The Democratic Debate

I've gotten very cynical about political debates. They've become asinine reality TV shows, with preening moderators asking silly gotcha questions to people who just pivot to their talking points at every opportunity. But I did have a big pile of grading to get through last night and having the debate on in the background seemed like a reasonable idea. I'm glad I did. I found it riveting. Click here for the transcript.

There are two big contrasts between the Democrats and the Republicans.

The first thing that struck me is that all five Democratic candidates are extraordinarily competent, accomplished people. You could easily imagine any of them being President. Even Lincoln Chafee, who is far less polished than his fellow candidates, was the mayor of a major city, a senator, and a governor, and he was reelected numerous times to those various posts. Incompetent bumblers don't amass that sort of resume. Compare this to the Republicans, where the top candidates are a reality TV star, a fanatical neurosurgeon, and a pathologically dishonest failed CEO.

The second is that all of these folks are thoughtful people with a good command of the issues. They were able to speak intelligently on any topic that arose. With the Republicans the whole game is trying to say the craziest thing you can think of and then defend it steadfastly when people point out that it is crazy. There's a reason there's no clown car on the Democratic side. There's a reason Donald Trump is running as a Republican, and it has nothing to do with political principle.

As for the substance of the debate, Hilary Clinton won by a mile. I've liked her for a long time, and I supported her over Obama in 2008, but I've generally been disappointed with her as a candidate. She's not good on the stump, and she does seem awfully scripted and, yes, inauthentic. But I didn't see any of that last night. I was reminded of why I liked her so much in the first place. I saw someone who was confident in what she believed and who could defend herself against the endless storm of nonsense that will be coming her way in the campaign. I will be supporting her happily in the primary and general election.

But the biggest thing that must be said is this: Any Democrat who votes for Bernie Sanders is a damn fool. I like Sanders a lot, and if I lived in Vermont I would happily vote for him to be my senator. But there is no way this country is going to elect someone who proudly describes himself as a socialist and who says we need to be more like Denmark. If he is the nominee the Republicans will win forty-five states. Minimum. The Democrats have been putting up centrist, milquetoast candidates for some time now, and the Republicans have had considerable success painting them as commie lunatics. Can you imagine what they'll do when they don't even have to lie to make their case? Anderson Cooper is right, the ad writes itself.

You think Hillary Clinton flip-flops? You think that she has her finger in the wind while Sanders is all about honesty and blunt talk? Grow up. Stop being a child and live in the real world. Losing candidates are always freer to say what they really think. See how much you like bluntness and authenticity when it's a Republican packing the Supreme Court with wall-to-wall crazies, redistributing wealth upwards, starting wars with no particular plan in mind, and doing all the other relentlessly stupid things Republicans do when you give them power.

I'm a one-issue-voter and that issue is electability. Clinton's got it, Sanders doesn't. End of discussion.

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Looking from the outside I'm not that sure - Bernie would be centrist candidate here
(Hilary could stand for our right wing party - National)

But even in the USA a lot of people seem to agree with Bernie's policies
The sticking point would appear to be the name "Socialist" and I'm not at all sure that it isn't time for the sensible people in the USA to recognise that "Socialism" is a good thing

Like gay marriage and pot legalisation - has Socialism also arrived in the USA?

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 14 Oct 2015 #permalink

I agree with Jason here. If I could pick my president, I would pick Sanders over Clinton, but Sanders would most likely lose against any Republican candidate.

By Bjoern Hartig (not verified) on 14 Oct 2015 #permalink

One of the most accomplished engineers I know once remarked to me in a lunch-hour discussion that he wondered why the USA didn't send people around the world to explain our great system of government and get other countries to adopt it. I hardly knew where to start - Rhode Island's two senators matching California's - the Australian system of voting - but above all I wish we had a parliamentary system in which people like myself could vote for Senator Sanders on a Socialist ticket, and then the Socialists and the Democrats and the Greens could form a coalition government (probably with Secretary Clinton as Prime Minister). But as Kodos said, "It's a two-party system".

Anyway, I'm glad Senator Sanders is campaigning and maybe opening a few closed minds a little.

Also looking from the outside, and don't have any idea how Sanders would do in a general election. Would also depend on how far around the bend the other candidate is I guess.

But here is what I really wonder about: If everything that is even just only centre-right instead of far right is branded as socialist, how long does it take before some generation goes "if that is socialism then socialism apparently isn't so bad", and the slur loses its power?

I agree it was a great debate and great contrast with the GOP 3-ring circus; but I don't think Hilary won "by a mile"... she won by simply not losing. Sanders biggest problem isn't being a socialist (which he can explain in ways that draws out middle/lower class voters and young people who don't normally vote), but his age. Probably just as many people WON'T vote for a woman in 2016, as won't vote for a "socialist.". Moreover she remains deeply polarizing: most elections hinge on 20% of undecideds; if she's the nominee there may be less than 5-10% at play. I think HC will likely get the nomination (and I'll vote for her), not because she's the most electable, but because she and Bill have the most powerful political machine (that Karl Rove can only envy) going in American politics.

I haven't watched the debate. I probably need to do what Jason did, and throw it on in the background while I putter around the house doing other stuff. That's what I did for both GOP debates so I really should give the Dems the same fair shake.
From reports of her performance I'd agree that Hilary is more electable. I don't think its as lopsided as Jason paints it though, because just as whatever GOP candidate gets the nod will swing to the middle, I can easily see Sanders (and the DNP machine) doing the same thing. And let's face it, the GOP attack ads are going to paint any Dem candidate as a socialist. Hilary will get that attack just as much as Sanders would. Obama was attacked for being muslim, for goodness' sake - does anyone really think the GOP is going to let the reality of the Clinton's pro-business position get in the way of good 'democrats are communist' rhetoric? No, it won't.

Heck, in swinging to the middle Sanders doesn't even have to change any of his policy positions, just his label. Because he isn't really socialist - he has no intention of reducing private property or business or putting government in direct control of large sectors of the economy. What he is, is a traditional European social democrat who happens to call himself a socialist.

I'm inclined to be a damned fool then. I've not decided yet, but I'm leaning toward Sanders. Hillary might make a fine President, but she’d just be More Of The Same.

We need something (someone) different.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

My starting point in the question of electability is that my vote won't count, because I live in California, and California is going to vote for the Democrat. So right now I'm dithering between Dr Jill Stein (assuming she gets the nomination from the Green Party) and McAfee. Because right now (an entire year too early) it looks to me like the Democrats' biggest problem is complacency.

By Tom Pliska (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

Whatever Bernie Sanders can be accused of, I don't think the charge of "complacency" will stick.

sean s.

By sean samis (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

As someone who can't vote
’m a one-issue-voter and that issue is electability. Clinton’s got it, Sanders doesn’t. End of discussion.
Sanders might lose against a partially sane republican candidate - but its an open question as to how well or badly he will fare against the current republican nuts - It would be a hgh risk ,potentially high gain strategy.

Whether he would be able to actually achieve anything if the house composition remains as it is ? Maybe not - but Hillary wont be able to do anything progressive either so the only thing that would be different is big biz will get their way if Hillary is president and they might not if its Sanders.

By Deepak Shetty (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

@10: well presumably any democratic win is going to be because lots of people go to the polls (which is very standard in a presidential election year) and pull the lever for the "D." Straight ticket voting is very common, so those folk who show up and vote for Sanders (or whomever) would also pull the "D" lever for their congresscritter. Which is to say that a Sanders victory accompanied by no change in GOP/Dem ratio in the House is not very likely. Its much more likely that either both would happen, or neither would.

Except that, your script did not play out in that fashion for Obama.

By Deepak Shetty (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

This 59 year old fool has sent Bernie money and will send more over the course of the next several months. The only reason that a Democratic Socialist is viewed negatively is because the Republicans have been too damned effective with their propaganda. Have you ever visited Sweden, Norway, Denmark or Finland? Their standard of living is better than the majority of Americans.......

Clinton's political views are so alien to mine that I wouldn't vote at all. End of discussion indeed.

I'm still waiting for a pro-gun democratic candidate. Not all liberals are gun grabbers, it's only the snowflakes.

