What a difference! In this first Democratic debate, the candidates were polite, even warm, and always civil to each other. So used to Republicans’ bad-mouthing Hillary and Obama, ripping into each other and telling outright falsehoods (Carly Fiorina and Planned Parenthood doctored video). By contrast, last night’s Dem debate was for the most part optimistic and forward-looking.
The candidates were focused mostly on the issues, each trying to show how (s)he parted ways from the others. Yet they were not hesitant to agree with and even support each other. There was only one antagonist in the room, and that was the Republican obstructionist party. Yes, they attempted to score points, most notably Clinton remonstrating Sanders for not being strong enough against guns. (Do you agree with Sanders’ position on guns, the moderator asked her. “No. I don’t,” she rejoined.) The disagreements were sometimes direct, sometimes implied, but always cordial, not offensive. They were in agreement about the issues — guns, climate change, income inequality, the toxic effect of Citizens United — but they differed in their approaches.
I liked Martin O’Malley. He came across as well-informed and experienced, serious but easygoing and optimistic, especially in contrast to Bernie Sanders. The senator from Vermont was gruff, angry and exasperated. He is authentic and clearly cares deeply about problems of the middle class, income inequality, corporate greed and climate change, but I think he will antagonize voters who don’t already back him. Hillary Clinton was polished and well-prepared, articulate and perfectly at ease. When asked if she wanted to respond to a criticism from Lincoln Chafee, she simply said, “No.”
There were, however, two sour notes.
Chafee’s excuse for voting to repeal the Glass Steagall Act in 1999: “It was my first vote. I’d just arrived in the Senate, and my father had just died.” Challenged by moderator Anderson Cooper, he whined again. It was pathetic. He was looking for sympathy and garnered scorn.
Jim Webb complained at every opportunity that he wasn’t being given as much time as everyone else, that he had to wait 10 minutes before being given a chance to speak and was cut off too soon. When he was in the spotlight, he conveyed his discomfort at being on that stage with his rivals, all of whom were more progressive and relaxed than he was.
Chafee and Webb will surely drop out before long. They came in with poll numbers that scraped the bottom and didn’t do themselves any good. I’d like to see O’Malley keep going, but Hillary’s performance surely secured her place as the favorite with Bernie close behind to keep it interesting.