Tuesday, October 13, 2015 – the first Democratic primary debate of this cycle – more than a year before the election and of little consequence, because, unlike Republicans, Democrats generally agree with each other, at least this time around – was a bit tame. The disagreements were about how to get done what they all want done – getting the government back to working for everyone, not just the Koch brothers and the guys on Wall Street. That was pretty much it. Making gay marriage impossible again wasn’t an issue. Making abortion illegal again, and then contraception, and then sex-education, and then instituting a nation dress code for young women, to assure modesty, wasn’t an issue either – and no one talked about building a big wall to keep swarthy people out, or about immediately deporting eleven million Hispanics who came here to work and make a life for themselves and their families but didn’t follow the rules about how you’re supposed to get here. No one talked about a final real war to rid the world of Muslims, or about getting Jesus back in our government either. The assumption was, as it always has been with these folks – governance is our business. We’re supposed to work things out on our own – so there was no Mike Huckabee on stage. And there was no Donald Trump calling each of the others on the stage fools and losers. He is neither, because he’s rich – very, very rich – and that proves it. That’s what he says, but here no one was calling anyone a fool and a loser, to their face. It was and old-fashioned discussion of policy and implementation, and implementation was the issue. Hillary Clinton called herself a progressive reformer. Bernie Sanders said a sort of revolution was called for, not reform – we need to take our country back from the rich. It’s a question of how you get there from here. Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley, the other three on stage, were kind of left out of the discussion.
The New York Times says this was Hillary’s night:
On Tuesday night, after months of political heartburn, things finally started cutting Hillary Rodham Clinton’s way. Her performance at the first Democratic presidential debate was so commanding that even her greatest vulnerability – the lingering controversy over her private email practices as secretary of state – ended up redounding to her benefit.
After she crisply explained that she made a “mistake” using a private email server and defended her judgment, the moderator, Anderson Cooper of CNN, turned to her biggest threat in the primary campaign so far, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, in hopes that he would attack her. Mr. Sanders instead came to her aid.
“Let me say something that may not be great politics, but I think the secretary is right – and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Mr. Sanders said to cheers and a standing ovation from the Democratic audience.
“Thank you!” Mrs. Clinton said, reaching out and shaking his hand. “Me, too! Me, too!”
The idea here is that she kind of won the evening:
All night, the debate played to Mrs. Clinton’s advantage and to her opponents’ limitations. From gun control and banking regulations to debt-free college and Social Security benefits, Mrs. Clinton positioned herself as a champion of liberals, young people, and the elderly – the very voters who make up the Sanders coalition – while also repeatedly reaching out to women, as an advocate for families and children (and as, potentially, the nation’s first female president).
Mr. Sanders, whose plain-spoken disgust over the email controversy drew praise, looked sheepish and reactive at other points, hesitating to attack Mrs. Clinton forcefully over her ties to Wall Street, and running into trouble defending his past opposition to stricter gun control laws and immigration reform.
By the end of Tuesday night’s debate, Mrs. Clinton had seized every opening to try to accomplish her chief goal: re-establishing trust with Democrats who have come to doubt her honesty and political competence after months of difficulties and shifting policy positions.
So that was that. All else is detail:
Mrs. Clinton sounded a liberal rallying cry, saying “the wealthy pay too little and the middle class pays too much” in taxes. She sought to create a bond with voters by saying she would judge free-trade deals, which are broadly unpopular on the left, by whether she could “look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say this will help raise your wages.”
She called for increasing Social Security benefits for the poorest recipients and singled out older women who were “impoverished” because they had not earned enough money earlier in their lives.
And she was blunt in saying she has a liberal political philosophy but is also a pragmatic leader who would work with both Democrats and Republican to pass legislation.
“I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” she said. “I know how to find common ground, but I know how to stand my ground.”
Mrs. Clinton was effective in cornering Mr. Sanders on the issue of gun control. Mr. Sanders, who is hugely popular among liberals, has opposed some gun control legislation like the Brady Bill — and Mrs. Clinton made sure that voters knew it.
After Mr. Sanders defended his record on gun laws, Mr. Cooper, the moderator, asked if Mr. Sanders was “tough enough” on guns.
“No. Not at all,” Mrs. Clinton said emphatically. She then listed Mr. Sanders’s history opposing gun control at length – well aware that every minute a Democratic debate was about gun control was a minute too long for Mr. Sanders.
Mrs. Clinton also put two rivals in their place when they challenged her judgment on foreign policy. Replying to former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, who questioned her 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, she scoffed at “a lot of loose talk going on here” and noted how “pleased” she had been when Mr. O’Malley endorsed her in 2008.
