The original plan was that the second Democratic Primary debate on CBS was to be about the economy, but that plan was hijacked by the so-called Islamic State—which I persist in calling ISIS or Daesh because a “state’ is the province of law and that organization is proudly outside the world of law.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calls them Daesh because they hate it. Daesh sounds very similar to Arabic words that translate in an uncomplimentary way. Therefore, calling them Daesh is disrespectful….so I’m pleased that Secretary of State John Kerry called them Daesh when he made remarks in solidarity with the French after the mass murders in Paris that disrupted politics as usual on this side of the Atlantic.
Because Daesh hijacked the debate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was handed a big advantage beyond leading in the polls. Not only does she have more foreign policy experience than her two opponents put together, she was already considered more hawkish than either. Hawkish plays well when the ripples from terrorism are still in the air, as they are now.
The understandable instinct is to want to kick some butt and the more innocent the victims, the stronger the instinct. Here we had a bomb outside a European football game detonated early when found at the security checkpoint, followed by shooting up a sidewalk café, and gunmen spraying the crowd at a sold out rock concert. Casualties are in the hundreds and virtually all non-combatants.
It was up to former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to push back against the urge to just do violence to oppose violence. Daesh is the sworn enemy of civilization, but it does not follow that any action taken against them is effective, smart, and within our means.
Moderator John Dickenson was willing to ask questions from inside the bubble created by the political right, which is probably a good idea. Dickerson baited all three candidates to denounce “radical Islam,” but none bit on that hunk of raw meat. All three thought of enough pejoratives to describe Al Qaeda and Daesh that nobody could call them soft, but the enemy could not portray U.S. policy as a “war on Islam” by misplacing one adjective.
All the candidates thought sane Muslims need to put the boots on the ground to fight the crazy Muslims, but I waited in vain for criticism of our dear friends the Saudis for funding the Wahabi madrassas that produce fundamentalist crazies.
Dickerson asked Sanders if he wanted to walk back his statement that climate change is the number one national security threat facing the U.S. Sanders did not wish to walk it back, and he pointed out correctly that the social friction caused by threats to water and food supplies are a big part of the conditions underlying terrorism. In Syria, failed crops were a direct cause of the demonstrations that Bashar al-Assad tried to end with deadly force, starting a fire that’s still burning.
The Middle East was not exactly the world’s garden spot before it got drier and hotter, and the latest computer models suggest temperature coming that human beings cannot survive.
From talking to my son about his two tours in Iraq, I wonder how human beings survive the temperatures common now?
Sanders then pivoted to what he called the worst foreign policy blunder in our time, a veiled dig at Hillary Clinton’s vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq. No Iraq invasion; no ISIS.
Clinton still has scar tissue from the days Illinois freshman Sen. Barack Obama said the same. The U.S., she said, was “victimized by terrorism” many times before the invasion of Iraq. Therefore, the entire Middle Eastern jihad could not have been caused by the invasion she concedes in hindsight ought not to have happened.
“Regime change,” Sanders suggested, “has unintended consequences,” suggesting the rise of jihadis was one. He went on to hammer our alleged allies in the Muslim world for not doing enough, naming particular countries.
Clinton stood up for Jordan, pointing out how disproportionate the impact of Syrian refugees has been on that small kingdom. She did not mention the Jordanian pilot burned alive on video by ISIS. Can you imagine how this country would react if that young man had been American?
Dickerson brought O’Malley into the conversation by asking, “Is the world too dangerous for someone with no foreign policy experience?”
O’Malley’s reply made him sound just like the other two, so I guess the implication was that it does not require experience to find conventional wisdom.
Sanders tried to introduce the failures of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, an issue where he can point to some serious accomplishments.
After the commercial break, they came around to the economic issues that were supposed to have been the main subject.
Immigration is of course an economic issue, and Dickerson dipped back into right wing talking points to ask each candidate whether they could back down from comprehensive immigration reform and “secure the borders first.”
All the candidates pointed out the flawed premise of the question, given the record arrests and deportations by the Obama administration, but O’Malley pointed out specifically that the stuff being said about Mexicans is nonsense. In particular, The Donald Trump’s bleating about rapists and drug dealers. O’Malley offered this reality check: “You wouldn’t know it from listening to that immigrant-bashing carnival barker Donald Trump, but net immigration from Mexico last year was zero.”
Asked about the minimum wage, Sanders and O’Malley hung tough for $15 an hour. Clinton supported $12.
It’s a fairly abstract debate when no Republican candidate wanted to raise the minimum wage at all. Trump was the only one who said wages are too high now, something he denied after social media lit up. Here’s what he said:
“Taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world.”
The tax discussion was interesting compared to the Republican debate, where all they have to say about taxes is “No!”
O’Malley came out for taxing money made from money (capital gains) the same as money made from work.
Sanders supported a “speculation tax” on stock and commodity exchange transactions, a rhetorical coup right up there with the Republicans calling the estate tax a “death tax.”
Pointing out that Sanders wanted to raise the top marginal income tax rate and that he had only said “over 50 percent,” the moderators asked him how much?
Sanders pointed out that the top marginal rate was over 90 percent in the ’50s “but I’m not as much of a socialist as Eisenhower.”
O’Malley helpfully pointed out that the top marginal rate was 70 percent in the Reagan administration. This is perilous territory because the average voter does not understand “top marginal rate” and therefore thinks it means the government used to take over 90 percent of what some people earned. That ignorance is low hanging fruit for 30-second attack ads.
The candidates were asked what crisis had tested them in a manner that would qualify them to be POTUS?
Clinton cited her participation in the decision to get Osama bin Laden.
O’Malley said that nobody on the state or local level faces decisions of that size but described his general approach to hard problems.
Sanders picked his bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs, which did not pass. He described how he had to get over it quickly and cut deals to get as much passed for veterans as possible. He was describing what used to be the normal practice in Washington, a practice fallen into disuse when the word “compromise” fell into disrepute in some circles.
With two Democratic Primary debates in the books and four to go, Clinton seems likely to maintain a lead over Sanders. The question is whether O’Malley can get out of single digits? He did well and he is manifestly overdue for some recognition. How long can he hang on with no breakthrough?
All three candidates proved this election is 21st century when they gave the URLs of their campaign websites in closing statements, and CBS did the same by counting tweets to arrive at the remark most noticed from each candidate.
For O’Malley, it was describing Trump as an “immigrant-bashing carnival barker.”
For Sanders, it was his observation that he is not as much a socialist as Dwight Eisenhower.
For Clinton, it was when she pointed out that 60 percent of her campaign donors are women. I predict that she will be attacked again for “playing the gender card,” but last time Clinton ran, she made nothing out of being the first woman with a serious chance to become POTUS. If she’s now playing the gender card, good for her, because there needs to come a day when our daughters can have the same aspirations as our sons.
On the Republican side, it was good to see Carly Fiorina promoted from the undercard to the main event on the strength of an excellent debate performance for the same reason. We’ll know the playing field has become level when there’s no longer a gender card to play.
Polling numbers will score this debate in the coming days, but the polling will not be the big deal it is for the GOP because there are only three candidates left and that means everybody gets to debate in prime time. It is an everlasting disgrace to the Democratic Party that it manipulated the rules to keep Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig off the debate stage with his embarrassing one issue: the corrupting influence of money on democracy.
Lessig’s absence leaves the corruption issue to Bernie Sanders, the only candidate of either party without a SuperPAC. I predict Clinton and Sanders will remain one and two and the question for pollsters will be whether O’Malley will be rewarded for a credible performance.