@12: yes it did, the Democrats picked up 21 seats in 2008. Now I make no guarantees about what may happen in 2020 if Bernie or Hilary are running as incumbent. But in this one, I stand by what I say and predict that the party that wins the presidency will also pick up a bunch of seats in the House of Representatives.

As an Aussie looking in, there are plenty of weird things about US politics, but here's one that I don't see remarked upon very often.

You guys had a war to get rid of the divine right of kings (more or less) - good for you. And then you invented your own royal families - the Kennedys, the Bushes, and now potentially the Clintons too. Was it just British royals you didn't like? :)

Meh, "royal" only in the symbolic or media sense. In terms of political power they really didn't have much more than a whole lot of other wealthy connected families. The Kennedys, for all the hype, produced 1 president and 2 senators. The Bushes 2 presidents so far. The Clintons, 1 president and 1 senator so far (who, technically speaking, isn't a blood relative of the 1 president).

Keep in mind that if you look at history a President and a senator/representative within a generation or two of each other is quite common. So these three families are above average, but not by all that much. 2 people successful in national-level politics is kind of average for families with Presidents in them..

William Henry Harrison did much better. He was President, his grandson was President, his brother, son, and great-great grandson were all Congressmen, and his father signed the Declaration of Independence. I'm no more worried about a Clinton or Bush dynasty than I am a Harrison dynasty.

And speaking of political "royal" dynasties...

I wish we had a system with instant runoffs( as in Australia) - more of the Kenneth Arrow approach ( see Arrow's Impossibility Theorem ) even though it is not perfect - then one could vote for Sanders without fear of throwing away one's vote. Alas we don't.

It's hard to pin down anymore what Socialism means to the average American. Is it old style Soviet socialism or welfare Capitalism like Denmark/Sweden or a gov't that provides any sort of public services. Bernie claims to be a Democratic Socialist. I think a more neutral term would be socialism = a command economy. Command economies have proven to be a failure ( Hayek has it right as to why ) and I doubt Sanders would be for such a system. If I read him correctly ( and I did live in Vermont for a number of years when he was mayor of Burlington - do any of you remember the nudist university in Vermont? I'm dating myself - but Vermont can be a very liberal place.), he would be for a market based welfare capitalist system with more progressive taxes and more regulated business environment...and possibly higher tariffs.

Many in Europe are excited over 'Merka having a woman president.


Apparently Bernie's your man then according to the NRA.

Pedr@19: You'll find a lot of Aussies complaining that they'd rather have the "first past the post" system that the US and UK have (though I imagine that is probably generational to some extent; the Baby Boomers in Australia had a large proportion of recent British immigrants, including both my own parents).

As you note, no method is perfect, but we can (and do) vote for parties we know won't win just so that whoever does win must acknowledge that voting public is interested in some of the policies of the smaller parties - and because of preferential voting, we can do this without hurting the chances of our preferred candidate (which is, typically, Liberal or Labor, with Liberal being our conservative party just to heighten confusion).

The only real downside to preferential voting is that it takes longer to figure out who the winner is, but that is not so much of a problem now with automated tallying most of the time. I guess it's what you're used to, but for the life of me I can't see why anyone would prefer a situation where you have to vote Democrat rather than Nice Independent Party We Quite Like just because otherwise the Republicans will win.

If you think the country is going to elect a black man raised by a single mother with a Kenyan father and the middle name Hussein and the last name Obama you are a fool.

End of discussion.

By Ashley Moore (not verified) on 15 Oct 2015 #permalink

As you note, no method is perfect, but we can (and do) vote for parties we know won’t win just so that whoever does win must acknowledge that voting public is interested in some of the policies of the smaller parties – and because of preferential voting, we can do this without hurting the chances of our preferred candidate

Well hopefully the tea party has broken up some of the groupthink* and made it apparent that voting for ones' preferred candidate in a House or Senate primary race can be a politically effective move. Getting 46 Representatives into Congress (their high water mark; occurred in 2013 I believe) certainly isn't 'throwing your vote away.'