And when another Democratic candidate, Lincoln Chafee, criticized Mrs. Clinton for “poor judgment calls” in authorizing the invasion of Iraq, Mrs. Clinton pivoted by noting that President Obama apparently had no problem with her judgment when he selected her as secretary of state.
She slammed that door shut, and, as Christina Cauterucci notes, she slammed another:
Moderator Dana Bash asked Clinton to respond to Republican primary candidate – and winner of the last debate – Carly Fiorina, who’s contended that federally-mandated paid family leave would squash job growth.
“This is typical Republican scare tactics,” Clinton said. “We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small businesses. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court because I was practicing law … we need to join the rest of the advanced world in having it.”
Bash pushed back, arguing that some taxpayers might object to another government program.
In her response, Clinton managed the debate equivalent of a triple axel, cramming a dig at Republicans, a shout-out to paid leave, and the debate’s first – and only! – nod to the GOP’s unprecedented attacks on abortion rights over the past few months. “When people say that, it’s always the Republicans or sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care. They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and try to take down Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it. We can do these things. We should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, ‘big government this, big government that’ except for what they want to impose on the American people. We’re going to make the wealthy pay for it. That is the way to get it done.”
She won that one:
Bernie Sanders echoed her support: “We are the only major country that is an international embarrassment, that we do not provide family—paid family and medical leave.” Ditto Martin O’Malley, who should have left the personal anecdotes to Clinton. “My wife Katie is here with our four kids and, man, that was a juggle when we had little kids and keeping jobs and moving forward,” he stumbled, but finished on solid ground. “We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave.”
Hillary won, or she didn’t, as Colin McEnroe sees this:
Bill Clinton came from a place called Hope. Bernie Sanders is from a place called Anger. Many, many American voters also live there. When Sanders, who had the best night Tuesday night in Las Vegas, called for a political revolution, he wasn’t talking to the other candidates onstage or, for that matter, moderator Anderson Cooper, who bought a 10,000 square-foot, 18-bedroom home here in Connecticut last year. Revolution seemed mildly risible to everybody else onstage, in which case they’ve badly misread the level of discontent in this country.
He was talking to the rest of us. When you decide you’re less interested in winning and more interested in saying what you believe, all kinds of possibilities open up. It’s tough to know how well Sanders’s call for a carbon tax and for a Scandinavian-style welfare state will play with a general electorate, but, damn, it was refreshing to hear somebody tell the unfettered truth about climate change, income inequality and the “billionaire class that has so much power” over our political system.
“Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress,” was the line of the night. Boldly announcing, as Sanders did, that the voters are “sick and tired of hearing about” Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails” was a smooth move that helped Sanders more than it helped Clinton.
Going into tonight, I thought Sanders’ candidacy had a limited lifespan, a boutique voter base and a purpose confined to pushing Hillary Clinton and the press on progressive issues.
Now, somehow, it all seems a little bigger than that. Like Donald Trump, Sanders is talking past the media establishment and permanent political class. Unlike Trump, he has something to say and a long record of voting and speaking on these issues.
McEnroe is certain of one thing:
The simple read of Tuesday was that a person basically satisfied with the way things are would be better off with Clinton and a person desperate for change – desperate enough to start embracing words and ideas almost never used in American political discourse – would favor Sanders. I think I know which way that wind is blowing.
Yeah, well, McEnroe may not know, and Richard Barry at The Moderate Voice has other views on winners and losers:
There were three others on the stage, though I’m not quite sure why. Did Lincoln Chafee actually say he voted for the repeal of Glass-Steagall because he had just arrived in the Senate at the time and, you know, wasn’t quite sure what was going on so he supported one of the most destructive measures in modern American history? Can’t imagine Chafee will be around much longer. He looked mostly confused like he walked into the wrong meeting and was only slowly coming to the realization he was supposed to be somewhere else.
It’s good to have Jim Webb there if only to remind voters that there are some Democrats like that – that it’s still a fairly “big tent” party and that patriotism and sacrifice are not exclusively Republican values. As for Martin O’Malley, maybe some other time, but not this time…
So it was Clinton versus Sanders:
Like it or not, most Americans will think that these two are very much alike on matters of policy. They both presented extremely well tonight. Sanders is more appealing to committed liberals, but Clinton, as we always knew, will appeal to enough of those same liberals when they have to think long and hard about who is most electable – who can keep the Republicans from winning the White House. And the part of the Democratic Party that doesn’t live in Iowa or New Hampshire will find little in this debate to dissuade them from supporting Clinton when the time comes.
