Back in 2008, which seems like the distant past now, Sarah Palin, at an event in Charlotte, North Carolina, talked about what she said she liked to call the Real Americans – they lived on farms and in small towns, not in big cities, or on either coast, or in the sprawling suburbs. They do?
Well, she was from Wasilla, Alaska, running for vice president of the whole damned country, so perhaps she felt a little defensive. The media had turned on her by that time. It seemed she didn’t know much about anything. Her audience cheered but she ended up apologizing for that on national television – the McCain people saw how angry that made most Americans, who do live in big cities and on either coast and in the sprawling suburbs. That’s most everyone. Oops.
John McCain had all sorts of problems with his campaign that year. She was one of them, but really, everyone knows Real Americans come from Brooklyn. Everyone saw that in the old black-and-white war movies where we defeated the Nazis or the Japanese. A bunch of guys would be slogging across Europe in the snow, or sweating it out in a submarine off the coast of Japan, and there’d be the farm boy, and the ladies’ man, and the young sensitive Jewish fellow, a college boy, someone from the Deep South, and always that blunt and crude fellow from Brooklyn, with a heart of gold and smart as hell underneath it all – with street smarts, not the fancy stuff. William Bendix got a lot of those roles, but it wasn’t just the movies. It was baseball too – the Brooklyn Dodgers – the Bums – the team of the people. The rich Yankees, who won with ease and sneered a lot, were from the Bronx, but they might as well have been from Manhattan with their big payroll. Donald Trump is from Queens. Hard-working real people are from Brooklyn, even if they are a bit rough around the edges. Bernie Sanders was born and raised in Brooklyn. So was Larry King. Brooklyn guys tell it like it is, and make things right. You got a problem with that? That was the Brooklyn Dodgers. They finally did beat the Yankees in the World Series – once – in 1955 – but that was sweet. Two years later they moved out here to Los Angeles, breaking everyone’s heart. Larry King still won’t forgive them.
Sarah Palin missed all that, but everyone else got it. In Casablanca, Major Strasser teases Rick, asking him if he can imagine his masterful Nazis in New York. The reply said it all. “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.” Humphrey Bogart may have been a rich kid from the Upper West Side, but he cultivated that tough-guy Brooklyn accent. You don’t mess with Brooklyn. That’s messing with America.
Brooklyn is also the perfect place for a political debate. Tell it like it is, and make things right. You got a problem with that? That was the place Bernie Sanders, born and raised in Brooklyn, faced off against Hillary Clinton, who moved to a leafy suburb north of the city years ago and was one of the states’ two senators for eight years, but runs her national campaign from an office in the middle of Brooklyn, which is the middle of America of course. And Josh Marshall offered the best quick summary of the debate – “I’m not sure I’ve heard two candidates yell at each other at such a sustained clip for two full hours. And they’re both over sixty-five. That’s stamina.”
Well, there was more to it:
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders squared off Thursday night in the most heated and dramatic Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 cycle, battling it out at a two-hour prime-time event on CNN that exposed fundamental differences in their candidacies and campaign styles.
Coming just five days ahead of the crucial New York contest Tuesday, the debate featured combative exchanges on issues including gun control, Israel and Wall Street reform. These policy disagreements were fueled by a broader clash: Sanders cast doubt on Clinton’s judgment and credibility, while Clinton insisted that the Vermont senator lacked experience and pragmatism.
As the two delivered harsh attacks throughout the night – on multiple occasions inviting intervention from the moderators – a rowdy crowd at the Brooklyn Navy Yards stoked the tension, loudly cheering and hissing to take sides.
Hey, it was Brooklyn! It was the core stuff:
Sanders came out swinging, accusing his Democratic presidential rival of “lacking the kind of judgment we need to be the kind of president we need.” But he found himself on defense for not releasing his taxes and said he would do so on Friday.
Clinton again found herself in the spotlight for her paid speeches to big banks, declining to release the transcripts when pressed by CNN moderators. But she counterpunched by referring to the Vermont senator’s trouble explaining some of his core policies in an interview with the New York Daily News.
