Editor's note: The post has been cleaned up a bit.
Vermont Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had one more retirement home rumble before New Hampshire residents flock to the polls Tuesday. In some areas, the two candidates showed great respect for one another, along with agreement on some policy issues. At other times, the gloves came off and things got a bit testy. NBC’s Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow moderated the debate.
Bernie Sanders opened by saying that millions are leaving political process because they know the economy is rigged. The top one percent is reaping the benefits, and there’s a corrupt campaign finance system is keeping that system in place via donations to super PACs. We need to work to create an economy that works for all
Hillary Clinton said that we could get back on the right track, where wages reflect people’s work. I’m fighting for people, and I’m not making promises I cannot keep.
Clinton said that she shares a lot of policy goals with Sen. Sanders, like fighting for universal health care. She said that she wants to build on the progress we’ve made. I don’t want to rip away coverage for Americans
She added that she believes in affordable college, but thinks free college is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky initiative. She respectfully noted that many of Sanders’ policy ideas are unrealistic.
Sanders, of course, disagreed, noting that he’s known Clinton for 25 years and respects her very much. But he cited Canada, France, and other industrialized nations having health care systems that consider such benefits as a fundamental human right. He didn’t accept the position that U.S. cannot do the same here. Oh, and to pay for tuition-free higher education, he plans to tax Wall Street. Moreover, he denied that he would dismantle Obamacare, adding that the Affordable Care Act been good for the country. But also mentioned that 29 million still have no insurance, some are under-insured, and we need to move forward with a health care for all agenda.
When asked about the meaning of being a “progressive” by Rachel Maddow, Clinton hit Sanders for voting against the Brady bill five times and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The Brady bill established a national background check system for firearms purchases, while the PLCAA offered a legal shield to gun manufacturers from being sued if their guns are unwillingly and unknowingly used in felonious activities that result in fatalities. It’s a good law–one that prevents anti-gun liberals from suing the industry out of existence.
The former first lady also added that by Sanders’ definition of a progressive wouldn't include the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) because he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and even President Obama would be not be considered one since he accepted donations for Wall Street.
Throughout the debate, Sanders was apt to point out that he is the anti-establishment candidate, despite being in Congress for over 20 years. He added that Secretary Clinton has nabbed most of their party’s endorsements. Yet, campaign finance reform seemed to be the self-described democratic socialist’s rallying cry, saying that without this reform–nothing is going to get done. He was adamant that if we do not get a handle on money in politics–and how that impacts the political process–changes for middle class and working class families would not happen.
The gloves came off when Clinton took umbrage with the alleged innuendos disseminated by Sanders and his campaign that she could be bought, or that anyone who accepts donations or speaking fees can be influenced. She rejected that allegation and said that such insinuations were not worthy of the often-disheveled socialist. In the cross talk, she noted how she worked hard for McCain-Feingold, a landmark campaign finance reform law.
Sanders responded by doing a rapid-fire session about how certain policies that have been harmful to America, like deregulation of derivatives, might have been influenced by political donations. He also added that the Koch brothers (drink!) and ExxonMobil’s contributions to Republican lawmakers might have prevented them from supporting actions to address climate change.
It was this anecdote about moneyed interests, where I could see a liberal Democrat move towards Sanders.
The senator described how Goldman Sachs just paid a $5 billion fine to settle with the government over allegations that they defrauded investors and ruined the lives of millions of Americans. Not a single executive from any banking institution are in jail. There’s no criminal record either, but a kid who gets caught with marijuana gets slapped with one. That’s how a corrupt system works, according to him.
One could argue that even Republican voters, especially those in the Tea Party and Trump camps might feel the same way.
On foreign policy, Sanders knew he was at a disadvantage, given Clinton’s experience as Secretary of State and admitted so on stage.
Maddow asked about the fight against ISIS, where Clinton responded by saying that we need to encourage Kurdish troops and other groups fighting this extremist terrorist network, but was staunchly opposed to sending combat troops region. Then again, Clinton said that deploying advisers and special operations forces was fine. I guess in Democrat land, special operations forces are not combat troops.
Sen. Sanders said that our great task was not getting sucked into perpetual warfare in Syria and Iraq. As president, he said he would do his very best to make sure that doesn’t happen. Concerning how to fight ISIS, he channeled King Abdullah of Jordan, who has likened the conflict as one fighting for the soul of Islam, saying that it must be Muslim troops–with support of major powers, including Russia, that need to finish off this extremist group. Sending American troops is what ISIS wants for a propaganda campaign. Sanders wouldn't give in to that, but air support and the deployment of special operations (when appropriate) would be options on the table for a Sanders White House taking the helm on this issue.
When asked about his foreign policy doctrine by Chuck Todd, Sanders said that we learned the lesson of the wars in Iraq; we cannot do it alone. The key doctrine is no we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition. This whole segment pretty much confirmed what some have said about the senator: that he would make a lousy commander-in-chief. In fact, a lot of people noted that Sanders was way out of his element on this issue.
Concerning veterans affairs, Clinton said that she was against privatizing the VA, but wanted to build upon the reforms that Congress has passed. The issues plaguing the VA, especially the wait times, need to be remedied as soon as possible. Sanders went on to blame the progressive left’s favorite enemy, the Koch brothers, in his response.
As for concerns about the Iowa Caucuses, Sanders agreed that this isn’t the biggest issue in the world. If there were an audit, he expects that it would break about even between him and Clinton. The former first lady would support whatever happens if such a process would occur.
As for electability, Maddow aptly noted that Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater on the right and George McGovern on the left got their bases excited in the 1964 and 1972 presidential elections respectively, but got decimated in the general election. She asked what's his general election strategy.
Sanders said that Democrats win when there is a large voter turnout. Republicans win when people are demoralized, which is why they love voter suppression. Our campaign can create enthusiasm from working people and young people. If there is a large voter turnout, we will win and retain the White House.
Clinton added that she’s the strongest person to take on the Republicans, and hopes to nab Sanders’ supporters in the future.
MSNBC did ask Clinton about her email fiasco. Prior to that she said that she’s been vetted, and that there’s hardly anything you don’t know about her. She also said that she’s confident she would survive any attack against her on this issue. The former first lady also noted that past Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice had classified information in their email accounts.
She was “100 percent” confident that she would survive, even with the FBI investigating whether she mishandled classified information, while repeating that claim that she never sent or received any sensitive information.
The rest of the debate concerned the water crisis in Flint, what issues they would tackle first in their possible administrations, and the death penalty.
So, this is the state of the Democratic race. Two old people, one with far-fetched ideas that are so exceedingly expensive, they’re never going to become law, and another whose possible legal troubles are so great that there’s no way she could get anything substantive passed. One’s a self-described democratic socialist, the other trying to come off of a left-of-center pragmatist, though many have noted that she’s really a strong doctrinaire liberal; she just doesn’t want to alienate voters. It’s a question about authenticity, which Sanders wins by more than a few touchdowns.
Oh, and Sanders refused to attack Hillary on her emails. If he was serious about toppling her, the Sanders camps would launch an aggressive offensive. It's the most publicized flaw of hers so far, but we won’t. Clinton also repeatedly lied (shocker!) about the nature of the scandal. Guy has written extensively about how information on CIA informants and undercover agents were possibly on the server, along with the added bonus of highly classified information actually being found on the server, despite her saying otherwise. Some of those emails are so sensitive that they won’t be released to the public. She also instructed a staffer to remove the classified markings on a document and send it unsecure to her. That’s a crime, Mrs. Clinton–a crime.
Welcome to the Democratic Party, a race that features a possible crook and a left-wing kook.