Live-Blogging the Flint, Michigan Democratic Presidential Primary Debate

The Democratic Presidential Primary has come together much more-quickly than the Republican Presidential Primary; Hillary Clinton’s nomination by her party is now almost a fait accompli.  But Bernie Sanders can still contribute much to the narrative of this Presidential Election, particularly in an old industrial city as troubled as Flint.

9:51 pm: Donald Trump has expressed an eagerness to run against Secretary Clinton, and has promised to talk-up her email non-scandal constantly.  Clinton quips that the only Presidential candidate who has gotten more votes than Donald Trump is her!  Hah!  She squarely contrasts herself from Trump, who she calls “bigoted.”  (That’s reasonable.)  She offers national healing as the theme of her campaign; I wish her luck with her message of rapprochement and greater mutual understanding between Americans in the face of the Republican noise machine.

Anderson Cooper notes that Trump has called Sanders a COMMUNIST!  How do you respond to the charge, sir?!  Sanders says that “That was one of the nice things that Donald Trump called me.”  Sanders notes that he fares better against Donald Trump in polling than Clinton does.  I wish him luck maintaining his good reputation in the face of the Republican noise machine.

9:44 pm: Senator Sanders repeats his popular and in many ways central campaign theme: He is almost unique in refusing to accept corporate and soft-money campaign contributions, the scope in modern politics of which attests to the access that major corporations and the rich pay to get.  Overturning Citizens United, either at the Supreme Court or by Amendment, is a major priority.  Secretary Clinton ought to say more about campaign finance reform in her own time and allay some people’s misgivings.

9:37 pm: Are you in favor of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting oil and gas?

Secretary Clinton: Yes, if wanted by the State and local communities in question, and subject to full environmental review and the best available geographical surveying, and with proper financial benefits from fracking going to the States and communities providing that resource.

Senator Sanders: No.

Are you sure?  A lot of Democratic Governors favor some fracking in n their States; are you saying they’re wrong?

Sanders: Yes.

A President Sanders really would be rough on the economy: Huge tax increases, very step spending increases, massive new tariffs on imports, new financial transactions taxes and far less domestic resource-extraction…Has anyone calculated the net burden all of this would impose on the economy?  It would be a big drag.

9:26 pm: Secretary Clinton gets the question first: What can be done to make public schools better-supported and more-accountable to their communities?  I don’t have much time to write on this one: The upshot is that Clinton was commendably wonky in response to this question by focusing on particular mechanisms for providing resources for public schools (also, she is hostile to Michigan’s Emergency Financial Managers), but she is reticent to engage the question of whether teacher’s unions protect bad teachers in practice.  She notes that teachers are not usually acknowledged for the important role they play in our society.

Senator Sanders resorts to his promise of free college!  Sometimes he is courageous in his advocacy, and sometimes it highlights when he is a little bit off of his policy depth.

9:14 pm: Don Lemon is really putting Secretary Clinton through her paces!  He asks her about her use of the term “super-predators” in the 1990s; an activist heckled her at a private gathering for making what she called a racially-coded attack.  Clinton said that she had used the term in reference to drug smugglers and other organized criminals, and that it was a mistake.

The Liberal Ironist finds it ironic that as reliable and effective of a Democrat as Hillary Clinton has spent the better part of this Presidential Primary having to demonstrate that she isn’t secretly a Republican; isn’t it enough that she isn’t acting like a maniac right now?

In response to a question about what his racial blind spots may be, Senator Sanders notes his surprise that, in the mid-1990s, a Black Congressman couldn’t get a cab driver in n Washington, DC to stop to give him a ride.

Both of these candidates seem to recognize that their rules as President will be to try to better-serve the needs of people whose experiences are different from theirs; right now, the Republican Presidential candidates are mostly straining to make their voters identify with them personally, and often against other Americans.  The Democratic Party is trying to transcend tribal loyalties while the Republican Party seems to be trying to reinforce them.

9:08 pm: Senator Sanders is asked by a Black debate audience member about experiences he has had with other ethnic cultures in the United States.  He knocks this one out of the park.

Sanders speaks of his work to integrate University of Chicago student housing in the early 1960s, his arrest during a protest action while advocating for integration of Chicago public schools a year later, and his 1963 participation in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington.

Sanders finally got that one out there: He matched with Dr. King.

Secretary Clinton notes that she was 14 years old at the time, but she is able to point to her interest in and awareness of Dr. King at that time; not bad for a kid growing up in a White neighborhood.

9:00 pm: Don Lemon asks Secretary Clinton a question about criminal justice reform: President Clinton’s 1994 crime bill was strongly supported by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, which President Clinton has since said had regrettable policy impacts on minority communities: “Why should we count on you to get it right now?”

Secretary Clinton says that Senator Sanders voted for the bill as well, and that there was good and bad in the 1994 crime bill, and that the systemic racism in the criminal justice system is now much easier to document, and that it now needs to be comprehensively addressed in policy.

Senator Sanders particularly notes that the 1994 crime bill contained a mix of good and bad; he notes his support for the violence against women provisions and the assault weapons ban, as did Secretary Clinton.  Both have noted the omnibus and multifaceted nature of this crime bill; the issue is a wash.