So what I would say to all the greens and libertarians out there who are upset at the thought of voting for Hilary or the GOP candidate - because to do otherwise is to 'throw their vote away' and potentially help their least preferred candidate win - is to focus their money and labor on challenging House incumbents in 'safe' districts, where a victory in the primary race is more easily achievable and can somewhat predictably lead to victory in the general race. No, you will not get your candidate into the White House. That is throwing your vote away. But if you get 5, 10, 20, 40 representatives into the House, you will certainly influence the legislation that gets passed.

*When it comes to how to successfully run third party campaigns. I'm not talking about their policy content, just their use of the system.

@#19 --- Read up on, and listen to Bernie himself. When Bernie is asked to describe what he means by "Democratic Socialist", he specifically refers to the Scandinavian countries as an example. Instead of guessing what Sanders is for/against..... listen..... and he will tell you in significant detail.

Hayek has it right as to why

Reference that clown? You just lost credibility.

@24 - I think that's what I said. We agree then. It's called Welfare Capitalism or a social welfare system. America is best described by the term 'savage capitalism.'

@25 - so you think the information and preferences of all actors in a society can be effectively aggregated and known by a single person or agency and that it is then possible to make decisions for everyone that are Pareto efficient?

If you don't, then you agree with Hayek. This critique had its origins in the socialist calculation debate.

Markets reveal preferences - they are more informationally efficient than any other system. That's the point.

I claim no expertise in economics but it seems to me that markets aren't great at making efficient decisions either, and without regulation and oversight by outside agencies breed oligarchies. As Thornton Hall says, if markets always cleared by efficient price negotiation, the dumpsters behind supermarkets would not reek of thrown-away fruit and vegetables, which they always do.

They do have the advantage, it seems to me, that when they go wrong and do harm, there is no single person or agency to blame.

Ha ha ha - free markets - ha ha ha. The hoary old myth of the right - if they are so good on paper why is everyone afraid of them in practice?

By Michael Fugate (not verified) on 17 Oct 2015 #permalink

If we let Thornton Hall make the infinite number of decisions on what should be ordered in all the stores and at what price all the things should be sold, and forced everyone to purchase the correct quantity of items ( because he would know best what they needed ), then there would be no wasted food and nothing would spoil and all the dumpsters would be empty. I'm not sure I would like to live in that society.

Nobody (not me, at any rate) is suggesting Thornton Hall or any other single person set all price and production values. However, I think if he did at least things like this would not happen:…

"But what concerns doctors and patients most is the sheer ability of manufacturers to set their own price because there is no body or regulation that oversees drug prices.

That appears to be the case with Daraprim, manufactured by Turing Pharmaceuticals. The price of the 62-year-old drug jumped from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight. The drug is used to treat patients with malaria and toxoplasmosis, a rare parasitic infection."

As I understand it, this was a purely free-market strategy aimed at maximizing profit.

In World War II, most countries involved, including the USA, did apply such controls, e.g., rationing of food and fuel, and telling GM to stop making cars and start making tanks. In that society and time, we were all in it together for a different motive than profit, and there was not a lot of complaining about the terrible and inefficient market decisions which were being made.

As in most things, I think there is a middle ground between free and totally-controlled markets which is better than either extreme. And that (to try to drag this back on topic) is what I think Senator Sanders advocates.

@30 -

I agree completely.

The word "socialist" needs to be rehabilitated. Older people probably still associate that with the Soviet Union and atheism, but younger folks may have fewer negative associations.

That means the word needs to be used in a good way and Sanders is a start to that. The rehabilitation might not happen fast enough to get him elected, but he may be paving the way for a future candidate.

By Greg Esres (not verified) on 18 Oct 2015 #permalink

Finally listened to the debate. My takeaways are (1) unlike the GOP, its pretty clear this is really a 2-person race. (2) While Jim Webb was a good senator, he's a whiner now. He was not appealing at all. (3) O'Malley appears to be running for Vice President. (4) The Dems, with the possible exception of Sanders, seem fine burning their bridges when it comes to the NRA. That's probably not too big a deal (would the NRA have supported them anyway? Probably not), but it is somewhat surprising.

I'm also surprised everyone is calling it boring. Granted I was doing other stuff while I had it on in the background, and I enjoy intellectual shows, but IMO this debate was more politically interesting than the GOP debates. I don't need a constant stream of 'you're ugly and you stink' jokes to enjoy a show.