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.
— 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.