Blogging the democratic debate

I decided to try and put down what I thought about the democratic debate as it happened. The debate was sponsored by Univision, Washington Post, and Facebook. The longest discussion was on immigration. But I don’t think it moved anywhere. The truth is that comprehensive immigration reform is a major democratic party platform, and neither candidate will abandon it. So despite all the rhetoric, there isn’t much daylight between the two.

The debate then moved to a long back and forth about the bank bailouts and Wall St. Amidst the usual arguments that the candidates have had over the last 7 debates or so, the moderator wanted to know what really Sanders’ problem was with Clinton giving paid speeches to Wall St.? Does he believe that she said something in private that would compromise her objectivity as president? His answer was yes (although he didn’t say the word). To prove otherwise, he said, she should release her transcripts of all her speeches, especially because they were heavily paid for. I think Sanders’ point here is more about Clinton, the person, than it is about policy. The essence of his argument is, she got paid by Wall St., so she cannot be objective about them.

I find this a great political strategy on Sanders’ part, because his point has stuck, and Clinton has never really been able to shake it off. But philosophically, I don’t think it has merit. By Sanders’ argument then, because some labor unions endorse Sanders, could the argument be made that he cannot be objective about them? Can it be said that he will always side with a union’s position no matter what the situation? As another example, let us consider the case of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (“The Wall Street Bailout”) that Sanders likes to talk about. The bailout included relief both for Wall St. and for automakers. Sanders says he opposed the bill because it bailed out Wall St., but that he supports rescuing the auto industry. But if he is right to claim that Clinton voted for the bill because she is married to the interests of Wall St., then it should be fair for Clinton to claim that Sanders opposed the auto bailout. Moreover, does his vote not mean that opposing Wall St. was a greater priority for Sanders than saving the auto industry and its jobs? And objectively, isn’t saving the auto industry corporate welfare, something Sanders likes saying he opposes? In reality, lending transactions (credit) that banks mediate are perhaps the most important mechanism that runs the global economy. Yes, the risky and predatory lending practices of banks were a major underlying factor behind the recession. But the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was not about rewarding banks. It was about stabilizing the global economy. I agree with Sanders’ cause that the behavior of Wall St. banks brought about the biggest economic collapse in a generation. However, I also feel that the way Sanders spins the issue is a mischaracterization of events. Clinton’s vote for the bill was still the responsible thing to do.

Finally, there was some back and forth between the candidates about college tuition and health care. In the midst of this, the moderator asked Clinton what economic policies she would pursue to specifically help Latinos? Clinton listed some general policies that would help all Americans but even when pressed, she could not come up with something specific that would help Latinos. Sanders talked about education and his youth employment program, but again this was also general. However, I thought that it was telling that neither candidate really had a good answer. Another moment I thought was revealing was when the candidates were asked about how they would accomplish anything on climate change, given republican opposition. I hated Sanders’ answer that it needs a political revolution. There is no political revolution that is happening …and if it is happening, it is not happening among the democrats! But Clinton too stuttered her way through what I thought was an unconvincing answer about how she could get some sort of a bipartisan consensus. To be blunt, for all the talk about helping Main St. and climate change, neither candidate had anything concrete in terms of solutions.

Then the topic again turned towards American relations with Latin America, and the moderator pulled out a video of Sanders from 1985. Thats when I yawned and turned the TV off. As far as the optics go, I think Sanders fared better than Clinton. He seemed to have more speaking time (it felt that way), and I thought she missed several opportunities to make relevant points against Sanders’ positions. But overall, I thought that the outcome will depend largely on Clinton’s ground game on March 15. It is still her election to lose.

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