On October 13th, the five Democratic presidential candidates debated for more than two hours. There were ten takeaways from the event:
1. It was a high-level debate, filled with discussion of Democratic policies and values. In contrast, the first two Republican debates featured a mixture of tired conservative maxims (cut taxes), opprobriums (dictator Obama), soft-ball questions (which woman would you put on the $10 bill) and personal attacks by Donald Trump . Democrats tackled substantial subjects including climate change, income inequality, race, campaign finance reform, domestic surveillance, Wall Street reform, the "one percent," college affordability, diplomacy, paid family leave, healthcare, and the minimum wage.
2. Former Senators Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb should withdraw their candidacies. Both Chafee and Webb were embarrassed. Chafee flubbed a question about why he voted to repeal the "Glass-Steagall Act." Webb came out in favor of an "all-of-the-above" energy sources including coal and nuclear power(!).
3. There was remarkable policy unanimity among the Democratic candidates. While differing in policy details, Chafee, Clinton, O'Malley, Sanders, and Webb agreed on most subjects.
4. Regardless of whom the Democratic candidate turns out to be, there are unmistakable differences between Democrats and Republicans. Whether the ultimate Democratic nominee is Clinton or Sanders, there will be a policy chasm between the Democrat and whomever the Republicans nominate. Democrats want to continue the policies of the Obama administration; Republicans don't. Democrats believe climate change is a real threat and want to do something about it; Republicans believe climate change is "a hoax." Etcetera.
5. Sanders had the best moment, setting the tone for the night: Sanders defended Clinton, attacking the media obsession with her emails: "Let me say something about the media" as I go around the country, [and] talk to a whole lot of people. Middle class in this country is collapsing. We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we're going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens Union. Enough of the e-mails. Let's talk about the real issues facing America."
6. There were two "gotcha" attempts and neither one worked. True to form, Sanders never attacked Clinton. However, Sanders was attacked twice: Martin O'Malley tried to get at Sanders record on gun control by introducing two folks who had tried to sue a man who had sold 4000 rounds of ammunition to the Aurora shooter; however, the CNN host, Anderson Cooper, didn't follow up. And, Cooper tried a soft attack on Sanders' patriotism by noting, "You honeymooned in the Soviet Union," but Bernie brushed it off. (Actually, Sanders went to the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange.)
7. Despite their agreement on most subjects, the five candidates disagreed on the greatest national security threat. Chafee said, "chaos in the Middle East." Webb added, "cyber-warfare." O'Malley said, "nuclear Iran." Sanders responded, "climate change." And Clinton said, "the spread of nuclear weapons."
8. The political debate is Clinton's ideal milieu and it showed. Clinton has a lot of debate experience; in 2008 Hillary debated Obama 25 times. As a result, Clinton gave a superb performance: she was confident, positive, and had the best body language of all the candidates.
9. Nonetheless, Sanders performed well. Bernie never got rattled, even when attacked by Martin O'Malley and Anderson Cooper. He stayed on message, concluding, "Here is the truth that very few candidates will say, is that nobody up here, certainly no Republican, can address the major crises facing our country unless millions of people begin to stand up to the billionaire class that has so much power over our economy and our political life."
10. Hillary Sanders will probably be the Democratic presidential candidate but Bernie Sanders will compete with her for at least six months. Many Democrats were waiting for Hillary to screw up so that Vice President Joe Biden would feel compelled to enter the race. Clinton didn't bomb and Biden probably won't declare.
Clinton's strong debate performance doesn't mean Sanders is out of the running. Many observers were surprised at how well he did and most focus groups had Bernie winning the debate. Sanders should be around until at least "Super Tuesday," March 1, 2016.
And, there's no doubt that Bernie Sanders presence has driven Hillary Clinton to the left. (During the debate she said, "I'm a progressive.")
The first Democratic presidential debate was good for Clinton and for Sanders. It was good for the Democratic Party. And, the debate was good for America.