparent at the debate.
Explaining that he was a senator from a largely rural state, he defended some of his previous votes against various forms of gun control in a way that may appease some of the Democratic base, but not all of it. However, for those thinking strategically, if he becomes the nominee, his gun record may help him win over some Republicans and independents in a general election.
Close Runner Up: Hillary Clinton
The presumptive Democratic nominee since a few days after Obama won his second term in late 2012, Hillary Clinton didn’t disappoint. She was confident and sharp and relied on her experience.
Most of the mainstream media declared Clinton the victor and CNN even prepared this video of her best moments:
She was also dismissive when she needed to be. Following the exchange between Clinton and Sanders on the so-called Email Scandal, Cooper called on Lincoln Chafee who had made this issue one of his talking points. Chafee reiterated his views that it was a sign of poor judgement on her part and Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond. She simply said “no” to raucous applause.
Clinton did well, but her biggest drawback may be her record. This came up quite a few times in the debate. Unlike Sanders who was criticized for one issue alone, guns, Clinton had to answer for her vote in favour of the Iraq war which she now says was a mistake, her previous support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership which she now opposes and more.
She handled it well, citing one-time opponent and critic of her Iraq war vote President Barack Obama’s confidence in her judgement demonstrated by appointing her Secretary of State. She also argued that everyone on the stage had changed positions on something.
Now that she is positioning herself as a progressive candidate, will that be enough when Bernie Sanders has a better record on most progressive issues? Time will tell.
The Losers: The Three Other Guys on the Stage
Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee, this was your one chance to come out of obscurity (I had to Google your names even after watching the debate) and have an impact on the campaign and you all blew it. For the most part, you seemed likeable and doing this for the right reasons and helped keep the debate cordial, but it’s not enough.
I’m a champion of the underdogs, but in this case, none of you three warrants championing. I’m not sure if the nominee will be Sanders or Clinton, but I am sure it will either be Sanders or Clinton. Even if Vice President Joe Biden enters the race, he will only help one of those two and hurt the other.
I’m sure people are now thinking about the prospect of a Democratic ticket with the two frontrunners on it. The only question being whose name will be on top.
The only question for me is when will Canadian debates catch up.