Democratic Debate: My Analysis

I watched the first debate among democratic presidential candidates, just as I watched the debates among republican candidates, and there was one clear, unambiguous, by-a-landslide winner of tonight’s debate: the democratic party.

It was a lively debate, there was plenty of back-and-forth, and lots of disagreement with plenty of agreement as well. But unlike the republican debates, this one focused on real issues. This was in stark contrast to the republicans’ debates, which — as Bernie Sanders aptly described in a post-debate interview — seemed like a food fight, not a debate on substantive issues. Every one of the democrats seemed keenly aware of the important things facing our country, and very well-informed not only of the basics, but of the nuances. These are people you might actually think could be a good president, not the cadre of clowns the republicans have offered.

But perhaps you’re interested in my evaluation of the candidates’ performances. My choice for the winner: Martin O’Malley. He was poised, informed, confident and composed, and managed to touch on important issues in an appealing way without pandering for votes. He just might have made the democratic competition into a three-person race, rather than the two-person race it was beforehand.

As for Clinton and Sanders, in my opinion both did very well. I’ll give a slight edge to Sanders, who was never flustered and never wavered, and even got in some inspiring comments. Clinton stumbled a time or two, and twice emphasized that she would be the first woman president at moments it seemed more like pandering than anything relevant. But she too was confident and composed, and had the facts at her fingertips — the degree of knowledge about things truly important was impressive. This is most true for the three emergent serious contenders: Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley.

The debate loser, in my opinion, was Lincoln Chafee. He wasn’t even in the game. Jim Webb did OK, but his appeal was mainly to conservatives, which makes him more viable as a presidential candidate but unviable as a democratic nominee. In my viewpoint, both Webb and (especially) Chafee ended their tenures as serious candidates tonight, while Martin O’Malley definitely moved up.

For me personally, the most gratifying thing is that all the candidates took climate change seriously, most even mentioning it during their opening address. They all sounded serious about it, too, although I’ll give more props to Bernie Sanders than the others. O’Malley’s emphasis on a renewable-energy grid by 2050 isn’t nearly enough, in my opinion, and Clinton’s repeat bragging about tracking down the Chinese to get an agreement seemed more like an accomplishment of president Obama than of secretary Clinton. Sanders got in a great line, when discussing climate change, saying that even though he’s a jew, he supports the Pope. But, by a long shot, any of the democratic candidates would be a far better choice than any of the republican candidates.

There was one other “winner” of the debate I should mention: Anderson Cooper. He was thoroughly prepared, worked hard (especially with follow-up questions) to keep the candidates focused on both the issues and the questions. Damn fine job. This guy should moderate a republican debate, too; I hope he gets the chance.

The biggest cheer of the night seemed to come when Clinton was asked about her e-mails, and after giving a fine response, Sanders chimed in to say that he agreed, and let’s stop talking about “the damn emails” and get back to discussing the things that really matter.

Bottom lines:
— Sanders slightly better than Clinton, both very good
— O’Malley thrust himself into serious contention
— Webb and especially Chafee: out
— The contrast between the seriousness and focus of the democrats’ debate and the republican clown car, was a well-deserved slap in the face to the entire republican field.

It was definitely a night when the democrats showed the republicans how adults have a debate.


30 responses to “Democratic Debate: My Analysis

  1. Absolutely agree, a real debate! O’Malley was on CNN this morning and had a great line (paraphrasing): “one nut tries to set off a shoe bomb and we all have to take our shoes off at airports but hundreds get murdered in gun violence and we do nothing to regulate them”.

  2. O’Malley has chops from his work as governor. Good for him. I also think the presence of Sanders has shifted Clinton more into the Democratic wing of the Democratic party, which is all to the good. I’m tired of Hillary bashing but delight in Sanders. Here he is in his lovely Brooklyn rendition:

  3. For whatever it’s worth my own impressions were very similar to yours. I dislike Clinton for reasons that aren’t relevant here and am unsure of Sanders’ general electability. The few places I thought O’Malley stumbled were in regard to Edward Snowden and in taking the usual hardline stance on Iran and Russia (both of which I consider to be rational actors closely focused on their own interests). But those positions are so deeply ingrained in US politics that there are few politicians willing or able to publicly disagree with them… Sanders being one of those few, to a limited exten.

