Moments from the Democrats’ Debate

CNN debate anchor Anderson Cooper was intent on confrontation and stirring up rivalries … after all, the whole thing really is about watchable TV, right? But the candidates foiled him by talking at length about real issues. Nobody mentioned abortion brain harvesting or selling baby body parts for profit.

One reason: nobody’s actually doing that.

Nonetheless, I’m curious to see a minute-by-minute graph of those ratings, to find out how much of America managed to stay tuned.

There was a bit of drama—Bernie Sanders did more than his share of railing against billionaires. He and Martin O’Malley shouted and interrupted each other over gun control. But it was about passion over the issue, not hatred over differing opinions.

Even Hilary’s blunt rejection of Sanders’ anti-gun control votes didn’t have the venom that sprayed the air during the two Republican debates. Nor did this show receive similar ratings.

Word: people in government can and do disagree massively, but they are still colleagues, tasked with running a country. If they can’t speak with each other, disagree in a constructive way… they may not be able to govern, but they do make must-see TV.

Allow me a brief detour first, to address the continuing absence of a new Speaker of the House. I last wrote about it on the same day that Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the running, citing an inability to meet the demands of the so-call Freedom Caucus (forty-or-so tea baggers).

One of that forty appeared on TV claiming that his group never made any demands on anybody. But he was quite willing to list what he would personally insist on from a new Speaker, and he soon began to say “we” as he moved down his list. Even more telling, not one of those forty disruptors is willing to run for Speaker himself, because they would rather wag the dog that BE the dog.

Their problem would be this: any Speaker must attempt compromise. This is that sausage making that I’ve talked about in the past, the product being workable compromises that delight few—but serve many.

For a long time, no one stepped forward—most especially Paul Ryan, who kept on getting mentioned and kept on denying that he wanted this career-killing job. So what eventually happened? Um, nothing. They all went home on their scheduled break.

What, me worry that the majority party has no leader and no volunteers?

As I write this, more than a week later, a number of volunteers have now stepped up. None seem qualified, but that never held back a politician. David Brooks wrote a column on the subject that astounded me; I wondered if it was was ghost-written by a liberal thinker.

Back to the debate. There is much analysis available from writers far more capable than I am, so I will highlight a few moments—and memorable quotes—that resonated for ole liberal me.

I fully expected the candidates to have the sane, wonkier discussion of issues that the Republicans have not yet managed. IMO they did; despite the similar liberal attitude they all held, there was plenty of disagreement. But I also noticed that whatever direct question Cooper asked of a candidate, the answer quickly morphed into a canned stump speech on the subject containing that question.

No one answered the actual questions. But even the stump speeches had reasoning behind them. And they weren’t trading canned insults.

Anderson Cooper gave disproportionate time to Clinton and Sanders, presumably in deference to the polls. Jim Webb reasonably and vociferously demanded more time. Clinton shamelessly took it without asking, nearly every time she spoke. Cooper would try to interrupt, but she was an unstoppable train.

I know without even watching Fox News that she was immediately criticized for being an aggressive bitch. Just as she would have been tagged a pathetic wallflower had she done anything less.

So what did I learn? I may want content, but presentation is king.

It seems to me that this campaign season—more than most—favors long, shouted answers, delivered over a minute or more, and seemingly without breathing. Perhaps the training scene for such verbal marathons will be part of the montage that they include in the movie 2016.

Just when Jim Webb was beginning to sound a bit Lindsey Graham-ish with all his talk about the military, he saved it by emphasizing the need for a common sense foreign policy. Who knew?

Web also noted, twice, that China must become our biggest concern. He’s absolutely right; I wanted to be a fly on the wall during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit. Our countries are debtor and creditor, customer and supplier, fierce competitors, and possibly deadly rivals. Most importantly, these two countries are deeply codependent.

Lincoln Chaffee deemed his record of no scandals important enough to mention it multiple times. Then he undercut himself twice by admitting to questionable votes—I was so new to the Senate that didn’t know what I was voting for. Ouch.

Chaffee did surprise me during the gun control portion of the debate—he proposed trying to seek common ground with NRA! Wow! That’s the sane approach we must apply to all governing, but eight years of total noncooperation with Obama ought to tell him that it won’t work.

Martin O’Malley seemed to answer every issue with “We did that! [in Maryland, while I was governor].” This claim was reasonable enough to sound true, but repeated so often that it took on the less compelling aura of a meme.

He repeated his commitment to clean energy production nearly as often as Sanders trashed billionaires. And that is an excellent cause, but it doesn’t distinguish him much from his rivals.

“We need a new face,” he kept saying. I’m more interested in what the face can get done, new or old.

Bernie Sanders stayed on his issues to the exclusion of all else, including any mention of family. He famously gave cover to Clinton over her biggest foil right now with, “…the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!

When offered the chance to introduce himself, Sanders instead leaped directly wealth inequality and political corruption. It’s ironic: so much of what he complains about is absolutely true, but the fixes that we so desperately need are undo-able in our current political climate. Never gonna happen.

Example: the “revolution” he’s calling for would be at the ballot box, not in the bloody streets. I like the sound of that. There’s no doubt we must vote out the nay sayers and do-nothings, and get people who will work with each other and actually accomplish something.

But standing in the way is that sad old saw: “I hate Congress but I love my representative.”

Bernie is an ideologue and God knows we need them to keep at us. But our most effective leaders are pragmatists. In the current climate, pragmatism may be the only way to accomplish anything.

I must have heard the phrase “middle class” a couple of dozen times. Even from Sanders, true champion of the poor.

Hilary Clinton had a good answer to those nagging flip-flop accusations: I get input and that can change your mind. True enough, but I have a better one: What is wrong with government being responsive to the national mood?

When the majority opinion about an issue changes—as it has with gay marriage in the past year or two—shouldn’t government obey the actual current will of the people?

Sanders could have used a version of that argument, that he was representing his Vermont constituents, to explain his now-questionable votes opposing gun control.

Clinton offered a humanistic response that IMO is destined to appear in commercials for both sides in the general election: “Sometimes we need to save capitalism from itself, to reign in its excesses.” Word, IMO. It’s the job of business to minimize expenses and maximize profits, no excuses. Thus it becomes the job of the people running businesses to humanize.

My own employer is a good example. This company is 20+ years old and has been profitable almost all of that time. The business does what it needs to, to survive and thrive. But my company also performs charitable work on multiple fronts, contributing to a local food bank and many other local charities as well as stepping up in disaster aid around the world.

You can be a profitable company and still touch people.

I’ve got more to say about the debate, but will save it for the next column. Let’s end with…

Quote of the Night: “No.” Offered by Hillary Clinton, in response to Anderson Cooper’s question, “Secretary Clinton, do you want to respond [to Lincoln Chaffee’s questioning of your credibility]?”

Written by

Steve Schlich is retired after 35 years of writing fiction about software: “easy to use,” “does what you want,” and the like. Hobbies include webmaster for, writing songs and short stories. In 2004, he created, a website chronicling the naughty public art in Washington, D.C. He lives happily with his wife and cats, north of San Francisco.

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