Sanders supporters will disagree, and likely energetically so. And here’s something else that will annoy Sanders supporters: His performance tonight confirmed my view that he has no expectation that he can win the nomination. This is about raising the issues that are important to him and to more progressive voters. I am a great fan of Sen. Sanders and his brand of politics, issue for issue, but there are not enough voters in the country who share those values to give him the nomination. I love the fact that there is so little hedging in his comments, which is not the way to win in politics, sorry to say. He knows that. Of course some will say that this is precisely why he will win, and I will disagree. I guess we’ll have to see.
But there’s this final assessment:
The winner tonight was the Democratic Party. The candidates had a real discussion about the issues, within the parameters allowed by electoral politics. They were respectful of each other and of key constituencies. They talked about their hopes for the country and its citizens, which, in the end, is what drives more voters than fear.
And that leaves the other party, and that morning’s David Brooks column:
The House Republican caucus is close to ungovernable these days. How did this situation come about?
This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own. …
Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced… Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple….
Steve M at No More Mister Nice blog sees the “nice” conservative pundit just giving up:
Brooks has occasionally seen storm clouds on the horizon in recent years – but to him every cloud has had a silver lining. Reasonable leaders were always ready to assert themselves. Everything was always likely to be fine. It’s not happening, and even Brooks knows it now. A pity he was in denial all this time. And too bad he’ll revert to denial again as soon as the current upheaval cools down a bit, even though there’s almost certainly worse to come.
Sean Illing adds this:
Today’s GOP is the inevitable result of decades of collusion between the Republican Party and the conservative media-industrial complex. The sane and reasonable conservative voices have been subsumed by the hysterical shrieks of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and the entrepreneurs on right-wing talk radio. These are the voices that represent conservative politics, and they are what poisoned the conservative brand. …
The lunatics on Fox News and on conservative radio are the ones peddling the crisis narratives and the apocalyptic angst, and over time this mentality has come to define the GOP. Brooks is absolutely right when he writes that “politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions” and that it “involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.” But balancing opposing points of view is impossible for a party of purists, and that’s exactly what the GOP has become, as Brooks himself acknowledges.
Let’s see. Conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view – that is how Democrats try to debate each other. Those are signs of weakness on the other side. Their debates reflect that, even if they are entertaining – but entertainment only goes so far:
The collapse of the Republican Party has been a disaster for the country. Like it or not, ours is a two-party system that depends upon cooperation. But, as Brooks notes, “the new Republican officials did not believe in government and so did not respect its traditions, its disciplines and its craftsmanship.”
Many Republicans appear not to believe in democracy itself. They deny the legitimacy of those who don’t share their views and they cynically work to obstruct rather than advance legislation. The consequences of this have been enormous, and it’s astonishing that a Democratic administration has been able to accomplish anything in the midst of such intransigence.
I’m not sure what took him so long, but it’s refreshing to see someone like Brooks write openly about the roots of Republican dysfunction.
That may be refreshing, but the morning of the Brooks column there was also this:
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump is scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 7, NBC announced Tuesday.
Sia is scheduled as the musical guest that night, according to the announcement. Trump last hosted the NBC show in April 2004.
This is indeed odd:
The real estate mogul’s relationship with the network has been a roller coaster since announcing his candidacy. Trump was the permanent host of the NBC shows “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice.” He also co-owned the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants with NBC Universal. But NBC cut its ties with the candidate this summer after he described Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and drug runners during his campaign announcement speech.
An NBC executive later said Trump could “absolutely not” return to hosting the “Apprentice” shows, and action star and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was chosen as his replacement. The company and Trump also later resolved their dispute over the beauty pageants with Trump buying NBC’s share. Trump quickly turned around and sold the pageants to someone else.
All is forgiven? Maybe, but this may be an equal-time thing:
Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently appeared on the season opener of “Saturday Night Live,” but she did not host the show.
Trump will no doubt say that’s the reason that he should be president, not her, but a few hours before the debate there was this:
This afternoon, Fox News’ Shepard Smith weighed in on Trump’s SNL invite, tearing into the network for cutting business ties to Trump but inviting him to host the popular show. “Nice job, NBC,” Smith said. “You made a stand, you stood for your values, you did what you must, forget the money, no more Trump! Except, more Trump. Dumb, dumb, dumb.”
Neither the Trump campaign nor NBC Universal responded to a request for comment.
Why would they? They’re in the fascinating new world of exciting something or other. Whatever it is, it’s cool. The old-school folks can have their debates about issues and what the country should be doing and all that stuff. Let David Brooks despair. The real winner of the day was Donald Trump. He’s going to host Saturday Night Live. There was a debate? What debate?