What we got to see was an authentic Democratic debate in the superficial environs of Las Vegas
Watching a political debate on CNN is one thing, sitting 30 feet away from all five Democratic presidential candidates and listening to them live, is another. Sometimes we just happen to be at the right place at the right time, and I was one of the lucky 1,300 audience members inside the Latour Ballroom at the Wynn, Las Vegas, on October 13.
The stage was electric, as was the debate. The face-off was pitched to be essentially between the two frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, though Mike O’Malley managed to get mildly noticed. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, the remaining two candidates seemed to be lost in translation and policy; Webb appeared to be rather argumentative and aggressive about not getting enough play-time, and Chafee just a plain old mild-mannered guy, who did not seem cut out to be a politician.
Clinton came out surefooted; her posture strong and demeanour confident. Were there moments in the debate when she lost her balance? No, not from my vantage point. She may slightly have tripped on the question implying that her presidency could be considered a dynastic one, but managed to compose herself quickly, bringing in the woman card. Her control of the stage was impressive, she answered in a measured tone and maintained a relaxed body language for the length of the debate. The only moment where she could have lost her footing was when she was questioned about the Benghazi emails, and there Bernie Sanders reached out for help: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” gaining bonus points for his chivalry. The email scandal is popularly believed to be the brainchild of the GOP, and Sanders shot it down, entirely to the delight of Clinton and her supporters.
Clinton certainly seemed knowledgeable and well-prepared. She wasn’t cocky and came out with just enough lightness of wit to keep the audience engaged and comfortable. Grandpa Bernie, on the other hand, was very likeable. His impassioned stance of “let’s do good for the common man” hit a chord. He has been touted as the socialist Democrat, who wants to foster equality and help the poor and the middle class. He is being seen as the candidate who will turn the heat on Wall Street. His stance on social security, healthcare and college tuition echoed the policies of European countries, such as Sweden and Norway, where the latter two are free. Are these issues relevant to the lives of all Americans? Yes. Are the policies Sanders advocating doable? Maybe. He appeared authentic, his ideology extremely left of centre, and he also appeared invested in improving the lives of the ordinary American. There is heart in his campaign, and if elected, he could turn out to be the common man’s president.
Sanders is right when he says that the gun control issue has to be handled with measure. Drastic pronouncements on the issue may be attractive, but are wholly unrealistic. Clinton and O’Malley challenged Sanders on his stance on gun control, to which he responded with some exasperation, frustrated at their stubbornness of not understanding the American gun love, and therefore maintaining their wilfully unrealistic policies on gun control. The one area where he lagged behind entirely was on foreign policy, and that is his Achilles heel.
George W Bush’s high-handedness and trigger-happy foreign policy led to two disastrous wars. Barack Obama’s policy of minimal engagement has led to another kind of crisis, making clear that a cerebral and diplomatic American influence and presence is essential for a stable world. Being the most powerful country in the world comes with its disadvantages; hence the candidates need to have a well-defined foreign policy. Being domestically invested will only take them so far when it comes to constructing their long-term legacy.
One of the key moments of the debate was O’Malley’s closing statement. It was powerful and strong, and talked about the America of tomorrow, where race, colour and religion can become a thing of the past.
There was much disagreement among the candidates on various issues, including on immigration, gun control, Wall Street regulation, and how to deal with Russia, Iran and Syria, amongst many others. However, the five players were dignified at all times. There was no “carnival barking” as O’Malley so right put it, or petty personal attacks. Hence, what we got to see was an authentic Democratic debate in the superficial environs of Las Vegas. Maybe next time, the Republican circus can come to town and feel right at home.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2015.
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