Right off the bat, viewers of last night’s Democratic debate realized it would be a snoozer compared to the Republican debate. There were no insults. No discussions of Carly Fiorina’s face. No gifs of Trump reactions. Instead, we were forced to listen to policy, constructive criticism, and substance.
But what does that say about our media and society? A lot of students of mine watched the Republican debate because they wanted to see Trump’s performance, not positions. He’s a sideshow and that sideshow meant CNN had its best ratings in the history of the network. That speaks poorly of everybody involved, from spectators to moderators. Furthermore, the media itself treated Republicans and Democrats very differently. Kudos to Anderson Cooper, who was very quick-witted and deeply knowledgeable of the issues that came up. If a candidate was evasive, he pointed it out. But Jake Tapper did no such thing at the Republican debate. I don’t even think it’s about holding each group to different standards. I think it’s tacit acknowledgement that the candidates themselves aren’t even expected to be serious. Each regularly says something outlandish to win the news cycle. Looks at Ben Carson’s comments on the Holocaust (the Jews should’ve had guns and it would’ve stopped Hitler. Huh?) I mean, Chris Christie, who is supposed to be “moderate” (but really isn’t) said that Hillary supports the “systematic murder of children” and Carly Fiorina talked about a horrifying brain-harvesting abortion video that doesn’t exist. The moderator didn’t call either out. Nobody on the stage held anybody else accountable. Why? The answer is simple. There isn’t enough substance on that stage to have even moderate expectations of functionality. Frankly, it’s really disturbing.
To be fair, I found Rand Paul and John Kasich to be the most serious and coherent, but the differences in the debates are really stark. Martin O’Malley really captured this in his closing remarks.
So, despite the let-down that the Democratic debate was supposed to have been, I watched. I wanted policy. And I got it. In terms of who I agree with most, Bernie came out on top. Martin O’Malley was right behind him. Then came Hillary. Webb is more conservative than I like, but I believe he held his own. Chaffee made almost no sense.
The media is saying Hillary won, but she seemed robotic in her delivery, very practiced and political. In fact, when she talked about Social Security being “enhanced” rather than “expanded” she sounded like what people expect of politicians: evasive. When she pointed out that it would be “quite a change” if we had our first woman President, she fell flat. Her pronouncement is an obvious fact. Imagine if President Obama had something similar about having our first black President. What matters is not race or gender, but ideas.
Standout moments for me involved Bernie pointing out that Hillary’s “damn emails” — he’s right. There are way more important issues out there. Jim Webb pointing out his lack of fair time also stuck out. Despite my enjoyment of listening to Bernie and Hillary offer their ideas, it isn’t right that everybody else is on the backburner. While the Republican debates are obviously harder to moderate given that every ego in the party is running, there were only five people on stage last night. Equal time shouldn’t be that hard. Lastly, when I think on what resonated with me, outside of policy proposals, was Bernie’s statement that “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress.” This is a good segue into my favorite part of the whole evening: most of the candidates agreed on most of the issues. On gun control, despite Cooper trying to “nail” Bernie Sanders (which he did tactfully), the differences between Bernie and others are minimal. Even Webb, a conservative veteran, believes that some form of gun control is needed. Honestly, most Americans do. It’s just that the NRA bought and paid for the Republican stage. And Republicans won’t bite the very rich hands who feed them.
Speaking of which, Democrats are all for doing something about college affordability, income inequality, Wall Street reform, and campaign finance reform. No wonder the super-rich are pouring money into Republican coffers. If a Democrat wins (and keeps his/her word), then the party will be over. Or at least regulated.
I like to use my wife as a political gauge because she pointedly does not follow the news like I do. Some of her observations: O’Malley is basically parroting Sanders (more people should!), the questions were tailored to Hillary (I didn’t think so, but I’m going to rewatch), Anderson Cooper did a great job (agreed!), and Lincoln Chaffee is out of his element (an understatement).
Overall, I’m glad that the debate helped me to learn. I didn’t really feel that way after either Republican debate. There were exceptions, like Rand Paul’s foreign policy stance. But the Republican Presidential candidates should take a page from the Democrats’ book: talk policy, not smack. The country will be better off.