Thursday night saw the Democratic side hold their sixth debate, featuring former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. This was the second debate featuring just the two, as other contender Martin O'Malley dropped out of the race following his poor showing during Iowa's caucuses. This debate featured a shift in tactics for Clinton. Her previous attacks against Sanders proved unsuccessful in slowing his momentum. In the past Clinton has framed herself as the defender of President Obama's legacy and attacked Sanders as being unrealistic, even levying such odd attacks as claiming he had a very pro-gun background and collected money from Wall Street (which by her own admission is not a bad thing). Clinton had even brought out the surrogates with her daughter and husband going on the attack making claims like Bernie attempting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (which was categorically untrue).
Here are a few of the observations The Midnight Review has made from last night's debate:
"I think that the best analysis that I've seen based on Senator Sanders plans is that it would probably increase the size of the federal government by about 40%, but what is most concerning to me is that in looking at the plans -- let's take healthcare for example."
Clinton made the argument that Bernie Sanders' plans would increase the size of the federal government by about 40% but what exactly does that mean? She claims every progressive economist believes his plan is bad but she fails to make mention of a single one. Sanders doesn't either but he rarely name drops like his opponent but her claim is completely untrue. Democratic socialist economist and professor Gerald Friedman, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found median income would be $82,200 by 2026, far higher than the Congressional Budget Office's $59,300. He had also predicted poverty would drop to a record low of 6% and the unemployment rate would fall to 3.8%.
While other economists believe Friedman to be overly optimistic, there have been 170 top economists who recently backed Sanders' plan -a far cry of the zero Clinton claimed in her debate. Sanders, instead of defending his policies should have at least mentioned this fact.
There is also question about what exactly these supposed increases mean. Is Clinton trying to say public sector employment would rise (thus contributing to lower unemployment numbers)? Is she simply looking at the price tag?
Clinton's attack is odd for another reason - it sounds as if the current Republican field drafted this response. Clinton is worried about growing the government? Not only that, Clinton has repeatedly stated in her responses that she shares the same goal as Bernie and would like to achieve these great progressive policies over time, so in actuality, when she attacks Bernie for trying to grow the government she is also calling her own policy positions into question.
"I can only say that we both share the goal of universal health care coverage. You know, before it was called Obamacare, it was called Hillarycare. And I took on the drug companies and I took on the insurance companies to try to get us universal health care coverage."
This point ties into the previous one - if she shares the same goals as Bernie, why is she attacking the costs associated with them?
Not only that, Clinton tries to tie Hillarycare to Obamacare by insisting they are the same thing. She rolled out this rhetoric in recent weeks and it may make a great soundbite. This line may be intended to try and sway Bernie's younger voters who are not familiar with Hillary's role in healthcare reform in the 90s into thinking that Hillary invented Obamacare but one would have to look at her actions after Hillarycare failed. First of all, Hillarycare was not a predecessor of the president's plan. His was more similar to policies pushed by conservative organization The Heritage Foundation and like Mitt Romney's plan he implemented in Massachussetts while her plan had gone farther, but it seems she has given up on the plan for universal health that she pushed even during her run for president in 2008 in exchange for incrementalism. Her current approach capitulates to the idea that voters will remain apathetic and Republicans will still control a significant percentage of the government - hardly the kind of optimistic go-get'um rhetoric one would expect from the potential leader of the party.
"You're referring to a Super PAC that we don't coordinate with, that was set up to support President Obama, that has now decided that they want to support me. They are the ones who should respond to any questions."
This response by Hillary was really cold and she quickly pivoted to ground currently held by Bernie Sanders. She started touting her donations (which are still dwarfed by Sanders' by almost double).
"I'm very proud of the fact that we have more than 750 thousand donors, and the vast majority of them are giving small contributions," Clinton said.
This is nothing when compared to his contributors but her defense still shows that she still has not come up with an effective response. Similar to her flustered deflection of why Goldman Sachs paid her what they did for her speeches, Clinton wanted to throw this question away as soon as it was asked and placed all responsibility with that of the Super PAC and went on to do her Bernie Sanders impersonation as best as she could.
"I think that is the real key here. We both have a lot of small donors. I think that sets us apart from a lot of what's happening right now on the Republican side."
In her response she shifted focus to the Super PAC, pretended to be a person representing the people just like Bernie Sanders, and then directed people to look at Republicans, who she insinuates are the real benefactors of such organizations and billionaires.
This ties into another point Clinton tried to make throughout the debate - she is the reason behind all of Obama's accomplishments.
"As we all remember, Senator Obama, when he ran against me, was against the war in Iraq. And yet when he won, he turned to me, trusting my judgment, my experience, to become secretary of state...
I think it's important to look at what the most important counterterrorism judgment of the first four years of the Obama administration was, and that was the very difficult decision as to whether or not to advise the president to go after bin Laden.
I looked at the evidence. I looked at the intelligence. I got the briefings. I recommended that the president go forward. It was a hard choice... I'm proud that I gave him that advice."
This was obviously Clinton pushing back on the Sanders comments regarding the difference between experience and judgement and she delivered it with an all-familiar response - that she was behind a lot of the major policy achievements of the Obama administration, thus making her the standard bearer for his legacy and the one true choice to defend it from Republicans. Just look at her comparing Hillarycare and Obamacare or taking credit for the Iran talks under current Secretary of State John Kerry ("I put together the coalition that imposed the sanctions on Iran that got us to the negotiating table to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program").
Overall, Clinton tried to not only tie her campaign to the president, who still remains popular within his own party, but she actually tried to take credit for many of his signature achievements.
This ties in well with what was perhaps Sanders' best foreign policy comments to date - the Henry Kissinger exchange.
"You know, I listen to a wide variety of voices that have expertise in various areas. I think it is fair to say, whatever the complaints that you want to make about him are, that with respect to China, one of the most challenging relationships we have, his opening up China and his ongoing relationships with the leaders of China is an incredibly useful relationship for the United States of America. So if we want to pick and choose -- and I certainly do -- people I listen to, people I don't listen to, people I listen to for certain areas, then I think we have to be fair and look at the entire world, because it's a big, complicated world out there."
Clinton's response was very Donald Trump or Sarah Palin-like (think newspaper question). She basically said that she listens to lots of people on lots of things because the world is very complicated. This led to Bernie's triumphant history lesson in which he basically summed up his foreign policy reasoning by describing the actions and subsequent chain of events that stemmed from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger under President Richard Nixon, which drew parallels to the events that immediately followed the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the vote for war. He also was able to tie in foreign policy to his central domestic policy message by pointing to the consequences of Kissinger's opening up of China.
Some people may have thought Bernie's response was out-dated by referencing Kissinger and that this would go over his Millennial supporters' heads but as anyone could see, this reference would play well with the older supporters of Clinton while younger, more tech-savvy Bernie backers would easily research and understand the references made by Sanders (as is evidenced by the fact that "Kissinger" is now trending online).
"I certainly agree with FDR for all the reasons Senator Sanders said. And I agree about the role that he played both in war and in peace on the economy and defeating fascism around the world. I would choose Nelson Mandela for his generosity of heart, his understanding of the need for reconciliation."
This quote is especially interesting because it highlights Clinton's racial pandering. While Bernie gave thoughtful responses, Clinton responded with a "What he said" and added a "Nelson Mandela," but she didn't elaborate, instead giving some generic mention of generosity and forgiveness. Never mind the fact that Mandela, like Bernie Sanders, was a democratic socialist, Clinton's campaign has been full of race cards designed to help her out in the upcoming South Carolina primary. This may be why she has consistently brought up the water crisis in Flint, Michigan seemingly out of nowhere and why her campaign has seemed to try and minimize their tie in Iowa and loss in New Hampshire (and potential loss in Nevada) by throwing out racial statistics like claiming "it's still a state that is 80 percent white voters." This line is designed to paint Bernie as the white people's candidate and Clinton as the candidate for all.
And here is perhaps the most telling quote about what a Clinton presidency might be:
"You don't go tell Muslim nations you want them to be part of a coalition when you have a leading candidate for president of the United States who insults their religion."
Hillary Clinton will have a term of inaction because of Republican opposition, and to think she could get anything done with a congress that has held more hearings on a manufactured controversy like Benghazi (which centers around their belief Clinton ordered the special forces to stand down so that four American embassy workers and diplomats could be killed by terrorists) is just laughable. Clinton says in this quote that she would not even engage the Middle East so long as Republicans continue with their anti-Islamic rhetoric, and since she has already conceded that if she wins the presidency Democrats will still be relegated to a minority party in both chambers of congress, she acknowledges that her only achievement would be being the first female president of the United States. Her incremental approach sounds great when debating someone like Bernie Sanders but had Obama assumed the presidency with such an approach, healthcare reform probably would have never happened, as well as any of Obama's other signature achievements - the same ones Clinton is now taking credit for.
Basically, Clinton, while very experienced, intelligent, and hard working, is no visionary, and her current strategy on achieving progressive goals using an incremental method would just lead to a strengthening of the conservatives on the right, much like what we witnessed during the 90s.
Bernie on the other hand stayed on message, expanding on his overall message and definitely showed his policy chops by attacking Clinton's judgement by referencing the actions of Henry Kissinger. He still needs to work on his rebuttals. While Clinton has surely done hours of debate prep combing through Bernie's record and testing lines of attack, Bernie typically pivots to his overall narrative of income inequality and class struggle. He could add a little more teeth to his performances if he went after Clinton, like that time Clinton said she would not be influenced by money, opening the door for Bernie to reference that time she flip-flopped on that bankruptcy bill.
Clinton always performs well but seems to be trying to find a line of attack that works. Her speaking style has also fluctuated, ranging from compassionate to forced outrage. She is essentially rolling the dice each time she speaks hoping to find a winner. Bernie is consistent. Sometimes too consistent, but always on point.