The First Democratic Presidential Debate Had Adults On The Stage

Dave Johnson

The first Democratic debate showed the country what it is like to have adults on a stage. It doesn’t matter who “won.” The candidates showed they all are concerned about governing the country and proposing actual policies that will help actual people have better lives. And they showed that we have a serious and lively Democratic primary race in front of us. The country will be the winner.

In contrast to the entertaining Republican cage fight clown show racist, anti-government insult fest “debates”, the first Democratic debate was almost entirely a serious debate on issues and policies, by serious people with serious policy proposals, who all did very well. It was a debate for people who actually care about governing the country and making regular people’s lives better. It was a debate that would make Americans feel better about the future of their country.

Finally, A Democratic Debate

The Democrats finally held their first presidential candidate debate Tuesday. It seems the party has tried to avoid having any debates. (At this point in the 2008 cycle there had already been a dozen or so.) Tuesday being the day after a three-day weekend for many people, they decided to risk it. This debate showed just how big a strategic mistake this thinking was for Hillary Clinton and for the party’s ability to take their case to the public in November of 2016.

Hopefully this will convince the party’s leadership to expand the debate schedule. The Democrats all did well, and this debate showed that the party has a good and convincing message to deliver to voters. The party needs to have more public debates – on weeknights in prime time – both for the Presidential race and for Democratic “down ticket” candidates.

The Candidates

The candidates in the debate (click the name for the campaign website) were:
Hillary Clinton
Bernie Sanders
Martin O’Malley
Lincoln Chaffee
Jim Webb

For a comparison of the policy positions of these candidates please visit CAF’s Candidate Scorecard The Candidate Scorecard measures the positions of Democratic candidates for president against the Populism 2015 platform endorsed by organizations representing 2 million Americans.

The Debate

The debate will be analyzed over time; things will become more clear. The public will weigh in. But here are some quick impressions:

● There were lots of “establishment” cheap shots by moderators at Sanders (and a few at Clinton) on guns, “socialism” (oh, scary) and immigration. But these gave Sanders and Clinton a chance to respond and give good answers. It backfired.

● Clinton gave a lot of rehearsed, obviously focus-group-tested answers done very, very skillfully. Again and again she talked about “comprehensive plans” to imply that Sanders does not have the ability to get things done. She talked about being the “first woman president” to appeal to the female demographic, saying she can “find common ground” because polls show that voters want politicians who will “compromise.” It was a perfection of “politics” as we have come to know it, for better or worse. These are not bad things; it might still be what it takes to win elections in the U.S. and this is important. This “kind of person you want to have a beer with” approach might still be how you get votes, but Clinton also did well when she was forced to move away from this style.
● There were still too many “zingers,” like “I know how to find common ground and I know how to stand my ground.” Some of the prepared zingers were really great, such as “They [Republicans] don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood, they’re fine with big government when it comes to that, and I’m sick of it.”
● Clinton’s attack on Sanders over guns failed, and gave him an opportunity to give a good response. Clinton won’t attack Sanders again.
● Bernie Sanders came across very, very well. He showed he is experienced, showed the public he is “presidential” and introduced himself to a lot of new people, depending on how many people watched. He is now introduced to many people who have not heard of him or heard his message. Sanders also had a few prepared phrases, like, “Every other major country on earth has … ” (health care for all, family leave, maternity leave, etc.) and “we are an international embarrassment.” He also said variations on “the Secretary is right” a number of times.
● Sanders repeatedly called for a political revolution, asking millions of people to take on “the billionaire class” to change America. Will he get enough millions?
● O’Malley was very good on most policies, but was rather rehearsed and did not appear quite ready to be on this national stage. As Van Jones said later on CNN, “He did not come across as commander-in-chief.” Clinton and Sanders did.
● Chaffee and Webb possibly wrote themselves out of the race. They both showed themselves to be serious people with very good resumes, but not candidates who are ready to be in a Democratic party race at this time. And Webb was channeling Rand Paul.
● Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley gave great answers on “Black Lives Matter.”
● Biggest applause line: Sanders, in support of Clinton, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails.” “Enough of the emails.”

One last thing. Joe Biden doesn’t have an opening to enter the primaries now.

Democrats Are A Progressive Party Now

These candidates understand that winning in Democratic primaries means they have to spell out solid progressive policy proposals that actually help solve the country’s problems. Progressives are entirely driving the debate on a range of issues now.

This is because time has shown that a progressive approach to solving the problems of the country will work – and conservative or “centrist” (almost conservative) policies have hurt regular people and the country while driving inequality. The public has also realized that the old-style “Marlboro Man” politics of image has not worked for regular people. It is now apparent that “economic democracy” is the way an economy and a country can work.

Note (again): The website Populist Majority collects polling results showing that the public backs progressive solutions to the country’s problems, often by large majorities. The website Candidate Scorecard rates candidate according to the Populism 2015 platform.

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