Monthly Archives: October 2015

Live-Blogging the CNBC Republican Presidential Primary Debate

After a very good week, Hillary Clinton has gone from being highly-  to being extremely-likely to be the Democratic nominee.  Have the Republican Presidential prospects learned anything?  Stay tuned…

Something else to consider: Dr. Ben Carson now leads Donald Trump in Iowa Caucus polling!  That’s the Christian Right vote for sure, and is probably not a transferable asset; Trump still leads by almost as much in nationwide Republican Presidential polling, though Carson is still on the ascent.  The Liberal Ironist is morbidly-curious to see if this is really going to be the year that Republican Presidential Primary voters actually buck historical habit (and good judgment and nominate a non-politician) and nominate a Republican with no political experience whatsoever as their Presidential candidate.  Not every non-politician you could run for President is Dwight Eisenhower (who as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II definitely had impressive prior political experience), and Donald Trump, Dr. Carson, and Carly Fiorina for sure are no Dwights Eisenhower.

10:25 pm: This really was the best Republican Presidential Primary Debate to-date by far.  There were some hard questions here, but they stayed focused on topics the candidates themselves generally wanted to discuss, and those questions inspired some good discussion.

Donald Trump handles post-debate interviews with far more discretion and thought than we’re used to hearing from his campaign speeches and even his debate performances…It’s been asked several times already, but are we witnessing a performance artist?

10:19 pm: Governor Bush says he won’t indulge in divisive rhetoric, that that’s no way to lead.  It occurs to me that the subliminal story behind all the audience boos over panelists’ attempts to set the Presidential hopefuls against each other is that the (slightly trailing) candidates are quite happy to indirectly attack one another (including rather harshly) and hope it will make an impression on watching or listening Republicans.

10:17 pm: Senator Rubio really is the establishment communicator right now.

10:16 pm: Donald Trump is upset because “We lose, we don’t win.”  There’s nothing to talk about here: Donald Trump says Barack Obama deals weakly and he’ll deal strongly.  This coming from an heir to a fortune who has won some and lost some and generally always occupied positions wherein he could bark orders to people.

10:16 pm: Carly Fiorina promises that she is “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.”  Fiorina is more-comfortable going on the attack than she is talking about what she believes in or what she wants to do with political power.  Maybe she lacks the presence of mind to grasp the difference.

10:15 pm: Senator Cruz promises to stand up against (any legislation by President Obama or which President Obama could sign).  Vintage Cruz.

10:13 pm: Governor Christie promises he will be a good Realpolitik President, invoking his record in New Jersey.  He is prone to refer to vigilance against Islamist terrorism; the shadow of September 11th is very deep in New Jersey.

10:12 pm: Senator Paul’s closing statement consists of a general enthusiasm to (extremely) limited government, then a promise to filibuster the compromise between Congressional Republicans and President Obama on the 2-year budget.  That filibuster is doomed.  Vintage Paul.  That’s Libertarianism in Federal politics: A statement of general principles, followed by shouting in the storm.

10:08 pm: Dr. Carson says that personal finance must play a role in making seniors’ finances more-secure.  Social conservatives (speaking very broadly) do add 1 element to political debates which is difficult to find elsewhere: They will talk about actions by ordinary citizens outside of government action as a partial (or sometimes, more-naively, total) corrective to policy problems.  I can see the appeal of that call–to a point.

10:06 pm: Governor Bush seeks to reestablish himself as a policy-minded candidate with candor, asserting that he believes his economic plan would lead to 4% annual GDP growth, but that it would still be necessary to restrain Social Security and Medicare spending growth, something Trump was too…vague to commit to.

10:05 pm: “We’re going to bring jobs and industry back.  We’re going to deal with the deficit, and we’re going to fix Social Security and Medicare.”  It’s not hard to understand where much of Donald Trump’s constituency is: There are a lot of ideologically-vague Conservatives who want to be told encouraging things.  Trump’s campaign is a pure cult of personality, with a racist temper.

10:04 pm: Governor Huckabee really likes to talk about public health.  “Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer–You fix those, and you’ve fixed Medicare.”  Huckabee is running as the senior candidate–and when he talks about public health, particularly the health of the elderly, he seems to have a point in doing so.

9:56 pm: Governor Bush, who is himself a Fantasy Football participant (currently 7-0), admits that it might need to be regulated by the government due to a lack of oversight into how money is gambled through it, or how big data can be used to monitor consumer habits through it.  He says that if the NFL cannot oversee it fully, it may have to disassociate itself from it, or that government may have to regulate it.  Governor Christie gets some applause with a Seinfeldian, “Are we really talking about having government regulate Fantasy Football?  Let them play it.  Who cares?”

