By Doug Porter
There’s a fine line between Hatin’ on Hillary and Feelin’ the Bern. In Charleston, South Carolina the candidates at the fourth Democratic presidential debate tried to not cross that line. It was heated. It was hyperbolic. But it wasn’t hateful.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton touted the legacies of the Obama administration. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said much more was needed and railed against the billionaire class. And former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley did his best to get a word in edgewise.
There’s a lot of bullshit to wade through in the aftermath of last night’s South Carolina showdown, but let me get the obvious stuff out of the way: Bernie Sanders is my guy. Did he win? Who cares? I thought all the Democrats on stage presented themselves as reasonable people, providing a sharp contrast to the conspiracy-driven drivel dominating GOP debates.
This was the fourth of six Democratic debates, and the final one prior to early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Although it wasn’t pointed out by most of the pundits, much of what was said and how it was said by the candidates was driven by polling in those two states.
Much is being made of the attempt by both Sanders and Clinton to describe their differences. Polling in Iowa presents a conundrum for the campaigns: likely Democratic caucus voters really like both candidates. A recent poll for the Des Moines Register had Clinton with an 86% favorable rating among Iowa caucus-goers while Sanders was at 89%.
Hillary’s deep dive into the wonders of Obama-ism was likely driven by polling showing the president with a 91% favorable rating among likely Democratic caucus-goers.
Many pundits declared Saunders to be the winner.
Here’s a sampling, via the Washington Post:
The Fix’s Chris Cillizza names Sanders the winner and Clinton the loser: “More than anything he said, it was the passion and disruption that Sanders oozed from every pore over the two hours that should push Democrats on the fence about the race into his camp. Sanders effectively positioned himself as the anti-status-quo candidate, a very good position to have in this electoral environment.”
Republican focus group maestro Frank Luntz: “Bernie needed an overwhelming victory in tonight’s #DemDebate. At best, he got a narrow one. That won’t be enough to win the Dem nomination.”
Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin gave Sanders a B+, Clinton a B and Martin O’Malley a C+: “Sanders’ improvement manifested itself all night, winning him more good moments overall than both Clinton and O’Malley.”
NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald: “Sanders shined …. at times overpowering Clinton in a format she typically controls.”
CNN senior producer Teddy Davis: “Sanders notched debate win. 1) Blurring distinction on guns. 2) Putting out a health plan. 3) Being high minded on Bill Clinton.”
At Slate, Isaac Chotiner was all in for Hillary:
Hillary Clinton’s superb debate performance on Sunday raised an unsettling question: If she can be this consistently good on a debate stage, why can’t she replicate that impressiveness on the campaign trail or in interviews? Clinton was once again in superior form Sunday night in South Carolina, besting Sen. Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley in the last Democratic debate before the Iowa caucus.
Clinton’s debating performance is formidable because it combines her intelligence with a sincerity and level of conviction that often seem absent in other forums. When she opened the debate speaking of Martin Luther King Jr.’s role fighting for increased wages, she used his career as a subtle metaphor for what she is pitching: principled leadership with a strong practical bent. That mixture, along with her strength in close-quarter combat and an ability to wrap herself in President Obama’s record—something that played well to the Charleston crowd in the auditorium—was what won her this debate.
For those of you who haven’t paid attention, Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the Democratic establishment. She’s garnered way more endorsements among the elected officials who dominate the party’s apparatus than Sanders, 457 to 2.
That Sanders supporters persist in complaining about the obvious–as if anybody cares–is indicative of the campaign’s biggest weakness among its millennial shock troops: the absence of evidence they can translate their passion into support for other contests. (The unions supporting Sanders can hopefully teach them a trick or two in this area.)
The complaint about the scheduling of last night’s debate was a reflection of this tunnel vision. Sunday night, so we were told, was chosen so as to minimize exposure to any opposition to Clinton.
If Sanders supporters had checked, they would have discovered Sunday night is an okay time to get viewership for a debate. It’s the top night for prime time TV in the United States. And 9pm (EST) is the busiest hour for TV viewership among Americans ages 15 or older.
Early estimates on the fourth debate indicate there were 10 million viewers for the broadcast edition, plus a yet-to-be-determined internet audience. That’s not great, but it’s not the disaster many were predicting. It’s political debate, kids. Not that many people care at this stage.
NBC saw their partnership with YouTube in broadcasting the debate as a way to incorporate social media. It flopped, with the video questions falling short in both the technical (Sanders couldn’t hear the first question) and content departments (A cartoon on climate change, really?).
Although I can quibble with their choices on questions, NBC’s Lester Holt (who I like) and Andrea Mitchell (who I loathe) did an admirable job of handling the debate, going after areas where they knew there would be differences (gun control, health care) and avoiding questions (immigration, education) likely to draw large amounts of consensus between the candidates.
From the New Republic:
The Democratic Party establishment’s pro-Hillary Clinton bias is partially rooted in a desire to wrap up the primary quickly, before it turns into a bruising, months-long slugfest like it did in 2008. To that end, it’s crucial that she win one, if not both, of the first two contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The problem for party elites is that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Clinton in Iowa polls, and leads her in New Hampshire. For them, it wasn’t just imperative for Clinton to perform well on stage Sunday, but also for Sanders to falter—or at least fall back from attacking Clinton the way Republican candidates retreated on Thursday from the challenge of taking on Trump.
