So this post was supposed to go up last week but I postponed it- as I explained in my last post. Now, the much anticipated CNN Democratic Primary Debate was held about 2weeks ago. Set in the “sin-capital of the world”, Las-Vegas, Nevada, the debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper who was assisted by Dana Bash, Juan Carlos Lopez and Don Lemon who manned the online media feed. After weeks of speculation as to whether VP Biden would enter the race and participate in the debate, it proceeded without him. The 5 Democratic hopefuls- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martyn O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee- stood facing a reasonably sized audience in the Wynn Resort, with Clinton strategically placed squarely in the center of the 5, signifying her position as the clear front-runner.
I remember watching the Republicans last month, and I certainly had a lot to write about. Watching the Democratic Debate though, I knew the case would be different. It is not that there weren’t many talking points- because there were- but the tempo was much different this time around. In fact, I remember thinking that the overall atmosphere was markedly at variance with the rather up-beat tempo of the location chosen for the event i.e., Las Vegas. Before the debate, Senator Sanders had clearly stated that he was not one to attack personalities as was the norm amongst Republican Presidential Candidates, but he was all about addressing the issues; and during the debate, this was to be the pattern- to an extent- amongst the remaining 4 Democratic Presidential hopefuls.
The five candidates tackled a host of issues ranging from foreign policy, economic issues especially income inequality and the role of banks, gun control, racism, college tuition, social security, immigration, veteran issues, and climate change. Even though most of the debate seemed to revolve around H. Clinton, it was clear from start to finish that the Democrats intended to be amiable towards one another, rather than engage in Cat-fights. So I’ll now proceed to state a few things. First off, I thought Mrs. Clinton had a grasp of the issues- as she should, considering the fact that she has had a long history in politics and public service. Clinton made a point of not overly criticizing the Obama administration while also making a distinction as regards to herself. I thought she handled questions regarding the E-mail scandal rather gracefully, especially when she simply said “no” in response to Anderson Cooper’s question as to whether she would want to respond to Lincoln Chafee on the matter. I also thought that Clinton was correct when she stated that the US had to stand up to Russian bullying especially in Syria, and let Putin know that his actions in Syria were highly unacceptable. She had lots of questions to answer on foreign policy, especially her decisions on US foreign policy as a Senator and as Secretary of state. She held up well. Hillary Clinton certainly endears herself to a lot of Americans for a number of reasons; one of which is that she is married to a much-loved former President. But while she enjoys this endearment, she consistently strives to show that she is her own person, and not defined by her last name. Now even though Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman with great political pedigree, over time, there have been questions regarding her personality. Since her early political days with Bill Clinton in Arkansas, some have wondered as to the sincerity of her political decisions; pointing fingers at what they see as her somewhat "aloofness and lack of transparency"- not altogether without reason though. I think there is something about her personality that seems quite un-accessible to most people; but I don’t think it’s a personality flaw that is quite as “off-putting” as that of Richard Nixon! So in that regard, I would give Clinton a pass. One also has to consider that Hillary Clinton has fought a very long battle with many enemies on both sides of the American political divide- from the Whitewater scandal, to the Lewinsky debacle and the threat of Bill’s impeachment, to her health-care battle with Congress, to Benghazi, and now, the E-mail saga- she has fought all her political life, and this has in some measure caused her to view all political environments as battle fields. I cannot blame her. By the way, I cringed watching Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois, a Republican member of the Select Committee on Benghazi grill her as she appeared before the committee some days ago. It was another attempt to demonize her and show that her actions in Libya were for self-gratification and political glory. She held up pretty well. She continues to fight. But for her Presidential aspirations, I think Mrs. Clinton would need to find more ways to change perceptions about her personality- she's doing well with all the talk shows; so at least, she's aware of the problem and is taking steps towards fixing it. Undoubtedly, she is passionate about America and about the American people. She needs to let that shine through more often.
Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont received many loud applauses from the audience. Watching him, I got a sense that he had his hand on the political and economic pulse of majority of the American people. He seemed to speak their minds on so many issues especially regarding his opposition to American involvement in conflicts, and the introduction of US soldiers into theatres of war. He did state that he would be willing to take military action when situations demand it; but watching him during the debate, I highly doubt that. He seems to support mostly “advise and assist roles” for American troops, and that is what I believe would be a more likely scenario in the event of a Sanders Presidency. He was all for stronger actions to be taken in checking the excesses of wall street, though towing a careful line with gun control, as he's from a state whose residents are big on hunting! True to his words, the Senator was careful not to take personal shots at his colleagues; but instead, tackled the issues squarely.
Jim Webb, the former Senator from Virginia, did seem to me as somewhat of an oddity. If there was any hard-liner during the debate, it certainly was him. No surprises, he kept butting heads with Anderson Cooper. But he is a Vietnam veteran and a former marine…so I guess old habits die hard. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t make too many fans that night- if any at all!
In my opinion, Webb, Chafee and O’Malley were more of "un-necessary extras" added to the debate by the Democratic Caucus to broaden the field just a little; but we all know who the main attractions were. Well at least I could make out something from Webb’s performance- whatever that was. But on the remaining 2 candidates though- Lincoln Chafee and Martyn O’Malley- I’m quite indifferent. To speak rather bluntly, Chafee seemed to me like a sleepy grand-father who kept stumbling through his words, and O’Malley looked the picture of the content teenager whose major “Chutzpah” moment was his battle with the NRA. I just wasn’t impressed!
At most points during the debate, I felt like the contenders were making more of a pitch for Obama, than for themselves. Agreed they are all Democrats; but then, there were just too many accolades heaped on the incumbent President that one wondered whether Barack Obama was the person seeking political office! Aside all that though if there was one poignant moment for me, it was the acknowledgement by the contenders that “black lives matter”! As an African who shares an extended ancestral bond with blacks everywhere, it has been very troubling to see the increase in the number of black Americans gunned down by law enforcement officials, and being subjected to racial profiling and undue harassment. Even though Jim Webb tried to give a more "politically correct" answer by first stating that “as a citizen of the US, every life matters” before going on to point out how he had also aided black causes in the past, it was good to hear the candidates affirm the importance of black lives…though the real motivation might just have been the chance to whip up popular sentiment and garner black votes!
The Democrats tackled the issues as best as they could while trying to project a picture of class, decorum and amiability towards one another. There were disagreements on “means”, but coherence on “goals”. I certainly would have loved a little more fire, and for them to feed more off the vibe of the audience- I mean let's be real, we all expect political debates to be just as entertaining as they are enlightening- but I didn’t really get that. Maybe the next Democratic Party Debate would be different. As I have previously alluded, the debate was actually between two people- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton was calm, poised and meticulously calculative; and Bernie Sanders was pure Bernie- the guy for whom thousands have thronged to arenas to hear speak, over the past few weeks. Sanders is a man to watch; but truth be told, I don’t think he stands too much of a chance against Mrs. Clinton in the long run. As I see it, she has certain advantages which cannot be overlooked- a highly revered and much-loved surname, the uniqueness of being on the verge of making history by virtue of gender, these in addition to a versatile life-time experience in politics. Plus, after her superb performance before the Benghazi Committee some days ago, Hillary looks pretty hard to beat! Like all politics, American politics also runs on sentiment. I may be proved wrong eventually; but if that happens, it would most certainly be a surprise!
P.S.: The Democratic Presidential line-up has changed significantly since the debate. First off, VP Joe Biden eventually decided he wouldn't enter the Presidential race; Jim Webb then dropped out of the Democratic Party race, although stating he may return to the Presidential race as an Independent; and then Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race completely. So they were five...then three- or maybe just two!