8:50 pm: A Michigander in the audience asks an uncomfortable but serious question: There have been at least 42 mass shootings in the United States in the first 2 months and week of 2016; the man has a daughter who was shot and seriously wounded by a mass shooter in Michigan who had no known mental health issues and no criminal background.  He wants to hear what each candidate will do about gun violence that doesn’t just involve better mental health care and gun background checks.

Secretary Clinton is eager to discuss this, and she starts by mentioning background checks–close the gun show loophole, make background checks instant, maintain waiting periods.  She also calls for statutory change to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers and gun dealers for their potentially enabling role in gun violence.

Senator Sanders notes that he has a lifetime D- rating from the NRA, but he argues that gun manufacturers should be indemnified against some forms of lawsuit because “what you are proposing is the end of gun manufacturing in America.”

Clinton sees an opportunity for a major attack on Sanders’ air of incorruptibility; she calls the combination of profits and indemnity for fun manufactures Sanders’ blind spot on the issue of corporate greed.

8:37 pm: Secretary Clinton speaks in favor of the U.S. Export-Import Bank as a way of promoting U.S. exports through a more-liberalized U.S. trade policy.

Moderator Anderson Cooper notes that the Export-Import Bank mostly gives loans to American small businesses; Senator Sanders notes that about 75% of the loans have been extended to major corporations!  Cooper notes that Sanders is right about this; Clinton responds that some U.S. corporations are a major strategic, economic, and yes, employment interest.  She notes that European states heavily subsidize Airbus and that our government should take action to make Boeing a competitive producer.

Sanders responds that these countries also spend money on universal health care; Clinton counters that the Affordable Care Act has insured 90% of Americans already, and provides the needed infrastructure for universal health care already and should be improved and expanded.

8:26 pm: Secretary Clinton attacks Senator Sanders for not supporting the bailout of Detroit; Sanders in response bitterly attacks Clinton for bailing-out Wall Street.  Sanders expresses outrage that working-class taxpayers have to bail-out the millionaires and billionaires of Wall Street and Detroit.  (Actually, it was mostly wealthy taxpayers who had to pay into those bailouts through Federal income tax, but point taken.)  Anyway, Sanders very deftly evades discussing his disengagement from President Obama’s successful bailout and restructuring of Detroit; even by shifting the focus to Wall Street, he doesn’t seem to win this one with the crowd.

8:24 pm: Sanders tries to put Flint’s troubles on Secretary Clinton, saying that past U.S. free trade agreements have been a disaster for the American middle class; that would mark a foreign policy sea-change and a major increase in the cost of consumer goods, but a zero-sum view of international trade is a keystone to Sanders’ campaign.

8:11 pm-8:18 pm: There is a long discussion about who is responsible for Flint’s exposure to lead-poisoned water.  The Flint City Council voted to obtain water from the Flint River rather than the safer supply from the City of Detroit, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality overlooked growing evidence of lead poisoning, the State Emergency Financial Manager for Flint appointed by Governor Snyder rejected a City Council resolution to get water from Detroit again, and the Federal EPA rejected outside calls to inspect Flint’s water supply.  Both candidates call for an investigation; the usually fiery Sanders says that he is not qualified to determine whether a criminal act has been committed, and says a full Federal investigation should make that determination.

Sanders is the ideological candidate in the Democratic Party: He does not call for a witch hunt or invoke a conspiracy theory, and no one in the audience boos him for not calling for heads to roll on little information.  This was an informative exchange about real accountability; that would make this a Democratic Primary Debate.

8:10 pm: Senator Sanders gets a question from Anderson Cooper about whether government can be trusted to clean Flint’s water since this represents a failure of public goods provision by government; he gets cheers from the debate audience for ironically suggesting that the corporations that poisoned the Flint River, shipped thousands of jobs out of the country, or wrecked the economy with risky speculation in the last decade could take responsibility for maintaining clean drinking water for Flint.  Government needs to have the resources and oversight to do its job, not be dismantled further; the layer approach has been tried and has been a disaster.

8:06 pm: There is a question about what the candidates will do to impose accountability and improve Flint’s water quality.  Clinton says that the State as lead environmental agency and financial receiver for cash-strapped Flint should pay much of the cost to repair Flint’s water infrastructure; Senator Sanders goes further and seems to “win” the v question for arguing that the Federal Government should proactively step in in the case of such a disaster.  I for one like the idea of the Federal Government imposing accountability on the State of Michigan for failing to do so, which seems to have been Clinton’s emphasis.

8:04 pm: …It was actually Secretary Clinton’s request that led to the hosting of this CNN debate in Flint.  Clinton came-out on this message first.  She starts her opening statement with “amen to that,” to everything that Sanders initially said.  Both candidates have called on Governor Snyder, a Republican, to resign; Michiganders seem to want Snyder to stay on to fix Flint’s severe water quality problems, though they do consider him accountable if not responsible.

8:02 pm: “What is happening in Flint is happening to a lesser extent throughout this county…”  In his opening statement, Senator Sanders juxtaposes the teeming population of American billionaires with tens of millions of struggling American families that used to be considered middle class.  A hollowing manufacturing sector, crumbling infrastructure, an ancien regime of the super-rich?  That sounds like a perfect setting for Sanders’ campaign message…


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