October 17, 2015

Clinton vs. Sanders: Round 1

Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH
Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was disappointed by the first Democratic debate. Specifically, I was disappointed by the performances of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It was hard to be disappointed by the rest of the candidates since I had very low expectations for them coming into the debate. I've seen the controversy raging about who won the debate. The corporate owned news media quickly declared Clinton the winner; some of the online polls and focus groups I've seen had Sanders as the winner (other polls had Clinton winning). I'm not sure there was a clear winner, and I suppose that makes Clinton the winner by default since she had the lead coming into the debate.

I do not care for Clinton. I did not vote for her in 2008. She's far too conservative, eager to go to war, linked to Christian extremists, and corporate friendly for my tastes. Beyond that, she strikes me as insincere, blatantly pandering, and difficult to trust. At the same time, I think she is well qualified to be president and has that indefinable quality of appearing presidential. I can easily imagine her being president.

And yes, I am reasonably certain that Clinton will receive the Democratic nomination. The corporate owned news media declared her the nominee way back before anyone else was running, and the manner in which they have largely refused to cover the other candidates has created a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. She's the inevitable nominee because the news media says so. She did not need to win this debate; she merely needed not to hurt herself too badly. I think she managed to avoid doing so. In that sense, maybe she does deserve to be declared the winner.

I like Sanders on most of the issues. He is far from perfect on some of the issues, but he comes much closer to where I'm at politically than Clinton does. He represents the largest departure from the status quo of any of the candidates. Like many on the left, I find that quite appealing. While Clinton had difficulty explaining how her administration would differ from that of President Obama, Sanders had no such difficulty.

At the same time, I do not believe Sanders will win the nomination. Neither the corporate owned news media nor the DNC seem willing to let that happen. And then there is the widespread public ignorance and fear of socialism. But beyond that, Sanders does not seem to have enough support among persons of color to be competitive in a national election. I'm tired of hearing about his poll numbers in New Hampshire. He's from Vermont. If he can't win nearby New Hampshire by a large margin, he doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. If course he'll win New Hampshire! But will he win South Carolina? Will he win any state with a significant non-white population?

I don't have the time right now to list all the reasons why I do not believe he will win, and I'm not sure that would be of much interest anyway. I'd rather focus on his relatively poor performance in the debate. I wanted to see the performance of a lifetime from Sanders. I tuned into the debate hoping to see him wipe the floor with Clinton. This is what he needed to do, and this is what he failed to do. Yes, the moment where he refused to address her email scandal was nice. He took the high road there. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how this is going to help him catch up to her. I suspect this will go down as a missed opportunity.

Remember, this debate was the first time many Americans saw Sanders in action. And what did they see? As much as I like Sanders, what I saw was an old man who sounded like he was yelling much of the time and couldn't manage to smile during the debate. I saw someone who looked out of place standing next to the other candidates and who sounded overly rigid and inflexible. I get that he's principled, and I agree that this is part of his appeal for those of us who like him; I'm skeptical that most of those who were previously unfamiliar with him interpreted it in the same way. What I wanted to interpret as Sanders' passion probably came across as unfocused anger to viewers who are unfamiliar with him. I found myself wondering how many voters will find his accent and mannerisms off-putting. I thought he did a poor job of fielding questions about his opposition to capitalism and his position on gun control. Unlike Clinton and even O'Malley, he did not come across as presidential. I like the guy, but I still have a hard time imagining him in the White House.

If Sanders and Clinton had been tied in the national polls coming into this debate, I think a reasonable argument could be made that it was too close to call a winner. With Clinton coming in with a nice lead over Sanders, he had to make it clear how he differs from her and expose her weaknesses. He was partially successful in doing the former and inadequate in doing the latter. In the end, we only get once chance to make a first impression. The one Sanders made during this debate did not strike me as sufficient for someone trailing the front-runner.

I hope I'm wrong. I'd rather see Sanders in the general election than Clinton. But as much as I find myself in agreement with him on the issues, I found myself feeling far more pessimistic about his chances after watching the first Democratic debate. This was not the performance he needed. As much as I dislike Clinton, she seems more inevitable than ever.