The Universal Notebook: Deconstructing the Democratic debate

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Based on what I saw in the first Democratic presidential primary debate, Hillary Clinton is likely to be the nominee in 2016 and, if so, I believe she will become the first woman president of the United States.

That said, after the debate I sent another small contribution to Bernie Sanders. Sanders is probably too liberal to win a general election, but I agree with virtually everything he says. In the truest sense, he speaks truth to power.

A self-described democratic socialist, Sanders was pressed, for instance, on whether he considered himself a capitalist.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” replied the senator from Vermont. “No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.”

Here! Here!

Sanders would tax Wall Street speculators and use the money to provide free public education and expand Medicare. His closing speech was spot on.

“This is a great country, but we have many, many serious problems. We should not be the country that has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country, and more wealth and income inequality than any other country. We should not be the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee health care to all of our people as a right of citizenship, and we should not be the only major country that does not provide medical and – and parental leave – family and parental leave to all of our families.”

You tell ’em!

Sanders even bailed out Clinton when she was questioned about her controversial use of a private email server as secretary of state.

“Let me say something that may not be great politics,” Sanders said. “But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”


Clinton was cool, commanding and well-prepared, and she got one of the biggest hands from the partisan audience when she attacked the hypocrisy of Republicans who constantly complain about big government interference in our lives.

“Well, look, you know, when people say that – it’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, ‘You can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care.’ They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it.”

Compared to the Republican debate free-for-all, which has everywhere been compared to a food fight, the Democratic debate was a thoughtful discussion of substantive issues from climate change and international diplomacy to economic justice, campaign finance reform and lowering the cost of higher education. No name calling. No finger pointing.

As candidate Martin O’Malley observed, “On this stage, you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants, you didn’t hear anyone speak ill of another American because of their religious belief.”

O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb all struck me as good men who just need someone to explain to them that they can’t win. And Joe Biden, biding his time in the wings, should probably stay out of the way, too. He’s a sweet man, but life has taken a terrible toll on him.

So who will I vote for in the presidential primary?

That’s a trick question, of course, since Maine does not hold presidential primary elections. We hold primaries for statewide offices, but we are one of those confused states that hold presidential caucuses. So unless you are prepared to spend either Saturday, March 5, 2016, at a Republican caucus or Sunday, March 6, 2016, at a Democratic caucus, you are not going to have any say in who your party’s candidate will be.

Maine has gone back and forth on the primary v. caucus question, holding caucuses forever, then switching to primaries in the late 1990s and returning to caucuses more recently. I guess the argument is that caucuses somehow give candidates more reason to visit a marginal state like Maine, but as a Maine citizen and a voter I would much prefer the chance to step into the voting booth and vote for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, depending on whether I was feeling idealistic (Sanders) or pragmatic (Clinton).

It was Clinton who had the best line of the evening, the bottom line.

“The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House,” Clinton said, “and that’s why we need to have a Democrat in the White House in January 2017.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.