Last night’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was the best debate of the season. The moderator, Wolf Blitzer, did his job, asking questions focusing on the issues with his panelists asking good follow-up questions. Wolf also tried to ensure that the candidates did not evade answering the questions, and he kept the candidates from talking too long or speaking over each other (at least as well as could reasonably be expected).
The press is writing about how much acrimony has developed between the two candidates, but I think the media exaggerates a bit. There were tensions between the two as their differences were revealed and as they challenged each other, but I’ve never seen a good two-person debate where there is not some conflict. Both candidates know debates and elections cause tension. They were respectful throughout, which is not always the case in campaigns. Need I provide examples?
What were the differences? In terms of the foreign policy issues, Clinton appeared to be more willing to use military force abroad than Bernie Sanders. Clinton also took a strong stand in favor of Israel. Sanders criticized her for not talking about the needs of the Palestinians. The difference here is ironic since Sanders is Jewish. Is Clinton trying to appeal to the Jewish vote in New York? On social issues, Clinton and Sanders are largely in agreement; however, Clinton wants to move more slowly than Sanders, building upon the efforts of President Obama to expand health care, strengthen bank regulation, stretch out social security, and enact minimum wage hikes. While Clinton was able to articulate existing policy and how she would try to make these changes, Sanders was vague about how he would accomplish his agenda.
Sanders attacked Clinton for getting paid huge speaking fees by Wall Street and for not providing the text of these speeches to the voters. Clinton attacked Sanders for not making all his tax returns public. Clinton also criticized Sanders for saying she was not qualified to be president; Sanders, in turn, attacked Clinton for making bad judgments, like voting for the War in Iraq. Clinton challenged Sanders on gun control. Sanders replied that he had a D- voting record from the NRA.
Clinton looked more presidential than Sanders. She was amazingly articulate and intelligent–Sanders looked a little befuddled by comparison. Clinton argued that it was far more difficult to build something up than to tear something down. Sanders spoke more like a critic than a consensus builder. However, Clinton does not appear to have the same level of integrity as Bernie Sanders. A while back, she was saying that a $15 minimum wage was too high in some places. Although it was reasonable to suggest that a raise from $7.50 to $12 may be high enough (if applied across the board), at the debate, she said she supported the $15 minimum wage; the $12 minimum wage she spoke about before was just a stepping stone. In the debate, Secretary Clinton also took a stronger pro-union stand.
Some would say Clinton’s speeches had more polish; she was better at adapting to the audience. Others would say she was subtlety pandering for votes. Sander’s pretty much repeated the same messages he has given in previous debates and speeches. Nothing fancy.
Clinton won far more delegates than Sanders in the Southern states and got the commitments of most superdelegates to vote for her. She may have learned some lessons from previous campaigns about how their primaries work. Sanders needs a win in New York to make party insiders, the superdelegates, question whether Clinton is the best candidate for the general election. If he can continue to build momentum by winning important states, it’s possible that Sanders could sway enough superdelegates over to his side to defeat Hillary Clinton. New York is the starting point on his path to victory. Clinton, on the other side, needs to win New York and hold her own in the states of California and Pennsylvania. She is starting in the same place as Bernie. If no unexpected obstacles appear, Clinton is likely to win the race. But, Sanders still has a chance. The tortoise can beat the hare on occasion.