The first Democratic debate, which you may not have seen if you were studying for midterms last week, had a great viewer turnout but consequently has left the Democratic party in a bit of a shambles, despite the well publicised closing statement of Martin O’Malley.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The candidates who participated in last Tuesday’s debate were former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Senator for Vermont Bernie Sanders, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and US Senator for Virginia Jim Webb.
Each of the candidates made some pretty bold statements and proposed some great ideas.
In their opening statements, the candidates each gave the one thing about themselves that was meant to distinguish them from the others.
Chafee pointed out that he had no scandals in his 30 years of service, which was an obvious dig at Clinton. Webb alluded to his history of working across the political aisle. O’Malley was the first to compliment the current President. Sanders began by attacking Citizens United and Super PAC’s, and Clinton started off with a bullet point list of her policies.
Anderson Cooper, the debate moderator, started off by asking Clinton about the voters’ concerns of her changing views on certain topics.
The highlight of Clinton’s response was, “Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, but, like most human beings—including those who run for office—I do absorb new information.”
Cooper then asked if Clinton was moderate or progressive.
Clinton responded, “I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”
Next Cooper confronted Sanders about a poll that suggested the American people would be uncomfortable with having a socialist in office.
Sanders responded, “democratic socialism is about…saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of one percent in this country…own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”
After a small debate on the pros and cons of capitalism that took place between Clinton and Sanders, Cooper then turned the attention to Chafee, asking about his political history as a Republican, a Democrat and an Independent.
Chafee had an odd response, referring to himself as a block of granite. “I have not changed on the issues. And I open my record to scrutiny,” he said.
Cooper asked O’Malley about the instability in Baltimore during his term of office.
O’Malley had a lot to say about the tragedies that occurred in Baltimore, but he was very confident in how the city made progress, saying, “It wasn’t easy on any day, but we saved lives and we gave our city a better future.”
Webb was finally asked about a controversial op/ed he had written about affirmative action. Webb defended his article saying the goal was not one of reverse racism, but of suggesting that affirmative action should be based on socioeconomic need, not race.
Cooper later asked each of the candidates what they felt was the greatest threat to national security. Chafee claimed it was the chaos in the Middle East, O’Malley pointed to nuclear Iran, ISIS and climate change, Clinton stated that nuclear weapons were the largest threat, Sanders also chose climate change and Webb claimed that our greatest threat is China.
Cooper then asked Clinton about her e-mail scandal, which she did her best to defend, but the problem was brought to rest when Cooper extended the question to Sanders.
Sanders said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your [Clinton’s] damn emails,” to which he received loud applause, plus a heart-felt, “Thank you” and hearty handshake from Clinton.
In the end, the closing statements of each candidate were just as telling as their opening remarks.
Chafee talked about the challenges that faced the next president and reiterated that his many years of experience were not marked by scandal.
Webb concluded with his history of confronting complex issues that faced the nation and finding bipartisan solutions for those problems.
O’Malley gave what was easily the most memorable closing statement of the night saying, “What you heard tonight … was a very, very different debate than from the sort of debate you heard from the two presidential Republican debates.”
“I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a new era of American progress. Unless you’ve become discouraged about our gridlock in Congress, talk to our young people under 30, because you’ll never find among them people that want to bash immigrants or people that want to deny rights to gay couples,” O’Malley said.
Sanders concluded with a list of his goals, and an unabashed plug for donations to BernieSanders.com.
Clinton also ended the night by comparing the Democratic debate to the Republican one and declaring her hope in the future of America.
There was no clear winner of the debate. Clinton supporters say Clinton won while Sanders supporters think he knocked it out of the park. The only person who actually gained any traction from the debate was O’Malley, who seems to have solidified himself as the possible VP for whichever of the top two candidates wins the primary.
But the importance of the debate wasn’t to see which candidate can perform the best. Debates are important because in the aftermath you can make judgements based on how the people at large reacted to what they saw on the stage.
The media has blown up over Clinton and Sanders, but it has mostly ignored the other three contenders, which is an incredibly disheartening sign of the times. Webb was easily the most middle-ground candidate whose history has shown the greatest capacity for bipartisan compromise, yet he failed to present that as a positive quality, and in fact let Cooper attack him for that quality, and so he failed to resonate with the viewers.
For whatever the larger reason at play, Cooper’s questions seemed to target any middle-ground leanings as suspect to scrutiny, which in turn led the audience to believe, if they didn’t already, that not being aggressively committed to all liberal ideas was a flaw.
It was terribly ironic in that sense, because throughout the debate several statements were made about the Republican inability to compromise, and yet the idea of compromising on any liberal ideas was criminalized.
O’Malley’s closing statement received a lot of attention because of the way he put the burden on the republican party to quit squabbling and actually talk about important issues. However, as much as I loved his statement when he first made it, I later started to resent the meaning behind it.
You don’t encourage democracy by attacking the group of people who don’t agree with you. This sadly is something we see a lot during every election, but it reflects poorly on the Democratic party as a whole that we can’t live up to the standard of respect for others that we blame Republicans for not having.
So if you didn’t watch the first Democratic debate, let me tell you what happened. The Democratic Party hasn’t decided on a nominee, and in the meantime we proved ourselves to be a party of hypocrites.
Not featured in the debate: Lawrence Lessig, Jeff Boss, Harry Braun, Robby Wells and Willie Wilson, all of whom have officially announced and registered themselves as democratic candidates, but who have not been featured in many or any national polls.