  4. It is heartening to see an informed political debate. We had a good first debate up here in Canada. When our current PM spoke “inaccurately” the others would point that out (e.g. “no-one believes you”, then outline why he was wrong). Still they all made good points, they debated on relevant issues, they disagreed but were generally civil.

    Subsequent debates were not as good because they excluded a fourth member, Elizabeth May, is a top-notch debater, knows her facts, is highly intelligent, and respectfully rebuts or acknowledges the others’ points. She ended up tweeting her responses during a recent debate held for the other three candidates. Polls indicate an overwhelming majority of people wanted her to be involved in all the debates, and it reflects poorly that she wasn’t invited.

    I’ll have to go watch your Democrat debate now. I do like a good debate among thoughtful people dealing with real issues.

    • Regardless of May’s talents, Green’s polling in Canada is low by international standards at under 5%, so her exclusion seems reasonable. The low poll figure may partly reflect strategic voting intentions in the current single-member electorate, first-past-the-post system. People know that a vote for a Green candidate will be a “wasted” vote in most ridings.

      The shortest route to change may be to support those pushing for adoption of “ranked choice voting” (called “optional preferential voting” in Australia).

      • Green Party leaders opposed a 2005 referendum in British Columbia which, had it passed, would have resulted in a proportional representation electoral system for that province. The referendum was defeated but by a margin so small it can be said the Greens defeated it. Given the distribution of votes in that province, proportional representation would have given the Greens the balance of power, i.e. they could have determined which of the other major parties formed the government after each subsequent election. This kind of leverage, obviously, could have been used to advance their political agenda. Given this proven tendency to shoot themselves in the head, it seems the exclusion of Greens from a meaningful role in Canada’s elections has a lot to do with their own ignorance of how to have a political effect.

  5. Adding to what Dan wrote, it looks like PM Harper just played one religion and race baiting wedge issue card too many (pledging to ban the niqab) as his Conservative Party is currently slumping behind the Liberals in the home stretch of the election, although it will almost certainly be a minority government. This is great news for any number of reasons, not least of which that both the Liberals and their prospective partners the NDP social democrats have promised to take real measurable action on cutting CO2 emissions and implement a national CO2 cap and trade system.

    • Glad to hear that; last week, IIRC, the Cons were looking a bit better for re-election, actually leading the seat projections (if you went by the max number, not the mid-range.)

      Ah, yes, the latest:

      I suppose the xenophobia played poorly in some of Ontario’s swing ridings, though that’s just a guess. Not a happy picture for national unity, though, as the Prairies remain pretty solidly behind Harper. I expect a fair amount of regional bickering no matter who wins.

      But climate action should be a big winner–thank goodness.

      • Yes, last week it was looking as if momentum had shifted to the Cons and they were heading for at least a minority if not another majority. Oh what a difference a week can make.

        Actually, it was more than just the niqab, it was also their total tone-deaf mishandling of the Syrian refugee crisis, capped off by a leak late last week that the PM’s office was inserting itself in the vetting process, reportedly issuing holds on all Sunni and Shiite applicants. Then there is their commitment to strip Canadian citizenship from anyone they deem to be a terrorist. They are currently trying to do so with a Canadian born man in a bid to deport him to Pakistan, where he has never held citizenship. He may (or may not) be a bad guy, but he’s *our* bad guy, we have to deal with him, we don’t get to just dump him in another country. All this has made the typically conservative South Asian immigrant community very nervous, a group of voters the Cons have spent a lot of time and effort courting, and with a good deal of success, and now they have pissed that all away.

        The best part is that even if the Cons do manage to squeak out a minority win they will not be able to form a government anyway as the Libs and NDP combined will have more seats and have stated that they will bring the Cons down in a vote of non confidence, so it’s win a majority or go home for Harper. The even better part is that both the Libs and NDP have stated that this will be Canada’s last first-past-the-post federal election, promising to bring in some version of proportional representation. If so, never again will any party be able to win a majority of seats with a minority of the popular vote.

        One thing I haven’t heard the Libs or NDP commit on yet is reversing the policy of gagging of Canadian government scientists, or reversing the shift in funding applied science research at the expense of basic science, but one victory at a time.

