Miami #DemDebate Hot Take & mini-Reax

Thoughts and links from a variety of perspectives about the Miami #DemDebate hosted by Univision (Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts)

Reminder: They agree about almost everything.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Reminder: They agree about almost everything. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Hot Take


Fuck, I am really tired of these debates. And I do mean it is the Democratic debates that I am tired of, which is quite a reversal from previous presidential election cycles. Normally, I can’t stomach GOP debates because they exist in a hateful alternate reality that is barren of empathy or facts. Normally, I watch the Democratic debates and enjoy a (mostly) substantial, reality-based dialogue about issues facing the nation. This year is different. The Democratic primary is being fought between two candidates who basically agree about everything and so they are having to bend and contort reality to find ways to attack each other and it sucks. Meanwhile, the GOP debates are hilarious spectacles of their candidates calling each other con men, liars, and frauds – and that’s all true and good to hear. So, bizarrely, I find I am enjoying watching the GOP eat itself alive at their debates while the Democratic debates are getting really grating.

Last night’s debate was certainly the worst one yet. The questions were mostly terrible, the moderators were entirely terrible, and I am fairly sure that I like both candidates less than I did before the debate.

The questions were mostly process and/or “gotcha” questions that aren’t really about anything; the absolute worst moments were when Jorge Ramos starting asking questions about Benghazi and indictment that were lifted out of the comments section on Breitbart. For shame, Jorge! I also didn’t think much of how Clinton was asked, again, why people don’t trust her (hint: our society doesn’t trust women in general, especially when they are powerful and/or outspoken) and then for balance, Sanders was asked… …why people don’t like something or other about Hillary.

Even when the questions weren’t lame, or at least when the candidates ignored them to talk about something important, the moderators kept trying to enforce time limits that are worse than useless in a two person debate. Let them talk! Unless of course it is Sanders tacking on an off topic response after every single answer Clinton gives, in that case maybe you should rein the guy in a bit. I counted at least two times that Sanders started in after Clinton’s response, the moderators started to cut him off, he persisted, the moderators relented, and then the Senator proceeded to say nothing at all about the question Clinton was asked or her answer. The moderators let Bernie blog from the podium and to make it worse you could repeatedly hear Ramos audibly agreeing with what Sanders was saying. (Interesting to me: several people I know who watched the debate were also bothered by this (including Berners), but I didn’t see it mentioned in any recaps today.)

The candidates didn’t do a whole lot better. Clinton continues to attack Sanders’ voting records in ways that are either misleading or on point, but insufficiently explained. I am also really waiting for her to cut loose on a question about her “trustworthiness” – we live in a country where 35 women tell the exact same story about being raped by Bill Cosby, and yet people commonly assume they are all lying. If there is one time where Clinton needs to talk about the challenges of being a woman in politics, trust would be it. For his part, Sanders continues to have incredibly thin skin when it comes to being attacked for his past votes and statements on complex public policy issues, which is all the more galling considering such attacks are the bulk of his critique of Clinton. And while I know the Senator’s supporters love every minute of it, I am frankly completely tired of listening to him yell about Wall Street bad guys and political revolutions. Progressives promote a positive vision of the future – we don’t make enemies lists, Bernie. And this far into primary season, with turnout down compared to 2008, it is probably time to stop talking about a political revolution. I adore Bernie when he is plain spoken and honest, but I am increasingly annoyed with the moments when he is plain spoken and bullshitting to avoid specifics. Also – and I know it diminishes a candidate to talk about his or her appearance – but dude needs to never wear a brown suit on national TV ever again. Please.

Pardon the venting. I do want to end my take on a positive note: The best moment in any presidential debate I have ever seen happened during last night’s debate, like a diamond in the rough. A Guatemalan woman, mother, and immigrant told the candidates how her husband, the father of her sons, had been deported for not having a driver’s license. She asked how what the candidates would do to reunite her family. Their answers were translated for her by a reporter. Here is a screenshot, courtesy of Vox:


This is the kind of moment that makes me proud and hopeful to be an American citizen in 2016. For all the hype and dread about Donald bloody Trump, the two most popular, most voted for candidates on either side of the election took a question last night from a Guatemalan immigrant and answered her with respect and empathy. That is for real. It might not be what is most often left in a comment thread on Facebook, it may not be anything like what you usually see on Twitter, Reddit, or Fox News, but that respect and empathy is what most Americans feel for most other Americans most of the time. The haters are louder and better funded, but love and progress are unstoppable and totally going to win this thing.

So as glad as I am that last night was, hopefully, the last Democratic primary debate – I am even more glad that I sat through all of them just so I could see this one thing that cut through all the bad optics of the media and reminded me what is at stake in this election and refocused my own mind on our difficult, ongoing progress towards being a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Republic. America, fuck yeah!

The mini-Reax

Matthew Yglesias brings us the Vox recap of winners (Sanders, Republicans) and losers (Clinton, Univision, Voters who care about immigration) from the debate. Regarding Sanders:

In part, Sanders simply benefited from good fortune. All three of the moderators were more focused on Clinton’s weaknesses than Sanders’s, and set the tone for a debate that overwhelmingly put Clinton on the defensive. The only really tough question Sanders got came very late in the debate and on an issue — his past praise of Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega — that Democratic primary voters probably don’t care about.

Still, despite a favorable landscape, Sanders executed cleanly, crisply, and clearly. He delivered multiple red meat lines that attracted thunderous applause from the audience.

Perhaps most of all, Sanders effectively pulled off the central rhetorical trick of his campaign: repeatedly making policy commitments that are well to the left of the Obama administration while downplaying the idea of a sharp break between himself and the popular incumbent president.

Josh Marshall acknowledged his own possible “debate exhaustion bias” while reviewing/criticizing the debate:

One big takeaway for me was that there was relatively little between the two candidates which went to the real essence of this contest – an establishment politician with a long history of pushing for incremental change within the system and an outsider who talks about transforming the country in line with left-liberal values but would be deeply challenged to bring about that change in a country closely divided on partisan lines. That’s the real issue between these two candidates. The policy disagreements all stem from that basic division. But that essential contrast mostly felt submerged in a kind of cheap-shotty back and forth about specific points of policy or gotchas tied to things that happened 3 or 10 or 30 years ago.

Julianne Hing has a fantastic, must-read piece at The Nation that gets deep into the past and future of last night’s questions asked, and promises made, about the deportation of children:

Campaign promises which don’t take into account the realities of the last seven years of congressional politics may do more harm than good, if the goal is to at the very least, treat Americans like adults and speak plainly and honestly. I’m showing my political idealism, I realize. Very rarely is the goal to speak honestly and plainly to the people whose vote a politician is trying to win. But politicians have a more self-serving interest in being straight with voters: to stave off the kind of bone-deep disenchantment which makes Americans resent their political leaders, and turn to outsider alternatives, or give up on civic engagement altogether.

I strongly encourage you to take the time to read the whole thing.

Jonathan Bernstein notices that Clinton had a really good night Tuesday night – she won more votes and more delegates than Sanders – but has a concern about how Clinton internalized the media narrative (“huge upset!”) and came at Sanders during the debate as though he got closer, rather than further behind, in the nominating contest:

It’s to her credit that she’s talented at delivering hard hits like this, and there’s nothing wrong with using opposition research to spin things her way. That’s what presidential candidates do.

But it’s not to her credit that she allowed the pundits’ agenda to distract her from her own goals. One of Barack Obama’s strengths in the 2008 campaign was his willingness to sacrifice a news cycle in favor of larger objectives. That has generally been a strength during his presidency: He rarely changes course just because he knows he’s going to draw heat over nonsense that will blow over in a few days.

Trudy Ring has a thorough recap of the evening and highlights one of the questions that, from my view on Twitter, was one of the more mocked of the evening:

Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, one of three moderators, noted that Clinton said in 2003 that she was “adamantly against illegal immigrants and that people have to stop employing illegal immigrants.” Salinas continued, “Your new immigration plan is that you would expand President Obama’s executive actions and that you would push for legislation that would include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. So are you flip-flopping on this issue? Or are you pandering to Latinos, what some would call Hispandering?”

After the audience’s laughter died down, Clinton responded that in 2003, as a U.S. senator from New York, she sponsored the DREAM Act, a long-stalled piece of federal legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors to earn citizenship, and continued to sponsor versions of the legislation in every subsequent congressional session during her time in the Senate. “I have been consistent and committed to comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship,” she said.

Not a lot of reactions to gather up today – I think debate fatigue is real, especially considering that over four days this week there were two Democratic debates and two primaries to cover. If you’ve got 9 minutes and want some more, you can watch Roland Martin and the NewsOne Now panel show some highlights and discuss the debate:

Click here to see all of TLP’s 2016 election posts.

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