Last night the Democrats finally got the chance to have their Presidential candidates’ debate. If the Republican debates were dominated by Donald Trump, then it was inevitable that the focus of these debates would be on Hillary Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders. But to begin with, let’s look at the candidates:
The former Governor of Rhode Island has no shot of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party for President. The main problem – aside from his lack of charisma (or maybe that is the main problem, LOL!) – is that Chafee is a carpetbagger. Chafee began his political life as a moderate Republican, switched to Independent, and is now a Democrat. Chafee was the kind of good-guy moderate Republican that we used to have in droves, and that New England still turns out occasionally – people like Bill Weld, Charlie Baker, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe – fiscally conservative and socially liberal. But the core essence of these old-school moderate Republicans is that they are reasonable, an attribute they don’t share with any of their new school Teaparty compatriots. Chafee was a useful presence in the Senate, but those days are gone. And so are his chances of being the Democratic nominee.
The current senator from Virginia, Jim Webb is also a moderate and largely reasonable guy who lacks charisma. Webb has served as Secretary of the Navy, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Counsel for the United States House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and as a Marine Corps officer. In the military he has also been the recipient the Navy Cross for heroism for his actions in Vietnam, as well as the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. The guy is a genuine hero. But like another genuine hero who ran for President – John Glenn, the first American pilot to orbit the Earth in a space capsule – his mission is doomed by his lack of charisma. Still, this run could make him better known and set him up a little better for any future run.
The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland is a genuine liberal, and the guy most likely to pick up the pieces of Hillary Clinton falters and her campaign implodes. O’Malley occasionally had that “deer in the headlight” look in his first trip on the big stage, but he is a competent, reasonable guy who could actually be President someday. At age 52 he’ll have the chance to run again, and he can certainly raise his profile this time around. I don’t think he’s going to be President in 2016, but he could position himself well for the future.
Bernie is a socialist Jew. That’s all you need to know. He’s not going to be President of the United States. But his presence in the campaign is huge, as he is causing all the right kind of conversations to take place. And he’s channeling the outrage of all those on the left who are as tired of the regular politicians as their Republican counterparts who are bolstering the candidacies of Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and the Donald. Bernie, of course, is not a “real” socialist – the kind that wants state ownership of the means of production. Bernie is a “democratic” socialist, the kind of admires the governments of Denmark and the other Nordic countries. But it doesn’t matter, because Nordic political culture has almost nothing in common with American political culture, and that political culture certainly isn’t going to be imported over here.
As everyone knows, it’s her election to lose. Hillary is probably the most qualified Presidential candidate that we’ve ever had who isn’t already an incumbent. But she is not a natural campaigner, like her husband. And if you’ve ever read Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Game Change, the definitive book on the 2008 election (subtitled Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime) then you know that Hillary’s campaigns have tended to be surprisingly disorganized. As an executive, Hillary still has a steep learning curve, something which came surprisingly naturally to Barack Obama. Right now Bernie is polling ahead of Hillary in New Hampshire, but as James Pindell of the Boston Globe advised, people should calm down as Hillary as not lost New Hampshire . . . yet. However, she could lose New Hampshire to Bernie, although that still won’t make it possible for Bernie to be the nominee (see above).
About the Debate
The debate itself was about what could be expected. Hillary and Bernie dominated the amount of time they had to speak and the news coverage of the debate was largely focused on them. The interesting stuff in the debate mostly happened in the first 30 minutes. Hillary went after Bernie on gun control – about the only issue on which Hillary is to the left of Bernie, and one having mostly to do with Bernie representing Vermont, which is a state with a lot of hunters in it – and Anderson Cooper went after Hillary for her flip-flop on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Factcheck.org did find a few errors made by the candidates during the debate, but these were very minor compared to the whoppers served up by the Republicans in their debates. Some of these misstatements included:
- Clinton revised her earlier statement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, claiming that she said she “hoped” it would be a “gold standard.” At the time, she said it was a gold standard.
- Sanders claimed that his plan to lift the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes would extend the program’s finances and expand benefits. He neglected to mention that the new taxes would not be used to calculate benefits for those paying them, a break from historical practice.
- O’Malley claimed that “70 percent of us are earning the same, or less than we were 12 years ago.” Not true. Average weekly earnings for rank-and-file workers are up 5.8 percent.
- Chafee said that his state “had the biggest drop of the unemployment rate over my four budgets of all but one state.” Actually, four states had larger percentage point drops, and 10 states had larger percentage declines over his tenure.
- Sanders wrongly said that the U.S. had “more wealth and income inequality than any other country.” The U.S. ranks 42nd in income inequality and 16th in terms of wealth held by the top 1 percent.
- Clinton said that using a personal email account “was allowed by the State Department.” It was, but federal rules also required Clinton to turn over her emails before she left office. She did so nearly two years after she left.
So, nothing much of note happened in this first debate. Hillary showed off her experience on the big state, and seemed more comfortable there than anyone else. Sanders showed off his passion, and hit his themes on income inequality forcefully. And Webb, Chafee and O’Malley showed off themselves, so that the American public might get some clue about who these guys actually are.
 Chafee is probably the poster boy for catch phrase, “I didn’t desert the party, the party deserted me.”
 Andy Borowitz had a nice piece on the supposed “blood feud” between Webb and Chafee, making light of their apparent irrelevancy.