And it was nasty:
When asked to name a single policy decision Clinton made as senator that showed she was favoring the banks, Sanders said that when the “greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street” led to the financial crisis, he had called on the big banks to be broken up – while Clinton was “busy giving speeches to Goldman Sachs.”
Clinton shot back: “He cannot come up with any example because there is no example … It’s always important – it may be inconvenient – but it’s always important to get the facts straight.”
When Clinton said that she had spoken out against the big banks for the actions, Sanders took a mocking tone.
“Oh my goodness, they must have been really crushed by this,” he said, asking whether her statements came before or after “receiving huge sums” from the banks in speaking fees.
And add this:
The second hour of the debate exposed a major foreign policy disagreement between Clinton and Sanders on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sanders recently said that Israel’s response in the 2014 Gaza war was “disproportionate.” On the debate stage, the senator labeled himself “100% pro-Israel” and said that the point of those controversial comments had been to emphasize that Palestinian people must be treated with respect and dignity.
“That does not make me anti-Israel,” Sanders said.
Clinton, who used the discussion to highlight the extensive role she played as secretary of state in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in 2012, said Israel is under “constant threat.”
“I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat. Terrorist attacks, rockets coming at you – you have a right to defend yourself,” she said.
Sanders responded by accusing Clinton of failing to answer the question of whether Israel’s response was disproportionate. “You evaded the issue,” he said. In a major speech to AIPAC, Sanders said his rival had “barely mentioned the Palestinians.”
“We cannot continue to be one-sided,” he said.
Clinton, once again, suggested that Sanders likes to point out problems without having a fully thought-out solution to address them.
“Describing a problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” she said.
And add this:
Asked whether she would sign a bill raising the federal minimum wage to $15, Clinton responded: “Of course I would.”
That response drew this skeptical reaction from Sanders: “I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That’s just not accurate.”
In one of the most animated exchanges of the evening, the two candidates began to talk over each other, eventually prompting moderator Blitzer to intervene.
“If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you,” Blitzer said.
And add this:
On environmental issues, their differences highlighted a fundamental contrast between the pair’s approaches: Clinton’s calls for pragmatism and Sanders’ calls for a political revolution.
Clinton lauded the global climate change pact reached in Paris, calling it a “major accomplishment.”
“Our president led that effort to protect our world and he deserves our appreciation, not our criticism,” Clinton said.
But Sanders argued that while the agreement was a “step forward,” it wasn’t enough.
“Incrementalism and those little steps are not enough,” he said, before accusing Clinton of having supported fracking technology – a drilling technique that has created a major boom in oil and natural gas but raised environmental concerns – around the world as secretary of state.
Clinton responded that she was “bewildered” by Sanders’ remarks.
“It’s easy to diagnose the problem. It’s harder to do something about the problem.”
She’s the realist. He’s not. That was her main argument, but an item in The Hill sums up what was really going on:
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders don’t like each other. To be sure, there were substantive exchanges on Thursday night, but the dominant impression left was one of real and deep enmity.
Sanders went at Clinton from the get-go and didn’t let up. In the debate’s opening moments, he reiterated his earlier statements that he doubted Clinton’s judgement. But things got much more abrasive from there, with Sanders often using sarcasm as his weapon of choice, and a stony-faced Clinton looking on.
And maybe Clinton needs to get better at straight answers:
The former secretary of State is a formidable debater for the most part. But Thursday was not one of her more impressive showings.
In part that may have been because Sanders came for her so aggressively and because a boisterous crowd seemed to lean – very vocally – in his direction.
But Clinton’s tendency to take refuge in nuance – or, her detractors would say, to provide slippery answers – continues to be a problem.
She was asked whether she would apologize for her advocacy of President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.
“I’m sorry for the consequences that were unintended and that have had a very unfortunate impact on people’s lives,” came the reply.
Such moments, too clever by half, are not likely to ease doubts in voters’ minds about Clinton’s honesty and authenticity.
