Thursday, October 15, 2015

The First Democratic Debate: Start Printing the Clinton/O’Malley ’16 Bumper Stickers

Steve is back with his excellent take on the Democrats' turn on the big stage.

It sure is nice when you don’t have to deal with eleven podiums, isn’t it?

You actually get to know a bit about each of the candidates beyond well-rehearsed nuclear-tipped sound-bites. With two and a half hours of air time, the strengths and liabilities of five candidates were laid bare, and the relatively minor nuances of policy difference were cast in high relief. 

What we learned in the first Democratic debate is that the stars have truly aligned for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Far more significant than simply besting Bernie Sanders, she provided the fire-hose of reality that Joe Biden – the real threat -- needed to realize that he should not enter the race.

While Bernie’s passion and intensity convinced us that he was indeed not as wacky as his doppelganger -- the “Doc” character in Back to the Future – we also learned that he’s no 2008 Barack Obama, who proved uniquely capable of taking a wrecking ball to Clinton inevitability.

I will miss Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb, but their incompetence as candidates indicates that they may not be able to draft speeches abandoning their candidacies for a few weeks. Those who have watched Martin O’Malley for the past few years were not surprised by his very strong game last night.

The truth is that you can go back to your new FanDuel habit until the Super Bowl and re-engage in this discussion in February, because it’s all over now.  Start printing the Clinton/O’Malley '16 bumper stickers.

Let’s start with our “Weeknight with Bernie.” Forgive me, but I have been to this democratic movie too many times: a passionate, intense, left-leaning demagogue strokes the idealistic passions of youth into a frenzy, only to prove too extreme and volatile to the centrists who actually elect presidents. How many people learned for the first time last night that Bernie Sanders was a conscientious objector in the Viet Nam era?  Sorry, that’s not going play in an America that now venerates its vets. How many viewers last night paused and said, “Gee, I don’t want our candidate to hand Donald Trump the grenade that we are a party of ‘democratic socialists’”?  How many people watched him twist his idealism into an NRA pretzel about gun legislation?

Don’t get me wrong: we all like Bernie. He had his “no more of your damn e-mails” moment, which was authentic, high-minded, and even a bit shrewd. But when Barack Obama took on front-runner Hillary Clinton, he was riding on a high of uniting red and blue American, generational change, hope, and the immense symbolism of becoming the first African American President. Bernie Sanders comes across as a cranky old white guy who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. The simple fact is that he is not positioned to recreate the Obama coalition, particularly if he forgets to even mention the need to fix immigration over a two-and-a-half-hour period on national television.

Bernie will ride the momentum he has built for a good while. He likes holding the megaphone, and he is very genuine in the sense that he is on a mission to take the investment bankers down, and we can all applaud that. But no one seemed to realize that Bernie needed either a clear win or a Hillary stumble last night, and he got neither. Last night might not have been the end, but it was the beginning of the end.

What’s interesting about Hillary Clinton’s performance last night was that there really was no single sound-bite to summarize her narrative; no epic turn of phrase for either the historians or the video-clip crew at Fox. Rather, she was superbly and relentlessly on her game. She appeared poised, in-the-moment; and yes, even genuinely enjoying herself. Talk about “human” and “spontaneous” -- she even made a joke about how she was nearly late getting back to the stage after a bio break!

Interestingly, Hillary may be finally coming into her own as she evolves into the persona of “grandma the policy wonk.” Curiously, her opening introduction (“I am the granddaughter of …. and the grandmother of…”) sought self-definition in generational wisdom.

Hillary did get a big assist from Bernie on her ongoing email problem, but the truth is that the Republicans who took down Boehner gave Hillary a far, far bigger gift. Hilary showed how she will use Kevin McCarthy’s incredibly dumb confession about the true purpose of the Benghazi hearings to neuter email, Benghazi, and hours of Fox News programming material from now until inauguration day.

While the newly unveiled “human” Hillary was at the fore, her steely resolve was always at the ready. She did not hesitate to smack down Bernie after his crazy “I represent Vermont” defense of his position on gun litigation. And when Anderson Cooper asked her if Hillary wanted to respond to Lincoln Chafee’s commentary about e-mail-gate, she rather off-handedly emasculated him with a casually-considered “no.” Chafee’s voice immediately rose an octave.

Chafee scaled the “pathetic debate moment” nearly to the notch marked “Rick Perry” when he offered a stunning litany of lame excuses for voting to repeal Glass Steagall. The only excuse he failed to mention was that the dog ate his homework.

Jim Webb appears to be the Democratic response to Rand Paul, in that he is proudly out of sync with his party on many issues. Webb’s evening was devoted to lusty salvos at Anderson Cooper about how all the candidates should get a fair share of debate time; indeed, it appeared to be the central rational for Webb’s soon-to-be former candidacy.

Speaking of which, Team CNN continues to disappoint. For starters, they want debates to behave more like the earthquakes and third world uprisings that are now their sole lingering sweet spot. Anderson’s entire debate prep seemed designed to manufacture “breaking news;” largely in evidence of flip-flops, which he should know is both more common and more damning in Red State Nation. In keeping with their general belief that education is a good thing, Dems are very open to the idea that views can evolve with new realities, a changing world, and fresh information. CNN’s most embarrassing error was to include a journalist from CNN en Espanol and then proceed to ignore him for virtually the entire evening. But even that guy had a better gig than Don Lemon, who was placed in such a distant orbit that he appeared to be still stuck on Malaysian Airlines 370 duty.

Our surprise of the evening: the very poised and polished Martin O’Malley. Lord knows it is tough to be a handsome six foot white guy in today’s Democratic Party, and his path to the Veep spot may well be blocked by the Houston Castros (well, San Antonio, to be precise). O’Malley was articulate, informed, and managed to find substantive differentiation from Hilary without incurring her wrath. His big policy point – reviving Glass-Steagall – is worthy; it is radical but might actually address more problems more practically than Dodd Frank. O’Malley’s best shot at Veep is the “John Edwards” angle (no, not that John Edwards angle) – keeping his candidacy alive far enough that he develops his own following, and establishes himself as a proven, effective campaigner, and brings a substantial constituency to the ticket.

O’Malley’s close was brilliant; not just for his own cause, but for his graceful and clever decision to “sell the party.” He reminded the audience that on this evening, on this stage, there was no racism, misogyny, or xenophobia. Too bad Bernie and Hillary had to follow him; O’Malley lifted the entire hall to the evening’s high.

My advice to the Democrats? I wouldn’t let the URL sit out there unclaimed for too long.


  1. This was truly a battle of the lightweights. O'Malley, Chafee, and Webb are total non-entities and didn't even belong on the stage. Clinton and Sanders are clueless as to how the world works, and their sycophantic followers are too blind to see it.

  2. ^^^ Right winger scared of Hillary

  3. As always, right on point Steve!!!!

    Actually, I wouldn’t let the URL sit out there unclaimed for too long.


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