They had no such luck. For the first time this debate season, Sanders attacked Clinton without fear or favor. Of her attacks on his gun-regulation record, he said (in a very contestable statement), “I think Secretary Clinton knows that what she says is very disingenuous.” He boasted unapologetically about his climbing poll numbers, and he called her attacks on his health-care plan “nonsense,” and “Republican attacks.”
This was, after all, a debate relating to primaries, not the general election. And there were plenty of opportunities for Republican bashing in the questions asked.
The location and time of the debate was significant. Sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and held of the eve of the national holiday marking the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, it was impossible not to make the connection with Hillary Clinton’s robust support with Black voters.
The racists of the right noticed, keeping up a steady stream of invective aimed mostly Ms. Clinton and the racial composition of the audience on social media.
Candidate Sanders presence and his focus on economics got a boost via a rather large crowd outside the debate hall demonstrating in support of a fifteen dollar per hour minimum wage.
The Numbers Game(s)
A couple of hours prior to the debate Senator sanders released an updated version of his “Medicare for All” healthcare plan. As polling in the early nominating states has tightened, Sanders has been under increasing pressure from Clinton to detail how he would pay for a single-payer system.
From the Washington Post:
On Sunday, he released figures from an economist suggesting that a family earning $50,000 a year would save nearly $6,000 a year on health-care costs. The cost of the new federal health-care premium would be more than offset by what such families would save on private premiums and deductibles, according to the analysis by Gerald Friedman, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Friedman estimated that Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan would save $6 trillion over the next 10 years compared with the current system, in large part by eliminating what the Sanders campaign described as “expensive and wasteful private health insurance.”
Clinton was critical of Sanders plan in two ways, pointing out that paying for it would result in higher taxes for middle-class families (via a healthcare premium tax” of 2.2% on income, along with a 6.2% “healthcare payroll tax”) and making the claim it would have the effect of repealing what advances have been made in enacting the Affordable Healthcare Act.
She was both right and wrong. Taxes would increase, but the lack of insurance premiums and deductibles under Sanders plan would more than compensate for this tariff. As Sanders pointed out, he’s calling for the elimination of private health insurance, not the elimination of health care.
Secretary Clinton’s strongest argument against Sander’s proposal came when she reflected on the difficulties involved in getting even partial health reform through the congress. The Tea Party caucus isn’t going to disappear overnight.
The Wall Street Trap
I would say that the most damaging Sanders accusations had to do with Hillary’s Wall Street connections. Lord knows, we all hate those hedge fund and corporate CEO’s. Anybody with two eyes knows they’ve been greedy while most of have been treading water if we’re lucky.
Most of us (Democrats) hate Wall Street. Therein lies the danger.
Karl Rove’s American Crossroads operation is hammering Hillary Clinton with an ad in Iowa calling her a tool of Wall Street. Guess who’s funding Karl Rove?
I say this not to defend Clinton, who has stood strong against an avalanche of bullshit coming down the GOP mountain. I’m just saying don’t cut your nose off to spite your face, Bernie supporters.
As the New York Times noted back in May, 2015 right-wing PACs like Crossroads and America Rising are using social media to troll the opposition. Should they succeed with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders will be next.
So stop and think: is the social media I’m repeating a policy critique or is it a personal attack? The kind of infantilism associated with some “Feeling the Bern” types is indistinguishable from what I saw with the supporters of Ron Paul in the not-so-distant past. And, yes, I know, some of those Hillary “let’s be reasonable” folks would lead us down Donald Trump lane.
The “S” Word and the General Elections
Finally, a couple of notes about polls, since they’re frequently brought up in these discussions.
The Sanders campaign has accomplished the once seemingly impossible task of making the idea of Democratic Socialism respectable again. This comes after nearly a century of “everybody knows” propaganda aimed at equating the “S” word with the “C” word.
A plurality (43%) of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers who self-identify as socialist is actually more than the number who identify themselves as capitalist — 38%.
From the Washington Post:
There isn’t great polling on how many Americans overall consider themselves socialists, but a Gallup poll in June showed that just 47 percent of Americans would even be willing to vote for a socialist candidate. Among Democrats, that number was 59 percent.
More recently, a November New York Times/CBS News poll showed 56 percent of Democratic primary voters nationally said they had a positive view of socialism.
This isn’t a majority of the electorate. But it does means the subject is up for debate.
For those of us who’ve studied history, this is huge. For those of you who haven’t, wait until you hear the “Commies are coming” fear crusade from the Republicans should Sanders win.
The most recent polling in Iowa and New Hampshire favors Bernie Sanders. I feel obligated to mention that the bandying about of “Sanders vs various Republicans” numbers in the general election is just hot air.
As the folks as FiveThirtyEight.com point out, polling this far in advance of an election is “highly unpredictive.” In fact, if you look at the differences in polling (between a year out vs actual returns) in presidential campaign elections, there is as much as a 27.7% variance. Polls don’t won elections. Hard work does.
On This Day: 1943 – Domestic commercial bakers stopped selling sliced bread. Only whole loaves were sold during the ban until the end of World War II. Hence the saying “the best thing since sliced bread.” 1978 – “Take This Job and Shove It,” by Johnny Paycheck, is listed by Billboard magazine as the most popular song in the US. 1993 – The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was observed in all 50 states for the first time.
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