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.”


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