|we all got shivers...|
i've been watching debates for a long time and i can honestly say that i have never seen a debate were the participants were more respectful of each other. indeed, the contrast with the republican debates could hardly have been more stark: there were no people making fun of each other's appearance, yelling over each other at almost every opportunity and opting for one-liners and discredited theories [no, donald, vaccines do not cause autism] rather than specific plans they had to ameliorate the position of americans. it was actually a bit weird.
there's been a fierce argument about whether the "winner" was bernie sanders or hillary clinton, but i think the real winner was the party, because what was communicated by the entire evening was a not-so-subtle reminder that when everyone gets tired of the side show and starts to think more seriously about who they think can tackle real problems and who embodies the sort of image they want to project to the world, the democratic party will have an option for them.
i also thought that cnn acquitted themselves better this time around than they did with the previous republican debate. that isn't saying much, but there were some tough questions for each candidate and there was never the sense that things were getting out of control as they had on the last occasion. [however, i think that that is at least as much to do with the candidates as with cnn.] there were some silly questions at the beginning about electability, a concept that no media professionals seem to understand. the idea that a certain type of person is electable holds only until something happens to change that. prior to 2008, blacks weren't electable. prior to 1960, neither were catholics. to talk about the potential for a different sort of candidate- a woman, a socialist, someone who is still pretty unknown- being unelectable is trying to see the road ahead through a rearview mirror: if the road isn't perfectly straight, there will be problems.
along with the comportment of the candidates, the other major difference in this debate was that the questions were generally far tougher than those from the republican debate. anderson cooper had research on hand to back up claims that he made on the record of the candidates [although he did tell at least one lie, claiming that bernie sanders had honeymooned in the soviet union]. he pressed where necessary, which was a nice change of pace. however all this just goes to show, as cenk uygur from the young turks put it, that cnn and all the major news networks are terrified of the republican party. they pander to them by throwing out soft questions, letting non-answers slide and declining to correct even the most blatant untruths. [cnn now claims that republican candidate carly fiorina's declining numbers are due to her lying about the content of deceptive anti-choice videos about planned parenthood and therefore alienating moderate republicans, however, on the night of the debate, their pundits said the statement was a reasonable inference from the video.]
the most replayed moment from the debate is undoubtedly senator sanders flabbergasted response to host anderson cooper's question about hillary clinton's emails. it's being replayed mostly for the humour value and because pundits have referred to it as a "gift" to mrs. clinton, but again, the analysis misses the point: sanders is right and the content and handling of those emails is not important in the lives of americans. he might have added that anyone who does consider her emails to be an important factor was never going to vote for a democrat anyway. [incidentally, there are perfectly valid concerns about a high level member of the administration communicating government business through a medium that cannot be accessed and archived. it removes the ability of the people to learn what the government does in their name, which is scary should anything go wrong in the future, and says some nasty stuff about how unconcerned powerful people can be with keeping state business even marginally transparent. but the issue has been so mishandled that it's become ridiculous to discuss. ideally, this is a time when the media should step in and ask questions on behalf of the public rather than facilitating the partisan blandishments, but neither cnn nor their compatriots are up to that task and so, as long as no salient questions are being asked, sanders is perfectly right to dismiss the line of inquiry.]
what's gotten lost in the post-debate coverage are the more interesting discussions- about gun control, climate change, even the nature and limitations of capitalism- which is a shame, because it's one of the few debates where i've seen the candidates willing to have discussions and not just regurgitate sound bites. i can't guarantee that feeling of goodwill is going to last indefinitely, so if you have the chance to watch this momentous event, it's worth doing so just to see what a decent debate looks like.
in parting, i give you a few words about the individual performances:
lincoln chafee :: ok, there was one clear loser and you were it. don't get me wrong, you seem like kind of a sweet person, sort of the way my superintendent's six year old seems like a sweet person. i'm sure he still believes in the goodness of the world and thinks "it's my first day" is an all-purpose excuse too. you were so out of your depth it was painful, but honestly, i'm more apt to support the six year old for president. i haven't heard that you've dropped out yet, but we both know that's a matter of time.
martin o'malley :: possibly the person who did himself the most good on the night, although your opening statement was like what quaaludes would sound like if they could speak. owned the gun control discussion, but seemed way too evasive in a republican way about the deleterious effects of your policies on the [disproportionately black] urban poor in maryland, and how they've lead to deep mistrust between the people and the authorities. won't give you much of a boost in the polls, but may well give you a position in the administration and set you up for a run later on. which i suspect is the point of your running.
jim webb :: you deserved a better pundit reaction than you got, but no one likes a guy who keeps crying "unfair". you didn't get a lot of time [chafee got less, but that was probably doing him a favour] and you made your point. the first time you made that point, you seemed like you were being treated unfairly. the subsequent six times, it came off as a little whiny. there's been a lot of talk that you'd make a great republican candidate, which should be offensive to you given the quality of their candidates. you'd blow those people off the stage. you seemed a bit stiff and severe throughout, but you weren't bad. i suspect you'll be leaving us soon.
bernie sanders :: you held your ground. i was perhaps expecting a little more from you, because i'd heard that you were a great debater. it seemed like you were trying to use the same barn-burner speech-making that's served you well in front of crowds in the thousands thus far, but in a smaller room, with a more staid atmosphere, it seemed overwhelming. as important as your message is, you came off as a little one-note, turning everything back to the politics of economic disenfranchisement. even though virtually everything does relate in some way to that, you needed to show that you have the capacity to address different components of that problem at the same time. nonetheless, your influence on the campaign this year is felt in every area and if it weren't for you taking the high road and refusing to criticize your fellow candidates, we all know that the whole proceeding would have lacked the class that made it so distinctive. stick around, please, for as long as you can.
hillary clinton :: polished, presidential and practically perfect in every way. seriously, if you had a problem, it was that you might have been too perfect and left people wondering how much of what they were seeing was really you. your weakest point was your answer on how your opinions seem to change in line with public opinion, which is too bad, because it was a glorious opportunity to say "maybe i'm just evolving in the way that the american public is evolving". seriously, you can use that. the criticism that you said you were proud of having made enemies of republicans is asinine: you were asked to name the enemy you were proudest to have made and you're who's who of who hates hillary rightly got a laugh; anyone watching the debate with even a slightly open mind realised that you were referring specifically to that right wing fringe of congressional republicans who have worked so determinedly against you. a word to the wise, though: stop assuming that being a woman is enough to make you new and different. in many ways, it does, but you're also a powerful political insider: focus on explaining how that doesn't define you and how you won't be a prisoner of the vested interests backing your candidacy. bernie sanders isn't saying he'd be different because he's jewish. illustrating how your gender can make you a different sort of candidate on certain issues is great- the loudest applause of the night came when you said republicans were fine with big government as long as it was being used to control a woman's body- but it's not enough just to "play the gender card".