      • Thanks for the expansion, Jim. Appreciate it, as I don’t live in Canada anymore, and following afar is not quite the same even in the internet age.

      • As expected, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won, but with a very unexpected strong majority of seats. That’s too bad, as the Liberal platform on climate change was full of platitudes but devoid of hard number targets. I was hoping for a minority and counting on the NDP to hold his feet to the fire, but their vote collapsed out of fear of another Harper win. Harper was not only tossed out but thoroughly humiliated. You could almost hear the collective sigh of national relief.

  6. Just to be clear: O’Malley carefully avoids saying 100% “renewable” energy by 2050; instead he proposes 100% “clean” energy by 2050. He has in the past supported nuclear power in Maryland. The recent study by Qvist & Brook (2015) supports a transition at about this speed, by relying on nuclear power.

  7. I really don’t understand how people can understand what we are facing with respect to climate change, and support any democrat at this point. If times ever called for a revolution, isn’t this the time?

    They are a business as usual, corportist party. Even Bernie Sanders has moved so far to the right from his true Socialist days, that his positions fit in comfortably with the Democrats.

    Can people please watch this video by Kevin Anderson, and if you agree with him, ask yourself a question. Will ANY Democrat even propose the kinds of changes needed to avoid utter catastrophe?

    I’m 52 years old and have voted for the Green Party my entire life. Too bad my fellow citizens haven’t. Voting for the lesser of two evils just got you evil. Take some responsibility for that.


    [Response: In my opinion, your approach is the epitome of foolishness. Go ahead and vote for the green party candidate, so that all of us have to live with the consequences of president Donald Trump.

    And, as I’ve said often, please no embedded video in comments.]

  8. We could debate who in theory could be the best president, but absent a medical event, only one person on that stage has a shot. As we say to people listening to dodgy theories about climate, consult the data. The party elite decides unless they’re split, and they’re more united in favor of Hillary than any previous election, and that includes 2008.


    Regarding O’Malley, I think Hillary has to have a white male VP (anything else is a step too far for some of the electorate), so there’s a chance of that for him.

    • Pete Dunkelberg

      ” As we say to people listening to dodgy theories about climate, consult the data.” you say, followed by cherry picking. Do you think the primary process is rigged? As I see it, Bernie is ahead of where Obama was at this stage in 2007, in terms of number of small donations, turnout at events and general enthusiasm. Looks electable to me.

      • Obama won the nomination in 2008 and you say Bernie’s ahead of him, so it sounds like you’d give Bernie excellent odds of winning. I’ll spot you 2:1 odds that he won’t win. My $100 to your $50 that Hillary gets the nomination. Loser writes the check to the campaign for the Democratic nominee for president.


      • Pete Dunkelberg

        Brian, you’re on! I agree to your proposal. “Twill be a small matter compared to the time I’ll put in canvassing.

  9. I imagine an awful lot of Americans were turned off by the GOP wannabes and turned in to see what the Democrats had to offer. HRC will no doubt to the Dems candidate and unless someone level-headed enters the field for the GOP she should coast to the presidency.

    • Indeed, the Republicans seem to have painted themselves into a corner by their rightward drift: the electable candidate in the primaries is now quite often not, in the general election. It’s a tendency papered over by the gerrymandering so rampant on both sides in this country, which creates custom electoral districts.

      It’s also dramatized by the Republican struggle to find someone to take John Boehner’s job, now that Kevin McCarthy has withdrawn and Paul Ryan continues to resist the attempted draft. It’s pretty bad when important leadership posts can’t be given away!

      Of course, someone will come on–ambition will win out over caution for some minor figure who can’t resist the chance to play in the big leagues, if nothing else. But it’s quite the spectacle, really.

  10. Pete Dunkelberg

    As you may know, there are concerns about some of Hillary’s positions:

    Meanwhile, the number of Democratic debates is much smaller than in the last two contested primaries. This may make it harder to clarify these concerns for many voters.

  11. Tamino, I won’t embed videos anymore, as I didn’t know you don’t allow that. Of course I don’t want Trump as President. I do feel however that millions of people around the world have died for the right to vote. They didn’t die so that they would have the opportunity to vote for a party they didn’t believe in, and would destroy their civilization through negligence.