9:50 pm: Governor Christie stays on the question of threats to the moral authority of public servants, noting FBI Director James Comey’s recent inference from a rising crime rate in some cities that, due to a heightened scrutiny and apparent loss of public confidence, police seem to be ambivalent to engage in the face of possible acts of lawbreaking.  He speaks well on the point, but it doesn’t carry to other debate participants.

9:49 pm: Governor Huckabee is asked if he believes that Donald Trump has the moral authority he needs to be President.  Boos from the audience!  Lots of boos!

Considering Governor Huckabee (and many Republicans) have called for a President who possesses greater moral authority, it’s hard to see how this is an unfair question.  Think about Donald Trump’s life, and especially the tenor of his campaign.

Governor Huckabee, a Baptist Minister by vocation, defends Trump.  Trump intejects “What a nasty question–Thank you Governor,” and Huckabee immediately attacks Secretary Clinton.

9:47 pm: Trump is asked if he would feel more comfortable if his own employees were armed (you know, in self-defense).  He responds (very unconvincingly) that he probably would…He really does look uncomfortable thinking about the prospect.

9:46 pmSenator Rubio says we need to reform our immigration laws to make naturalization to the United States more merit-based (essentially removing family immigration privileges).  Senator Rubio’s “bow to political prudence” in joining his fellow Republicans back in the Coolidge era is sad to see.  He had what I would call a redeeming quality on policy; now I don’t see how he is distinguishable on substance from a Tea Partier.

9:45 pm: Donald Trump insists that “(immigrants) have to come into the country legally.”  He has tapped into a refrain that has been typical of the Right since George W. Bush proposed what is essentially the current comprehensive immigration reform proposal back in 2004.

9:39 pm: Governor Kasich gets a question about marijuana reform.  The debate is being hosted in Colorado; the State has seen scores of millions of dollars in new revenues from its full legalization of marijuana by popular referendum.  Governor Kasich’s answer is a celebration of State policy innovation: Let 50 flowers bloom.  He lands neatly on what he has accomplished in almost 5 years as Governor of Ohio.  (He was re-elected just shy of a year ago with 64% of the vote.)  Republican Governors consistently have more to say for themselves than Republicans in Congress, at least when they ask the American people for a promotion.

9:34 pm: Governor Bush decries the fact that about the bottom 1/2 of Americans on the income scale pay no Federal income tax (which is true), and again uses that phrase, popular among Conservatives, that we “lower the rates and broaden the base.”  How can Republican Presidential candidates continue to claim that they can lower taxes on the rich and deal with the Federal budget deficit while also not raising taxes on the working class?  If you’re already lowering tax rates on the rich, you can’t get a whole lot of money back by taking away their deductions!

Naturally, this segues into a debate over whether Senator Rubio’s tax cut would effect a tax increase on the working class.  He denies that it would (wow).

Point of interest: George W. Bush cut taxes on the rich, the middle class, and the lower-middle class in 2001; that was what he spent the Clinton-Republican budget surplus of the 1990s on.  No one was soap boxing on budget deficits, you see; it was still possible to be ideological without being cruel then.

9:29 pm: Senators Cruz and Paul have a love-in over their bill to audit the Federal Reserve Bank.  I’m not sure what they expect to find, but I imagine another Congressional (Republican) trip up a creek with a small lamp.

9:26 pm: Senator Rubio says “The Democratic Party has the biggest super-PAC there is: It’s the mainstream media.”  Thunderous applause.  Pressing his luck (without suffering injury), Senator Rubio claims that the 11 HOUR Congressional hearing actually caught Secretary Clinton’s deception in her emails…Ugh, yawn.

9:25 pm: Trump rails against super-PACs–again!  He calls them a scam and says they have degraded the tenor of national political campaigns.  (Wow!)  There is a lot of evidence now that Conservative or Tea Party-themed super-PACs are in fact often multilevel marketing campaigns.

9:23 pm: Senator Rubio has a smart proposal for the H1-B (foreign workers in the tech industry) visa: Increase the rate at which such visas can be issued, but require that any tech job which an tech company wants to offer to a foreign worker on this visa to be advertised for 180 days, then pay the foreign worker more than a domestic worker would have been offered, then bar companies that fail to follow these regulations from ever using the H1-B visa program again.

Interestingly, when asked about his apparent stated criticism of Rubio’s stand on this issue, Donald Trump expresses his strong support for the H1-B visa program and says that he has no problem with Rubio’s proposal.  His panel questioner wonders where she heard that he made this assertion, and he shrugs: “I don’t know, you guys write this stuff.  I don’t know where you get it.”

