(Updated) Hot Take and Reax for the Flint #DemDebate hosted by CNN (Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts)
Let me be the first – no wait, the four-hundredth – person to observe that this debate was dramatically different, in both substance and tone, than the GOP debate in Detroit last week. The moderators, Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper, are surely due some credit. While Fox News started their debate with an hour of attack ads posing as questions, waiting 80 minutes to even mention Flint, CNN managed to get straight to the water crisis in the opening minutes of the debate. Of course, that wasn’t the only difference. The least civil moment of this debate – Sanders barking at Clinton “Excuse me, I’m talking” – was still considerably more civil than any moment in the GOP debate, other than maybe the moment when Rubio, Cruz, and Kasich all promised to support Trump if he is the nominee. Yeah.
Moving away from comparison, my reaction to this debate is probably loaded with personal bias. I am pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders, but I am definitely wanting Clinton to be the nominee and I want Sanders to be, well, better at what he is doing. Bernie continues to equate being black and being poor; yes, at 28%, African American poverty levels in the US are horrible – but 72% of African Americans are not poor and are still confronted with systemic and interpersonal racism. There was also more than one moment in the debate where Sanders interjected after a Clinton response, as though he had a rebuttal, but instead launched into a completely unrelated attack against Clinton. Many Sanders supporters may love this, but it really is an ugly tactic and it makes me wonder what the Senator’s game plan is for the rest of the primary campaign. Bernie’s other bad move – again, many of his supporters will love this – was using the topic of mental healthcare funding to take a swipe at the GOP candidates. I get it and it’s fine for a Facebook comment or a tweet, but the lack of mental healthcare in this country is not a punchline for a presidential candidate on national TV. This issue involves too much suffering and has too high a body count. That’s just not cricket, Senator.
Clinton had her unfortunate moments as well. In her response to a question about gun safety from a father whose daughter had been wounded in a mass shooting, Clinton at one point touched on background checks and mental health – which the father had specifically said he didn’t want to hear about because neither applied to NRA poster boy that shot his child and injured or killed several other people. I blame Clinton for a weak, meandering response to the question. I also blame the gun safety lobby for being woefully incompetent at strategy and messaging, to the point that our most powerful and prominent advocate has no decent talking points to goto when someone asks an incredibly obvious question. But I digress.
Overall, both Clinton and Sanders had a couple bad moments and a lot more good moments. Sanders’ answer about civil rights history and Clinton’s answer about prayer both stand out as highlights. There is another debate next Wednesday, I guess. I am really not sure what the point is. Sanders is saying the same things over and over, and Clinton isn’t going to say anything especially exciting while she is clearly winning the nominating contest, so these debates are starting to seem to me to be 2 hour exercises in confirmation bias for each candidate’s supporters. Am I wrong?
The reax are pretty thin today – not a lot of folks had published something when I went about gathering links. It was a Sunday evening, after all.
Nonetheless, let’s start with Vox’s improbable quantity of 3 winners (Sanders, Clinton, Flint) and 2 losers (Don Lemon, GOP candidates) from this 2 person debate. Regarding an early question in the debate:
Hillary Clinton made a huge promise to a mother in Flint, who wanted to know what Clinton would do as president to solve Flint’s lead crisis. Clinton’s answer is good news for Flint and for the communities all over the United States grappling with lead poisoning that Flint represents. She vowed to eliminate lead in soil, paint, and water in the US within five years.
This plan could easily cost a trillion dollars to accomplish. Just getting rid of lead pipes would cost $290 billion, according to a recent estimate. Still, the response highlighted how the Flint water crisis has put a new focus on the devastating effects of lead on children’s health.
Trudy Ring has a recap of the debate as well, including some of Sanders’ thoughts on water and other issues impacting the people of Flint:
Sanders said the Flint crisis is part of the failure of infrastructure nationwide. “The wealthiest country has to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, our water systems,” he said. “I have a bill for a trillion dollars, it creates 13 million jobs rebuilding Flint, Mich., and communities all over the country.”
Sanders also noted the loss of industry and jobs in Flint over the past few decades, and he blamed them on “disastrous trade agreements” that he said Clinton supported. American workers, he said, should not have to compete with those who make 25 cents an hour in developing countries.
Josh Voorhees thinks the debate, and the Maine caucus results, show Sanders isn’t going anywhere:
The tension between Clinton and Sanders was evident throughout the night. Bernie refused to cede the stage to Hillary on multiple occasions—“Can I finish? You’ll have your turn,” he snapped at one point—and he went out of his way to press her on her refusal to release transcripts of her paid speeches to Wall Street institutions like Goldman Sachs. Sanders also attacked his rival for not opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership sooner (“I am very glad … that Secretary Clinton discovered religion on this issue, but it’s a little bit too late”), for not opposing fracking strongly enough, and for relying on super PAC cash.
Clinton, meanwhile, continued to paint Sanders as a “one-issue candidate.” This time, she specifically used that criticism to hit Sanders for voting against the auto bailout, a particularly sensitive topic in Michigan. As she has been for months, Hillary also reminded liberals of perhaps the biggest blemish on Bernie’s progressive resume: his vote to shield gun-makers and dealers from lawsuits.
German Lopez wrote about Sanders’ mental illness quip and how it played differently in and out of the room:
The audience applauded — and surely, this is a line that will resonate with many other Democratic audiences who watched in confusion (and horror) as Republicans spent much of their previous debate making literal penis jokes and discussing yoga and their flexibility.
But Sanders’s line used some pretty ugly, ableist language. It referenced people with mental illness explicitly as a means to bash Republicans, and it perpetuated the idea that those with mental illness are inherently dangerous.