    The whole purpose of voting and elections is for people to support the candidates and parties that agree with their views. I would be shocked if there is any of your regular commenters and yourself, whose views line up more with the Democrats than the Green party.

    It’s the height of cynicism and is frankly undemocratic to support and vote for parties you don’t believe in.

    If people had your attitude in previous times, we would still have the Whigs and the Federalists.

    I just feel like people that are brilliant in other areas of their lives, go brain dead when it comes to voting. The criteria for voting should not be that hard for anyone to understand.

    You vote for the party that would fight for the views that you hold most dear.

    Period, end of story.

    • Consider that most ‘contested’ primary elections for the president in the U S are mainly an exercise in getting our the ‘base’ of the dominant political parties, and fewer than a majority of each electoral unit typically participate in these exercises, it follows that a non-participant in these elections (run by the electoral jurisdiction on behalf of the dominant parties) essentially gives the right to select a party’s candidate to the people who would ‘turn out the vote’ without other meaningful input. In my state, the big-city (Democrat) party picks the candidate they want to support to run against a GOP candidate from the exurbs and rural parts of the state.

      How does a third-party participant even get in the contest without a base of support when these two factions make the rules for getting on the ballot to suit their own interests? So, you’re screwed from the get-go if you try to participate…

      Seems to me, the least-objectionable strategy is a self-fulfilling exercise with a chance for success whereas the ‘third party’ route is a non-starter. And it will ever be so the more contentious the contest becomes…

    • No, not the Greens! Their stance on genetically modified organisms alone is enough to turn me away.

      I finally finished watching the Democratic debate, and I still like Bernie Sanders. I also liked Lincoln Chaffee; the others not so much.

      As far as the moderator goes, one question on climate change wasn’t enough, and there was nothing concerning energy policy.

  12. Re Jim Webb.

    Black lives matter, but the only thing I could get out of him in the debate was “Jim Webb’s life matters, too” as he kept ranting to the moderator about how unfair his time allotment was.

    More seriously, #feelthebern !

  13. Pete Dunkelberg

    Let’s talk climate solutions. I believe Hansen has said that all the solutions he has heard from politicians are a joke. Here is a reason to agree: all political solutions lack the essential part that would make them serious.
    Leave it in the ground!
    Two thirds or so of claimed reserves must be left in the ground to keep climate damage from being too great. I have heard no pledge to leave even one ton where it is. Here is something to help you remember the key point when new pledges are made in Paris this December.
    If we go ahead and burn all the carbon we are in serious trouble. Is it any wonder that some prefer action?

    [Response: If I’m not mistaken, Bernie Sanders led the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. Although he doesn’t have the authority to make a pledge, it does represent a commitment to leave that fossil fuel in the ground.

    He also stated, when asked at the end of the debate (as were all the candidates) to name the greatest threat to our security, that it was: climate change. Each of the democrats paid lip service to climate action, some proposed actions (which I considered inadequate), but Bernie Sanders has stated unambiguously that it is the most important threat to our nation.

    I share your frustration with almost all politicians, who span the spectrum from insufficient response (Clinton and other democrats) through mealy-mouthed pseudo-denial (Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) through super-sleazy denial through one side of the mouth but “cleverly” avoiding it with the other (Carly Fiorina) to outright idiotic denial (Ted Cruz and Donald Trump). But let’s not paint them all with the same brush; it seems to me that on this issue, Sanders really is different.]

  14. I had always liked Jim Webb, but no longer. He’s a climate change denier, a promoter of inactivism at best, but worse than that. Search turns up info.

  15. May be a side topic – Concerning to get energy from waste: better than to get the same amount of energy from coal, oil or natural gas. Natural decomposition may take some years, but not hundreds. So the accompagnying gasses will leak into the atmosphere only a little bit later, and much of them are methane.
    Just because unorganized, unaccounted use of biomass is a bad thing doesn’t mean it can’t be done well.
    Computerized waste assorting can pick out quite a fraction of recyclable matter, though there’s a limit to recycling too, granted.
    One just cannot stop repeating, that there has to be a price on GHG emission!