9:15 pm: Carly Fiorina says that it’s hypocritical for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to campaign as the prospective first woman President when Barack Obama’s policies (by implication Secretary Clinton’s policies) have been so disastrous (supposedly) for women.  This point really doesn’t make any sense; that just goes to show that, in Presidential politics, you can sometimes make claims that make no sense upon inspection–as long as you state them very slowly and in a low pitch.

9:12 pm: Governor Kasich calls for raising government revenues through increasing economic activity.  He then calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  That’s a doomed dual rallying call for the man who wants to return to Congress.  (In the 1990s John Kasich was a prominent Republican Congressman).  In Ohio, Governor Kasich raised a lot of revenue by allowing hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, as disparagingly noted by Donald Trump.  The United States does not enjoy Ohio’s relatively simple fiscal (and geographical) incentives to just drill for more natural gas and tax it.

9:08 pm: Ms. Fiorina, in response to a question about the controversy surrounding online retailers that don’t pay sales taxes (an incentive created early in the Internet era which now disadvantages traditional brick-and-mortar retailers that employ more people and also pay property taxes), she says that government created a problem by creating the special incentive for Internet retailers in the first place.  She gives other examples, claiming that the Federal Government maintaining low student loan rates and FCC maintenance of Net Neutrality is more of the same: Government imposes an arbitrary policy to address one problem, and the result is harmful market distortions.  That’s a case of smart reference to a general Republican talking point.

9:06 pm: Asked if he would support a deal in which Democrats offered $10 in budget cuts for $1 in tax increases, Governor Bush says that for a Democratic offer like that, “I’ve give (such a Democrat) a warm kiss.”  I guess that’s a yes.

9:03 pm: Noting that he had previously said that no executive during the bailout era went to jail for negligence, Cramer asks Governor Christie if anyone at General Motors should go to jail for hundreds of deaths in vehicular accidents caused by faulty acceleration switches in their cars.  Christie, a former prosecutor, answers that government should regulate business less, but that the Federal Government needs a more-aggressive attorney general to prosecute lawbreaking by business.

That’s a bold call from a Governor of New Jersey–like, maybe any of them.

9:02 pm: Cramer’s question was about whether the government should be involved in price-setting for prescription drugs through various entitlements and regulations.  Dr. Carson answers that government over-regulates many aspects of business.  Cramer, a very conservative Democrat, seems genuinely appreciative when he says “Thank you, Dr. Carson.”

9:01 pm: Jim Cramer!  Will he shout “They know NOTHING!”?

8:54 pm: Senator Cruz still believes in President Reagan’s 11th Commandment (“Never insult a fellow Republican”)–just not for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he called a “liar” on the Senate floor.  He refers to an exchange between Governors Huckabee and Christie as “good,” saying they are “both right.”

Governor Huckabee had made a clever argument for a Republican, arguing that Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs because the programs are funded through “their money: They already paid into the system.”  Actually, it’s your money if you are working now, as Social Security checks and Medicare services are both funded contemporaneously out of the payroll tax in your paycheck–You, the contemporary American worker, pay for the benefits of current program recipients.

Governor Christie accused Governor Huckabee of engaging in fantasy, saying that Social Security and Medicare are dangerously insolvent.  (Don’t cry that the sky is falling before it is, Chris.)  That’s actually a pretty big difference in perspective and policy among Republican Presidential contenders.  Huckabee’s defense of Social Security and Medicare, while inaccurate in principle, is far more politically-canny; Republicans are deeply-reliant on White retirees today.

8:48 pm: Senator Paul is asked about his opposition to outgoing House Speaker John Boehnor (R-OH)’s 2-year budget deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Obama, saying that the deal is taking money from Medicare and Social Security over several years to meet discretionary spending preferences now.  (The truth is that Medicare spending needs to be restrained over the longer-term, which I’m sure Senator Paul agrees with.)  He temporizes, declining to make an ideological argument about steep across-the-board budget cuts which we know he wants.  (They’re in his budget proposal.)

8:47 pm: Chaos.  Senator Cruz started it.

Senator Cruz had been asked about what to do about the Federal debt limit, and he saw this as yet-another opportunity to go after the mainstream media for bias.  (It’s just…not as convincing when Senator Cruz does it as when Senator Rubio does it.)  He said that the Republicans onstage each have more wisdom and prudence than any of the Democrats running for President.  “Their last debate was like a debate between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.”  Yeah, this guy is capable of acting in elected office outside of the deep South effectively…

8:43 pm: In response to a difficult question about her firing as CEO of HP, Ms. Fiorina responds that “politics” forced her out of the boardroom–an answer that people who are just difficult to work with frequently give–and that Tom Perkins later expressed regret about her firing, and said that she had, upon closer inspection, been a good CEO.

In response, Fiorina was asked about Perkins’ controversial statement earlier this year, that wealthy Americans should get more votes than poor Americans.  (Wow, as if they weren’t benefiting from good fortune enough already.)  Fiorina’s answer is clever but flippant: “Well, now you see why Perkins and I had disagreements in the boardroom!”  Maybe we do, maybe.  Fiorina steers away from Scylla while there is no Charybdis on the other side of her ship.

8:39 pm: Governor Bush tells Senator Rubio that he’s not on a French work week; if he isn’t going to show up for work–Bush notes that he had supported Rubio not just as a mentor but as a constituent, and that he considers Rubio to be coming up short on constituent service.  He tells him to “Show up for work–or resign!”  The Senator fires back that Governor Bush had said he now wanted to model his campaign on Senator McCain’s comeback campaign–and that Senator McCain skipped many votes to campaign and is still a mover-and-shaker in the U.S. Senate!  Hah!

8:37 pm: Senator Rubio gets the hard question about the Sun-Sentinel editorial: “Rubio should resign, rather than keep ripping us off.”  A panel moderator notes that Senator Rubio has missed most of his Senate votes so far in the 114th Congress…and Senator Rubio notes that Senator Graham and then-Senator Obama missed a lot of Senate votes–fewer than him–while campaigning for re-election or for President, and notes that the Sun-Sentinel endorsed Graham while the papers didn’t criticize Obama’s absence.  “This is just another example of the mainstream media’s bias against Conservatives in politics.”

Judging by the crowd’s reaction, Senator Rubio just hit a fastball out of the park.

Let’s go Mets!

8:36 pm: Carly Fiorina grandstands a bit on tax reform, noting that about 60% of Americans hire a tax professional to help them understand the available income tax deductions.  She might do better tonight on substance, in a domestic policy debate.

8:28 pm: Dr. Carson was told that his tax plan would create multiple trillions of dollars of new debt that practically couldn’t result in a balanced budget through spending cuts, and he disputes the numbers.  That’s going to be hard to do with a panel of political journalists from CNBC, who are probably all briefed on aggregate budget forecasts.  Through the narrowed eyes from which he exudes that charming calm, Dr. Carson is probably aware that he has a large support base in the Christian Right that feels appreciation to the point of fidelity to him because of his consistency…and his stubborn lack of regard for what those not in the Christian Right think of him.

Governor Kasich criticizes multiple candidates on the stage for their pie-in-the-sky tax and budget proposals in their Presidential candidacy.  I wonder if the Republican Establishment will ever take a serious interest in Kasich as a possible redeemer for next year.

Trump jumps on Governor Kasich, noting his low poll numbers (outside of Ohio), criticizing Ohio’s reliance on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as a source of revenue, and saying that Kasich was on the Board of Managers at Lehman Brothers in 2008.  (Ouch!)  Trump will attack his opponents onstage in Republican Presidential Primary debates from the left.

Kasich seems eager to defend his record.  He notes Ohio has a diverse (and diversifying) energy industry, including renewable energy production.  He also corrects Trump, saying he was not on the Board of Managers at Lehman Brothers, but that he was a banker, and that this helped him to learn about business at the local level.  (What, Trump got his facts wrong?)

8:18 pm: “You guys know that in a lot of job interviews, you get the question: ‘What is your biggest weakness?’  Now, in 30 seconds, without saying ‘I work too hard’…what is your greatest weakness?”

Governor Kasich ignores the call for probity and makes a campaign plug.  He isn’t a superficial candidate, but as a moderate-Conservative he’s just desperate to stand-out in this field.

Governor Bush tells us our greatest days lie ahead.

Senator Rubio says our greatest days lie ahead.

Donald Trump answers the question!  Wow!  He answers this question seriously!  He says his greatest weakness is that he is trusting of people whom he relies upon to a fault.  And then, if he feels that his trust or expectations are conclusively not met, he never forgets and tends to hold grudges.  He says his wife noted this about him and told him to let-up.  That was actually a good answer.

Dr. Carson says perhaps his biggest weakness was that he couldn’t imagine himself as President until hundreds of thousands (of the Conservative grass-roots) called upon him to run for President.  That wasn’t his greatest weakness, it was his modesty and his good sense, and it’s on hold now.

Carly Fiorina joked that she has been told since the last debate that she should smile more.  Either she sees this question as just a losing proposition for her in 30 seconds or less, or else she lacks self-knowledge.

Ted Cruz jokes that his greatest weakness is that he’s too agreeable, then he gives a serious answer that he’s too passionate and too prone to confrontation over his beliefs.  He is, and that is indeed a great weakness.  I would sooner say, maybe, that it’s his cynical opportunism, his “failure to distinguish fame from celebrity,” as Christopher Lasch would put it, and his inability to make friends in his chosen profession is his greatest weakness, but at least it’s a substantive answer.