Rebecca Leber has a recap of both candidate’s answers about fracking (and if you click the link you can read her history of Clinton’s statements about fracking to put it into context):
A college student asked Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton a simple question at the Flint, Mich., debate on Sunday night: “Do you support fracking?”
And Bernie Sanders had a simple answer: “No, I do not support fracking.”
Hillary Clinton, though, needed more time to outline three conditions in a more nuanced answer on fracking. She’s against it “when any locality or any state is against it,” “when the release of methane or contamination of water is present,” and “unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.”
Caitlin Huey-Burns includes the exchange on gun safety in her recap:
When asked by a Michigan voter whose daughter was shot in Kalamazoo about ways to curb gun violence, Clinton argued for legislation to hold gun manufacturers responsible, noting that Sanders opposes it. “I voted against giving them immunity, but I think we should very seriously move to repeal that and go back to making sure gun makers and sellers are like any other business,” she said.
Sanders disagreed: “If you go to a gun store and you legally purchase a gun, and then, three days later, if you go out and start killing people, is the point of this lawsuit to hold the gun shop owner or the manufacturer of that gun liable? If they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you’re really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America. I don’t agree with that.”
I thought this was a particularly bad segment for Sanders. I have to believe he shed a few thousand votes each time he said “if I understand this” because it sounded disingenuous at best and disengaged at worst. Clinton made some good points, but didn’t make them as well as she might have, for instance that selling guns with the safety located on the trigger (!) is a choice for which gun companies should be liable. But I digress.
Yoni Applebaum says the winner of the debate was Flint, Michigan:
So who won?
Both candidates delivered strong performances, but given the patterns of support to this point, that’s probably not enough for Sanders to turn things around.
The real achievement of the night was forcing the presidential contenders to grapple with the very real problems of one very particular community. Anderson Cooper, the CNN moderator, used the end of the debate to announce that a union fund had pledged $25 million to help fix the pipes in Flint. That may be as positive an outcome as any presidential debate will generate this year.
And… …that’s it! I may update the post later today if there are some other good links to be had, but for now this is it. Enjoy your Monday.
(Updated with new links, below)
Jamelle Bouie thinks the debate showed Clinton and Sanders want different jobs:
But, as viewers, we can learn from debates even when they cover familiar ground. And the Flint debate, in particular, illustrates an important difference between Clinton and Sanders that’s often overlooked in coverage of the two candidates but that goes a long way in explaining their campaigns and their positions. In short, Hillary Clinton is running to lead Democrats, and Bernie Sanders is running to lead liberals.
Michael Tomasky thinks Sanders is good at thunder and bad at solutions, whereas Clinton is good at solutions and bad at thundering, and that Clinton should go with this and not try to out-thunder Sanders any more:
I think she just ought to own it. Sunday night she should have said, “Yeah, whatever, Snyder should go. And you know what? The day he moves out of the governor’s mansion, it’s not like the water of Flint is going to magically get better.” And so on in that vein. Because to get into a game who can out-thunder whom is get into a game she can’t win. In this respect, the media abet Sanders, because news tends to be defined as that one grabby new thing. So on NPR Monday morning—yes, even “smart” NPR—the reports on the debate led with the fact that Clinton joined Sanders’s call for Snyder’s head, which is “news.” I get it, but it is hardly the most meaningful thing that happened and is irrelevant to the health of the people of Flint.
Lizzie Crocker isolates the “Excuse me, I’m talking” moment and argues it was not a sexist outburst:
Of course there are numerous instances of Clinton battling sexism, but this wasn’t one of them. And Sanders’s political record shows him to be as much of a feminist as Clinton.
If we take these issues seriously, we should resist the urge to cry sexism any time Sanders snaps at Clinton. Doing so only perpetuates a gender divide. It suggests Clinton can’t perform well when her opponent gets a little red-faced, as though she’s being insulted by some patronizing, sexist pig.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have to say, this piece was utterly unconvincing. Crocker doesn’t seem to take into account the entire context, which is that Sanders had made one of his guilt-by-association ad-hominem double header cracks at Clinton (“your friends on Wall St.”), then she tried to interject, then he shut her down. The issue isn’t, “excuse me, I’m talking,” so much as it is “I am going to misrepresent you, and you are going to be quiet while I do it.” The Clinton campaign, obviously, isn’t going to repeat the smear part and will instead focus on the shushing. But everybody who watched the debate heard the moment in full context, and I wish I could find the dozen or so tweets from people at the time remarking that the moment did not play well in the hall, in the press room, in living rooms, in bars, or in focus groups. Counter Ms. Crocker’s theory, I do not believe all of those people are “feminists in a defensive crouch.”
Joan Walsh also did not see that moment as sexist, viewing it instead through the lens of Sanders being “irascible” because he wanted to win the night, but:
I’m not sure he did. The most important thing the Vermont senator could have done Sunday night was make a convincing case to the state’s African-American voters that they should support him over Clinton. But Sanders’s answers to questions on race again showed the way he sees the issue through the prism of class. Asked by Don Lemon about his racial “blind spots,” Sanders talked about being with a black colleague who couldn’t get a cab, and then said something he’s being pilloried for: “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor.”
Never mind that nearly half of Americans in poverty are white, or that the word “ghetto” sounded dated back when Elvis Presley sang about it. Sanders showed again that he equates “black” with “poor” and racism with economic inequality, and that message, to date, has not won over African-American voters. It’s unlikely to start working in Michigan, but we’ll find out Tuesday.
And that’s all the new links I found (worth sharing, at least). Enjoy your Super Tuesday II: Spawn of Super Tuesday and come back to TLP tomorrow for some reax.
Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts.