Perhaps the most striking thing about the first Democratic presidential debate last night was the fact that real issues and policy considerations were discussed in sharp contrast to the Republican debates which so far have largely consisted of sound bites pushing the favorite racist and paranoia based concerns of the increasingly delusional GOP base and/or taking cheap shots at other candidates. It's as if this debate involved adults versus the GOP debates where loud mouth bullies and story tellers have held sway. The contrast is striking and ought to make thinking voters wonder WTF is wrong with the GOP field of clowns. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dominated the debate with the others making some points but nonetheless in the shadows of Clinton and Sanders. Hillary did a better job than I expected. A column in the New York Times reflects thoughts similar to my own. Here are highlights:
I never doubted that Hillary Clinton had many talents. I just didn’t know that seamstress was among them.There were moments in the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night when she threaded the needle as delicately and perfectly as a politician could.The debate’s moderator, Anderson Cooper, noted that she’d told some audiences that she was a progressive but extolled her moderation in front of others. Wasn’t she just a chameleon, flashing whatever colors suited her at a given moment?“I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” she said strongly but not stridently. “I know how to find common ground and I know how to stand my ground.”Even when she was confronted anew by her vote in the Senate long ago to authorize the invasion of Iraq, she was neither defiant nor apologetic, steering a smooth midcourse by recalling that at debates in 2008, Barack Obama had attacked her for that. “After the election,” she pointed out, “he asked me to become secretary of state. He valued my judgment.”The subject of Iraq caused her less grief than Sanders suffered on gun control, when not only Clinton but also Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, rejected his explanation of votes in the Senate against various bills and his insistence that he was representing rural areas with gun cultures, not a nationwide electorate. It was clumsy because he presents himself as a creature of pure principle, immune to political convenience.But on Tuesday night an odd sort of role reversal occurred. For much of the debate, Sanders somehow came across as the embattled incumbent, targeted by the other four candidates, while Clinton came across as the energetic upstart.It was as poised a performance as she’s finessed in a long time, and while I’ve just about given up making predictions about this confounding election — I never thought Donald Trump would last so long, and I never saw Ben Carson coming — I think Clinton benefited more from Tuesday’s stage than Sanders did.She mixed confidence and moments of passion with instances of humor, and her manner was less didactic and robotic than it can often be.[S]he was seldom rattled, though the discussion of her use of a home-brewed server for her emails as secretary of state did prompt a visible stiffening of her posture, a conspicuous strain in her smile. Will she ever, ever find language that takes full ownership of her mistake and that puts real flesh on her continued claim that she’s being as transparent as possible?It was perhaps Sanders’s best. Surprisingly, he called for an end to talk about the emails, saying there were more important issues to focus on.And she benefited from the visual contrast when she stood side by side on TV next to Sanders, with his slight hunch, his somewhat garbled style of speech, and a moment when he cupped his hand behind his ear, signaling that he hadn’t heard the question.He evoked yesterday. Despite many decades in the political trenches, she didn’t. It was a nifty trick. Turns out she’s a bit of a sorceress as well.