Governor Christie, with his own character now much in controversy both within New Jersey and without, declines to answer the question, instead talking about what he perceives as the flaws in the Democratic Presidential prospects.  That ought to increase confidence in his sense of perspective…

Senator Paul also answers the question by not addressing it.


8:15 pm: CNBC goes for a…kinda funny dramatic opening.  I like it, but I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons.  I feel like the Mets-Royals World Series is a more authentic serious tone.


Live-Blogging the First 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary DebateG35

So far, Republican Presidential contenders in crowded, cantankerous debates have promised to impose a national sales tax, have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (though Governor Walker is out of it now), resorted to decades-old rhetoric in opposition to gun control, bickered over who isn’t disowning Chief Justice John Roberts fast-enough, proposed walling-off Mexico and even Canada, and with a few exceptions have talked about the “problem of illegal aliens” as if the migrant workers and families in question aren’t even human.  The show has been stolen by celebrities devoid of any political experience whatsoever; Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have competed to see who can exude more visceral nastiness to gratify the frustration and wrath of the Republican primary voter.  Tonight, the much smaller field of Democratic Presidential hopefuls meets in Las Vegas, to discuss their differences.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), for one, said we should expect less personality-driven controversy and more talk about policy.

The only way to see how far a crazy train has carried you from the normal is to be walked back to the normal.  Stay tuned…

11:02 pm: Former Secretary of State Clinton brings the plane in for a textbook landing.  She is ready for the general election.

I’d even say she’s eager to get to it.

11:00 pm: Senator Sanders, oddly, doesn’t have a compelling closing statement.  (I say that because he really has made the most of his debate time on his own terms.)  Interestingly, he refers back to America’s almost-unique lack of paid maternity leave; Sanders definitely wins elections on substance, because he doesn’t have a sense of showmanship.

10:58 pm: Governor O’Malley notes what you didn’t hear in the Democratic debate tonight–no bashing of immigrants, little resentment or frustration–and associates this more open-minded, less-miserable and terrified perspective with younger Americans.  He sounds good.

10:56 pm: Senator Webb calls for building consensus.  He says he wants to confront poverty and the political power of corporations and centralized wealth.  I don’t mean to cast aspersions in saying this, but I really think he would rather run for President 50 years ago.

10:55 pm: Governor Chafee closes by calling himself a taker of difficult, principled stands.  I feel for him; I remember being fascinated by the Liberal-Republican Senator from Rhode Island.  But he’s losing-out in support to the candidates with long-established reputations as Progressive Democrats (or independent Socialists).

10:53 pm: Candidates are asked to name their enemies!  Well, interests and entities that just don’t like them.

Governor Chafee: “The coal lobby.”

Governor O’Malley. “The National Rifle Association.”

Secretary Clinton: “The drug companies, the insurance companies, the Iranians…maybe the Republicans, too.”

Senator Sanders: “Wall Street and the pharmaceutical companies.”

Senator Webb: “…I guess I would have to say the enemy soldier who wounded me with that grenade, but he isn’t around to talk to right now, so…” *shrugs*

10:43 pm: Senator Sanders notes that only the United States “and a few small countries”–geopolitical curios–have no paid maternity leave policy in their national regulations.  He calls this our “embarrassment.”

I like how little time in this debate is spent simply referring to 1 candidate or another’s odd offhand comments.  Democrats are talking about particular policies they want to enact, rather than laws they want to repeal, those policies are focused on making life easier for people rather than harder…If you’ll pardon the cliche, it’s like coming up for air when you didn’t know your breathing had been restrained.

10:42 pm: Secretary Clinton notes that Republicans say we should not regulate businesses to require paid family leave to raise small children–but that State and Federal laws regulating women’s reproductive options is not only alright by them, but an urgent policy priority.  It’s true, Republicans sure do have a lot of ideas about how women should live considering none of them provide any benefit for them whatsoever…

10:36 pm: Senator Sanders gives a superior answer to the “coronation” question–by changing the subject.  He notes that he has raised impressive fundraising totals in small donations by little-guy donors, and that he is the only Presidential prospect who has not created a super-PAC.  Sanders gets props for working an important subject–private money rampancy in our politics–into a typically-CNN fluff question.

10:35 pm: Governor O’Malley gives 1 of his less-compelling answers of the evening–not because it sounds bad, but because it’s unconvincing: In response to Anderson Cooper’s question about whether Hillary Clinton’s election would be a “coronation,” O’Malley expresses his respect for the Clintons, but says we need new leadership to transcend partisanship.

This is nonsense, frankly.  Governor O’Malley was Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of a State where Democrats enjoy supermajority representation in the legislature; outside of a more-moderate and Realist orientation in foreign policy. O’Malley has been burnishing his Liberal governing record all night.  I find that combination welcome–but it makes him seem like a poor entrepreneur of compromise between the parties; O’Malley has never really had to work with Republicans before.  He doesn’t know what Republicans are like, let-alone the Tea Party.

10:33 pm: Coming back from the (long) commercial break, Senator Clinton is asked the very-de-jure (and kinda stupid) question about whether “The Presidency shouldn’t be a crown passed between 2 royal families.”  I feel bad that she has to answer this kind of question; I’m serious.  What other First Lady has been talked about as a serious Presidential aspirant?  Who would ordinarily have the temerity to suggest such a bid was plausible?  It has always seemed like a possibility with Hillary Clinton, because of her merits.

10:28 pm: CNN will return with a lot of no-doubt profound questions on environmental policy, right  after these words from our fine corporate sponsors!

…You know, CNN came back from a commercial break, introduced the Democratic Presidential hopefuls, had Shania Twain sing the National Anthem, and then cut back to commercial.

10:28 pm: Senator Sanders explains his statement that we need, um, revolution.  (A Socialist calling for revolution on national television; some optics.)  Sanders manages to decry our low voter turnout, reaffirming his point that higher-turnout elections trend more-Democratic.  (Democrats outnumber Republicans in the United States and always have.)

10:23 pm: Governor Chafee says he would bring Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who stole government documents and fled the country, releasing them all in an embarrassing and unfocused trickle, home and commute any sentence he was to receive.  Secretary Clinton and Governor O’Malley both note that Snowden revealed through his actions that he was no whistle-blower but a criminal.  (Adults in the room in a discussion of national security policy!)  Senator Sanders defends him, though note quite with Chafee’s passion.

Senator Webb avers in an interesting way: “I would leave Mr. Snowden’s ultimate fate to the legal system.”

10:21 pm: Senator Sanders promises that as President he would not reform the USA PATRIOT Act (which the other candidates all say they will do), but end it.  He mischaracterizes the NSA’s PRISM program.

10:15 pm: Governor O’Malley calls for some fairly-radical (in our ossified political context) immigration reform measures, calling for extending the benefits available to American citizens under the Affordable Care Act to currently-undocumented immigrants.  He says President Obama’s executive orders allowing millions of currently-illegal immigrants to remain in the United States indefinitely don’t go far-enough.  He later notes that Maryland passed a State-level version of the Federal DREAM Act–and that it passed a public referendum with 58% of the vote.

Our bench isn’t as deep as the Republicans’, but it’s deep-enough to see real variation among the candidates.  Secretary Clinton essentially hews to President Obama’s position, which is already well to the left of the Republicans but too incrementalist for many Liberals in the Democratic Party.

10:00 pm: Secretary Clinton pushes further from President Obama’s proposal for tuition-free community college to Federal funding for tuition-free State university education; she is reminded that she was just asked if she supported Senator Sanders’ call to increase funding for Social Security.  She backs-up and expresses support for increases Social Security payments for limited-income seniors.

Senator Sanders notes that seniors can expect to live in poverty on Social Security, and calls for ending the cap of the payroll tax on the first $108,600 of a person’s income.  Sanders’ stature is going to rise after this debate, even if his lack of charisma is almost his defining trait.

10:05 pm: Senator Sanders affirms that he would have passed the TARP bailout of Wall Street as an acute necessity, but that he did confront some of Bush’s appointed former banking executives and ask–not rhetorically–why they weren’t paying more to bail their own institutions out, instead relying on taxpayer funds to essentially protect their own jobs and investments.  He wants his adversarial position towards Wall Street to be widely-known; Secretary Clinton cannot out-maneuver him on this question and shouldn’t bother trying.

10:02 pm: Senator Sanders gets in 1 of the likely headline quotes of the night: “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”  The man knows how to negotiate a Democratic primary.

10:00 pm: Secretary Clinton avers, surprisingly unconvincingly, that she was sensitive to the issues of speculative banking and banking consolidation before the 2008 Financial Crash.  Her vague answer on this question suggests that her heart really isn’t in this fight.

9:57 pm: Governor O’Malley sounds the call to separate speculative investment banking from commercial deposit banking–a return to the Glass-Steagall Act–and says that Senator Clinton couldn’t enjoy a renewal of his endorsement form 2008 due to her lack of a call for accountability for the banks.

9:50 pm: A question from a viewer: “Do Black lives matter, or to all lives matter?”  Senator Sanders, having previously had a speech crashed by Black Lives Matter activists, has learned to listen: “Black lives matter,” he says, earning applause as he talks about institutional racism.

