Impressions on #DemDebate: Hillary Was Uncontested Leader, O'Malley Shined Second

Now that it's the morning after, I wanted to share a few thoughts on the Democratic primary debate from last night, I have a few thoughts to offer on it. 

First, what a difference between the GOP show and the Democratic substantive debate. The candidates last night answered the questions they were asked and addressed the issues. It was a serious, adult conversation that didn't diss government while running for the top job in government, took the fight to the Republicans, and while each candidate had their own plans, the field credited President Obama's leadership in leading the country domestically from economic calamity to calm, and in international turmoil providing steady, deliberate and effective leadership.

Now, individual candidate observations.

Hillary Clinton won in every way, shape and form. The night was hers to shine, and she was the best prepared, the most presidential, and the leader in the field in more ways than one. No politician is above pandering, of course, and Clinton craftily glossed over her recent seeming change-of-heart on the Asia-Pacific trade agreement that was announced to have been completed last week (I will have extensive analysis on the TPP as full details are released) - an agreement she had a hand in crafting - talking about her "high bars" but never came back to it. To my surprise, pitchfork-Left's trade hero Bernie Sanders didn't push the issue.

Barring this moment, which genuinely reeked of politicking, Clinton not only dominated the debate but came across as a leader with a clear vision for the future who is capable of governing the best. She repeatedly took credit - and gave credit to President Obama - for the way this administration has navigated the global crises waters, including the President's handling of Syria - something essentially everyone on stage agreed on.

Hillary Clinton shined the brightest when it was time to take the fight to the Republicans. To To debate moderator Anderson Cooper's question about how Republicans see the Democratic vulnerability to be "big government," Hillary quipped that Republicans were perfectly comfortable with big government when it is taking away a woman's right to choose. She took head on the NRA and the GOP, and the room responded with wild support.

But I wouldn't consider anyone to pass the test of leadership without the key test of whether they can actually govern and compromise. Clinton ran away with that prize, too. Saying "I'm a progressive who likes to get things done", Hillary proposed smart adjustments to Social Security to increase benefits for the poorest recipients, but she wouldn't get drawn into Sanders' pie-in-the-sky super social security and Medicare for All mumbo jumbo because she knew no Congress was to soon pass it.

Which brings us to last night's second attraction (but in my judgment 4th place finisher), Bernie Sanders. Of all the candidates on stage, Sanders was the least interested in crafting policy and the most vocal in yelling about revolution. In fact, to me it seemed Sanders had only prepared two key points for the debate - his call for political revolution and banks - and he kept tying everything asked back to one of the two. So much so that Jim Webb got his only zinger of the night at Bernie's expense. "The revolution isn't coming," he amusingly said, noting that Congress isn't going to pay for all of Bernie's plans either.

But Sanders was immovable from his position that a political revolution - supposedly beginning with the 100,000 people he kept mentioning were attending house parties to watch the debate - would take care of everything. And banks. Sanders' response to a video question about Black Lives Matters was that black lives matter and he came prepared this time with some names. But he couldn't help pivoting right to African American and Hispanic youth unemployment and banks getting richer. Obviously, we should know by now that police asks for drivers license, insurance and business card before they shoot black people.

But Sanders' real expose came on the issue of gun control. Clinton, O'Malley and even Chaffee went right after him for his record - further outlined here - of voting against the Brady bill, his pure Tea Party claim that gun control won't help reduce mass shootings and protecting gun manufacturers from prosecution. Cornered, Sanders quipped at his rivals that just yelling won't actually solve the problem, which could have been an epiphany to Sanders if he weren't irony deficient.

Where Sanders faltered, Martin O'Malley raised his profile. He took on questions about his tenure as Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor and talked about his record of reducing arrests of black and brown men, creating a state version of the Dream Act for undocumented students, and an F rating from the NRA.

O'Malley also didn't shy away from holding accountable the traitor Edward Snowden, saying patriots don't seek shelter from Putin. He had the best response on the question of Snowden's flight from the law, followed by Clinton's, who said Snowden was no whistleblower. Every other candidate, in one way or another, pandered to the Greenwald cult, even though even Bernie Sanders admitted grudging that Snowden broke the law and needed to have consequences for it.

Next to Clinton, O'Malley also came across as a leader in the field and a leader among Democrats. He said that Democratic candidates stand on an elevated stage, that we are the party of inclusion, that we aren't misogynists, homophobes and racists, and that it sets us apart from the GOP clown car. And I'd be remiss if I didn't say that O'Malley earned brownie points with me by being the first to praise President Obama right in his opening statement.

O'Malley and Lincoln Chafee were the two former governors on stage, and Chafee took a similar route to O'Malley in touting his accomplishments as governor of Rhode Island (as well as Senator). Rhode Island rose to having the second highest job creation rate after the Great Recession under his leadership. Saying that the the Republican party left him, Chafee helped shine a contrast on what the Republican party used to be contrasted with the reactionary Tea Party cult they have become today.

Still, Chafee was pretty underwhelming, and his explanation of voting for the repeal of Glass Steagall ("I just got to the Senate") didn't help.

Chafee gets points for being substantive, but the debate cemented his lower-tier status.

Jim Webb, it seems, came to the debate to play the role of a constipated Dixicrat. He practically accused the President of waging an illegal war in Libya - an operation that deposed Gaddafi and one that every other candidate enthusiastically supported. He touted his military bone fides, but nothing much else that was good. He saw unfettered gun sales as justified because public officials have bodyguards, saw it justified to oppose affirmative action because his wife is of Vietnamese origin, and constantly and grumpily complained he wasn't being given enough stage time.

I will say before I end that I still am not decided on a candidate in this field, but I'm proud of how the Democratic debate as whole focused on the issues and governing rather than childish games. I was particularly impressed by Clinton and O'Malley, Sanders remained a one-trick pony, Chafee did well but won't capture any new ground, and Jim Webb showed up barely a Democrat.

That's my impression, anyway.



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