Josh Marshall comments on that:
She’s wrong to say these were unintended consequences. That’s really not the case. It was a period of very high crime. People were scared. On top of that there was rank politicization and fear-mongering, efforts to use crime to win elections. The crime was real; the fear was real; the demagoguery was real. The country wanted to throw away the key for a lot of people. And no, it wasn’t just whites. Most members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the bill. Now, I think you cannot take the 1994 crime bill out of its historical and political context of the 1994 crime bill. Law and order politics was a product of the right which Democrats were largely following. All that said, these weren’t unintended consequences – most of these consequences were intended. They just look very different now in an era of historically low crime rates.
That one won’t be settled, but David Graham offers this:
The night didn’t start off so well for Sanders. The first few questions offered him little to work with – starting with a demand that he explain whether or not he believed Clinton was qualified for the presidency. He previously said she was not, then reversed course and said she was, but that he questioned her judgment. Sanders mumbled through an answer, but Clinton, given a chance to respond, twisted the knife: She noted that New York voters had elected her twice and that Obama had appointed her secretary of state, then cited Sanders’s disastrous interview with the Daily News. That aggressive response set the tone for the night. A few minutes later, Sanders was asked to name a specific decision on which donations from banks had shifted Clinton’s judgment on a policy. Clinton’s campaign couldn’t have written a better question. Sanders couldn’t do it.
But the next question caught her up short: Why wouldn’t she release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs? Clinton has been asked the same question many times now, and she still has no good answer. She will not find one until she releases them. Instead, she meandered her way through a call for Sanders (and other candidates) to release more tax returns.
Then Sanders cornered her again. He has backed a $15 minimum wage, while she has instead focused her support on a $12 federal hourly wage floor, while allowing states and municipalities to enact higher minimums if they want. (She celebrated increases to $15 in New York and California over the past week.) Sanders said that’s not enough: “History has outpaced Secretary Clinton,” he said. Clinton tried to explain how she favored both a $12 minimum wage and a $15 wage. Sanders seemed confused; many viewers will also have been puzzled.
The pendulum soon swung back, with a question about gun control, one issue on which Clinton has reliably criticized Sanders from the left. Sanders’s votes on gun bills – most notably, as she repeats at every opportunity, his five votes against the Brady Bill – continue to haunt him. In a recent statement, Clinton appeared to blame Vermont for crime in New York, noting that some guns used in crimes there come from the Green Mountain State, with its looser gun laws. Sanders tried to laugh it out, and Clinton seized on that, saying she took it very seriously. Yet Clinton didn’t stick the landing: She was unable to say for sure whether she blamed Vermont or not, appearing to say both.
That was the dynamic and there was this:
At almost every opportunity, Clinton cozied up to Obama. In addition to boasting about her relationship with the president, she portrayed Sanders’s critiques of the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill and of the use of super PACs both as attacks on Obama. But on one notable point, Clinton sharply distanced herself from the president. Obama recently described the failure to plan for post-Gaddafi Libya as his biggest regret. But Clinton defended U.S. intervention in Libya as a well-intentioned and well-planned operation thrown into disarray by forces on the ground. She added that the case of Syria showed the dangers of not intervening. That’s a sharp difference from Obama, who has repeatedly resisted being drawn into major military operations in Syria. It’s hard to understand what political benefit Clinton would see from backing a no-fly zone in Syria. Instead, this seems like a case in which Clinton is simply more hawkish than the president, more hawkish than Sanders, and more hawkish than many Democratic voters.
Not that this matters:
Sanders’s problem is that though he delivered a sparkling performance and out-debated Clinton at nearly every turn, it’s not enough. He trails Clinton in popular votes and pledged delegates, to say nothing of superdelegates. The tied national polls he cites are meaningless, since there’s no national primary. Bernie Sanders needs a knock-out – though even that probably wouldn’t give him the nomination – and tonight, he won the bout on points.
Still there’s Yoni Appelbaum:
In her closing argument, Clinton delivers a sharp distinction. “Of course we have economic barriers,” she said, adding that she’s worked against them her whole life. “But we also have racial barriers, gender barriers, homophobia barriers, disability barriers…”
It’s an argument aimed at the heart of the contemporary Democratic Party. Sanders has consistently stressed the primacy of economic questions – solve those, he argues, and other forms of discrimination will diminish. But Clinton has stressed the persistence of other prejudices, and called for addressing them directly, as she did tonight. Young voters – even young minority voters – tend to think Sanders has the better of the argument. But older voters disagree, and Sanders can’t win without them.