Governor O’Malley talks a great length about the complexity of race relations: Tepid applause.  Great Scott, man! why didn’t you just open with “Black lives matter”?  Of course, Governor O’Malley was the source of the ill-starred “All lives matter” rejoinder.

Senator Clinton talks about confronting oppression and inequality with policies; huge applause.  You can offer a nuanced answer and steer the conversation if you are already a giant in the discussion.

Senator Webb notes his pursuit of racial justice through the Department of Defense.  He doesn’t get the tense quiet that O’Malley has as a contextual default, but this isn’t red meat.  Senator Webb will have a hard time answering these questions in a Democratic primary.

9:46 pm: Secretary Clinton notes that the House Republicans’ interminable investigations of her have not served their stated purpose of improving diplomatic security (she says there have already been 7 Congressional committees convened to study that issue), and that about $4.5 million have been spent investigating Secretary Clinton without finding anything.  Senator Sanders defends her, saying “Americans are tired of hearing about your damn emails!” which Clinton agrees with.  This is a huge applause line; it’s also a huge applause line when Governor Chafee calls the question of Clinton’s use of a private email account to conduct State business as a major accountability issue; Anderson Cooper asks Secretary Clinton if she would like to respond.  “No,” she says, to immense applause.

Hillary Clinton is winning this debate.

Governor Chafee cannot get a toehold here.

Senator Sanders reminds me of Louis Black.

Governor O’Malley agrees with Clinton and Sanders, putting this issue to bed.

9:40 pm: Each of the candidate is asked what they think to be the greatest national security threat to United States.

O’Malley: Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear program.

Clinton:  The spread of nuclear weapons technology and nuclear material, which is already possessed by unstable governments and pursued by Islamist terrorists.

Sanders: Human-induced global warming. (applause)

Webb: Cybercrime, terrorism, instability in the Middle East.

These answers are oddly-hard to compare; Senator Sanders gets credit for thinking outside of the box, but I think the other candidates would rejoin that he is thinking outside of the genre.  Clinton’s answer is the most-straightforward.  She really does strike me, personally, as the most-prepared candidate (or at least the most prepared to talk about issues that will be faced by a President).

9:40 pm: Senator Webb calls the acceptance of the Iran nuclear agreement to be symptomatic of general weakness, and attributes Iran’s recent test of a ballistic missile as a response to President Obama’s acceptance of this agreement.  I think Europe’s withdrawal from the sanctions regime in frustration might also have looked “weak” in Senator Webb’s view.

9:34 pm: Secretary Clinton defends the Libyan intervention that prevented a massacre in Benghazi and overthrew Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi.  She shines when she talks about humanitarian intervention.

Senator Webb temporizes: President Obama should have requested Congressional authorization for the Libyan intervention…so that Senator Webb could have condemned the action.  Our intervention saved a city the size of San Francisco from a Hama-type massacre.  Senator Webb says the drive from downtown Tripoli to Tripoli airport has become almost impassable due to militia roadblocks; I think as both a Liberal and an ironist that it’s more-important for major cities not to be massacred than for the drive to an airport to be reliable.

9:30 pm: “Let me just say here: We are already flying in Syria, just as we are flying in Iraq.”  Pushing back against loosely-philosophical talk against (often-humanitarian) foreign intervention, Clinton calls for closer consultation with US allies to increase status quo policies aimed at destroying the violent Islamist uprising that straddles much of Syria and Iraq.  She really such an advantage in foreign and national security policy discussions as the former Secretary of State.  She just talks in terms of concrete situations more-easily.

9:25 pm: Governor Chafee attacks Secretary Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution, noting that “I did my homework” as the sole Republican to vote against giving George W. Bush the blank check that became the Iraq War.  He also compliments Senator Sanders for beating him to the punch in condemning the decision to go to war in Iraq, thus implicating Clinton with the Neoconservatives.  (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”)

9:22 pm: Secretary Clinton argues that Russia’s intervention in Syria is intolerable; I have always had a soft spot for Clinton’s hawkishness, but Putin’s intervention in Syria is more-ill-advised than it is intolerable.

Senator Sanders says in response that the invasion of Iraq was “the worst foreign policy decision in American history,” to applause.  (We didn’t lose 58,000 American servicemen and kill 2 million civilians in Iraq, but Iraq is much fresher in people’s memories; I will agree that our intervention in Iraq was a costlier strategic blunder than Vietnam, at least, as well as incredibly expensive.)

9:17 pm: In an interesting exchange, Senator Sanders defends himself against Governor O’Malley (who passed relatively strong gun control legislation in deep-Blue Maryland in 2013), saying that rural States like his home State of Vermont have a different culture and mentality regarding guns, and that Republicans (presumably) will have to be part of the solution in Congress if any new Federal gun control legislation is to be passed.

9:14 pm: Senator Sanders notes his D+ grade from the NRA.  (A good Vermonter, he is frequently noted to be relatively gun-friendly for a contemporary Democrat.)  He notes that he voted against a bill that would have held gun store owners liable for crimes committed by those who purchase guns in their stores; but he also notes that he thinks gun manufacturers need to be confronted for their cozy relationship with lawmakers.

Secretary Clinton hits Senator Sanders, trying to get to his left.  She notes that Sanders voted against the Brady Bill (Remember President Reagan’s support for gun control after he was almost assassinated by a disturbed lone wolf?).  She also smuggles in the premise that Senator Sanders will not take any action against gun manufacturers.  She says it’s time Congress stood up to the NRA–to round applause.  She notes that the vast majority of NRA members think that gun purchasers should have to pass a criminal background check, but the NRA organization reflexively opposes them.

9:10 pm: Governor O’Malley gets a (contextually) difficult question about his 800-pound gorilla in the room: He was Mayor of Baltimore, and champion of assertive policing.  Police misconduct was cited as the probable cause of the death of Freddie Gray, arrested without a charge, which led to devastating riots in that city’s inner city commercial district.  Governor O’Malley notes that arrests had fallen to a 38-year low the year before the Baltimore riots; that answer is a subtle one under the circumstances, but it isn’t likely to satisfy those who implicate the Governor in Baltimore’s reputation for harsh police tactics, and were looking for a discussion of what happens behind the thin blue line.

9:06 pm: Senator Sanders calls for proactive policy support for small and moderately-scaled businesses as a counter to Secretary Clinton’s call for corporate profit-sharing and harnessing of the power of markets on behalf of of those left behind.  This is probably going to be the terms of the Democratic Primary going forward: Can markets be coaxed into new arrangements that will provide for the middle- and working-class, or do they have to be regulated from an adversarial position to prevent corporate greed from becoming rapacious?  This question is increasingly the substance of articulate ambivalence.

9:00 pm: Secretary of Clinton does well with her first question, characterizing her occasional shifts in view–for example, her recent shift to saying that President Obama has been too harsh on immigration policy and in no longer saying she supports the Trans Pacific Partnership–by saying that she changes her mind in light of new information.  It’s what she should say; that’s as may be, her shifts of position on both of those issues to discredit President Obama with the Left almost certainly constitutes positioning.

8:57 pm: Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launches right into a positive list of proposals for how to increase middle-class economic security.  She sounds rehearsed (which is not to say that I buy the myth that Secretary Clinton is more of a performer than the average politician, though some may leave with that impression), but I notice that she offers answers–moderate answers, perhaps, but answers–to the economic inequality and fragmentation that Senator Sanders just decried.  It may not satisfy a Sanders supporter in substance, but it reflects a more-canny political psychology: Don’t talk about the depth of the problem more than about what you want to do.

8:55 pm: Senator Sanders, the Vermont Socialist–No, he’s really a Socialist, just ask him–is angry.  He does exude more of the vibe you can feel on the dominant Republican Presidential candidates right now.  He talks more explicitly about existing social problems–inequality, domination of the political system by special interests.  To a Liberal, he’s endearing–but his lack of charisma has never been more clear than on a national debate stage.

8:51 pm: Governor O’Malley speaks with pride of his tenure as Governor of Maryland; it is his tenure as Mayor of Baltimore, once at a cursory glance thought to be transformative, that is likely to continually haunt him, particularly during this primary season.

8:50 pm: Having heard Governor Chafee and Senator Webb introduce themselves, I’m stricken by the expectation that the Democratic candidates are going to emphasize the positive: Chafee talked about his managerial record as Mayor of Warwick and Governor of Rhode Island, and difficult votes taken as a 1-term Republican Senator.

Senator Webb talks about his personal background: He is a military man, he worked in the Reagan Administration.  Some of it is structural, but I note that neither candidate talks in the resentful terms towards the present that characterize so many of the Republican candidates.

8:39 pm: Oh yeah, former Governor Martin O’Malley, former Senator Jim Webb, and former Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee are also running for the Democratic nomination.  The Democratic side of the field really has gotten insufficient attention…

8:37 pm: Listening to CNN’s stylized auto-narration for the debate it is going to moderate reminds me why I don’t like CNN.  They spend all too much time contextualizing the way we are supposed to interpret what we see and hear; it isn’t postmodern and subversive, it’s oppressive and patronizing.  It reminds me of words that adorn a work of visual art in the National Portrait Gallery: “An excess of self-consciousness leads to perversions.”