And there’s Russell Berman:
“It’s easy to diagnose the problem. It’s harder to do something about the problem,” Clinton says. Subtext: “I’m a doer. He’s a talker” – which was also her argument against Obama eight years ago. Then, the talker won.
And there’s Ron Fournier:
If I’m Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or any Republican determined to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House, I’m watching tonight’s debate with Bernie Sanders with a knot in my stomach. If she is willing to be this tough and blunt and harsh against a 74-year-old socialist nearly mathematically eliminated from the Democratic nomination fight, consider how ruthless she’ll be with a Republican.
That’s a thought, but Slate’s Isaac Chotiner adds this:
“History has outpaced Secretary Clinton,” said Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont who often appears to have stumbled out of the pages of a crumbling paperback history of 1930s radicalism. But appearances can shortchange as well as deceive: From the moment that his campaign kicked into high gear more than six months ago, Sanders has captured the radicalized spirit of a Democratic Party that is increasingly attentive to the appeal of economic populism and to the realities of racial injustice. During CNN’s Democratic debate on Thursday night, while the candidates ricocheted between discussions of global warming as the primary threat to America and whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 or to $15, it was hard not to feel that Sanders had won a battle almost as large as the race to be the 2016 nominee.
“I want white people to recognize that there is systemic racism,” Clinton stated Thursday night in one of many statements that would cause a time-traveler from the 1990s to stare with open-mouthed astonishment. Indeed, the debate functioned as a fascinating window into Democratic politics in 2016. Even a mere eight years ago, Obama and Clinton often struggled to outflank each other on the right. (Think of the skirmishes over the individual mandate.) But on nearly every domestic issue, both candidates went left, strongly so, and from health care to college tuition to Social Security, Clinton played on Sanders’ turf. Even her critiques of Sanders’ spending focused not on the deficit but on Sanders’ general sloppiness with numbers.
That is a victory, and then there’s foreign policy:
Clinton remains stuck in the 1990s paradigm that she has otherwise discarded, at least rhetorically. On Libya and Syria, Clinton took a more hawkish line, as she did as secretary of state, and was (for her) surprisingly unfocused and even a little shameless. Her claim that the United States did plenty to provide for Libyans after the NATO bombing campaign is, er, questionable.
She didn’t shine:
The debate lingered for a long moment on the subject of Israel, and the more Clinton talked, the more she sounded like a back issue of Commentary. She blamed the Palestinians for the failed Camp David negotiations in 2000. “If Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the late 1990s to the offer that Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak put on the table,” she said, “we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years already.” Sanders, however, mounted a stronger, more rousing defense of Palestinian rights than I can remember hearing from a major presidential candidate. There were real differences to dwell on here…
So this one is hard to call:
The irony of his campaign is that the septuagenarian Sanders is probably four or eight years ahead of his time, rather than behind it. In some ways Sanders was lucky in his opponent. He wound up getting paired against someone who happens to be on the wrong end of the prevailing trends in the party – hawkish; friendly to Wall Street; an almost perfect embodiment of that otherwise nebulous term, the establishment.
But again, that might not matter, unless it does matter:
Despite these advantages – not to mention a fundraising prowess that must surprise even him – Sanders is still facing an almost impossibly narrow path to the nomination, and this debate was unlikely to widen it much. Clinton’s support among minority voters, not to mention the large margins she ran up in many Southern states, is almost certain to ensure her victory. But she is not only a different candidate and political figure from the Hillary of 2008; she is significantly, ideologically distinct from where she was in 2015, and in the general election she will likely be running on a platform as progressive as the Democratic Party has had in many years.
Clinton will surely move quickly and decisively to the right once she officially vanquishes Sanders, but the triumph of the Bernie insurgency is that to get back to the center now, she has so much farther to run.
That sort of thing happens when you tangle with a blunt and honest guy from Brooklyn. Like the old Brooklyn Dodgers, he may not win the big one very often, if ever, but he’s got the people on his side, and that changes things. That’ll make you straighten out and do the right thing. You got a problem with that?