Democratic Presidential Debate Round 1

Tuesday night marked the first of four Democratic presidential debates of the 2016 election season. After witnessing the debacle that were the previous two Republican debates, Americans were finally ready to see the Democrats duke it out. Front runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took center stage, accompanied with the three other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Jim WebbMartin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chaffee. Unlike the previous GOP debates which seemed to be more of a shouting contest filled with ad hominin attacks than an intellectual debate, the Democratic debate seem to focus a lot more on actual substantive matters, such as the policies and issues that actually affect our nation.

CNN Democratic debate candidates.
The five Democratic candidates.

The debate mainly played out between Clinton and Sanders, with the other three candidates chiming in occasionally. The candidates sparred on everything from immigration policy to economic inequality, from the Syrian Civil War to expanding healthcare. Though the specifics of their plans varied from candidate to candidate, they were mostly on the same page for various issues. Hillary Clinton actually sounded eerily like Sanders, with her positions sounding a lot like she regurgitated the Vermont Senator’s own words. She came out in favor of offering tuition-free higher education, reigning in unbridled capitalism, and decreasing the cost of prescription medications, topics that Sanders has supported since before he threw his hat in the ring. Clinton even called herself a “progressive that gets things done,” a direct jab at Sanders.

In an effort to better relate to middle class voters, Clinton said that she would relentlessly go after the bankers and Wall Street executives that caused our economy to tank in 2008 and increased income inequality between the have and have nots. I find this a bit ironic because three out of five of Clinton’s top donors are Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, all major institutions often blamed by their part in the 2008 recession. Would Clinton really prosecute the same banks that have contributed large sums of money to her presidential and Senate campaigns?

Because of Clinton’s change of tone on these issues, one of the main topics of discussion that came up during the debate was Clinton’s lack of consistency on the issues. Moderator Anderson Cooper questioned if Clinton’s positions change for the sake of “political expediency”, asking her if she would “say anything to get elected?” Clinton responded by saying “Well, actually, I have been very consistent. Over the course of my entire life, I have always fought for the same values and principles, but, like most human beings — including those of us who run for office — I do absorb new information. I do look at what’s happening in the world.”

Her voting record as a Senator from New York would say otherwise. Clinton previously opposed same-sex marriage and threw her support behind the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), then switched her position on the issue in 2013 as public perception of gay marriage shifted towards accepting it. In a news conference in the year 2000, Clinton said that she believes “Marriage has got historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman,” but followed up saying “I also believe that people in committed gay marriages, as they believe them to be, should be given rights under the law that recognize and respect their relationship.”

Clinton would also switch her position on supporting the Iraq War. In 2002, she voted in favor of authorizing the use of force in the Middle Eastern country, a decision that has allegedly haunted her since and is believed to be one of the reasons she lost the Democratic nomination in 2008 to Barrack Obama. Clinton wrote in her recent memoir Hard Choices that she “should have stated my regret” on Iraq “sooner and in the plainest, most direct language possible.” This is compared to Senator Sanders, who correctly predicted that the Iraq War would be a disastrous quagmire and voted against it.

Sanders giving an impassioned speech against the war in Iraq

Her most recent flip-flop happened last week when she withdrew her support for President Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership, which she previously said “sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field”. Now, she opposes it saying that it does not meet the “high bar” she set out, despite using the words “exciting,” “innovative,” “ambitious,” “groundbreaking,” “cutting-edge,” and “high-quality,” to describe the trade deal during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Unlike Clinton, Sanders has been a lot more consistent with his political views. When asked if black lives matter or if all lives matter by Anderson Cooper, Bernie replied by saying that “black lives matter”, further explaining that “the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she’s going to end up dead in jail”. Sanders has consistently supported African American rights since he was a young adult, even getting arrested during a demonstration for protesting racial segregation at his university while getting his undergraduate education at the University of Chicago. Sanders also traveled to Washington DC for his first time to hear Dr. Martin Luther King speak during the March on Washington in 1963.

Bernie Sanders speaks to fellow students at a 1962 sit-in protesting racial segregation at the University of Chicago. Source: Courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library
Bernie Sanders speaks to fellow students at a 1962 sit-in protesting racial segregation at the University of Chicago. Source: Courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Sanders has also been a vocal supporter of the LGBT community. He currently has a 100 percent rating with the Human Rights Campaign, indicating strong support for equal treatment of gays. In a letter published in the early 1970’s when he was running for governor of Vermont, Sanders called for the immediate abolition of all laws regarding sexual behavior, including homosexuality. Anti-sodomy laws would be repealed throughout the country in 2003 after the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas. In 1996 Sanders was one of only 67 (out of 409) House members to vote against the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That same year, Sanders openly opposed the institution of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the US armed forces. This happened 16 years before President Obama repealed the law, effectively allowing gay men and women to openly serve in the military.

Despite all these opportunities given to Sanders and the other candidates to attack Hillary Clinton’s past mistakes, they wasted little energy going after these easy shots and instead focused on the issues. When the subject of Clinton’s private email server came up, Sanders delivered the perfect comment, saying that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” to which the Las Vegas, Nevada crowd responded to with cheers and applause. Even with such an easy target, Sanders refused to attack Clinton, instead showing his ability as a candidate to stick to the high road instead of lowering himself to the level of personal attacks.

Clinton and Sanders were not the only ones who used the debate to their benefit. Though he didn’t make quite the splash he hoped for during the majority of the debate, Martin O’Malley created some name recognition for himself during the 90 seconds of his closing statement. He pointed the distinct differences between the Republican debates and the Democratic one, saying, in part that

“On this stage you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new immigrants, you didn’t hear anyone speak ill of anyone because of their religious belief. What you heard was an honest debate of what will move us forward, to lead to a clean electric grid by 2050, and employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more people in the economic and social life in our country.”

Hours after it was over, nearly all major news media sites declared Clinton the triumphant winner of Tuesday’s debate. They ran stories on how poised and energetic she was, saying that she “dominated” her opponents and solidified her position as the Democratic front runner. They practically dismissed all four other candidates on the stage.

It is disturbing that we have our news media telling us who won a debate, something that would seemingly be subjective. A for-profit entertainment corporation such as CNN should not be declaring anyone the winner of a presidential debate, as that might provide that candidate with an unfair advantage and compromise journalistic integrity in the process. If CNN actually had the poll numbers to back this bold statement, I would have an easier time accepting as truth. But when most polls and focus groups conducted both during and after the debate, including CNN’s own poll (which has since been deleted), show viewers picking Sanders as the winner by an average margin of 60 percent, Clinton’s supposed victory is a tough pill to swallow. But it makes sense once one learns that CNN’s parent company, Time Warner Cable, is actually one of the Clinton’s top donors for her previous presidential and Senate campaigns, having donated over half a million dollars throughout her political career. I suppose “conflict of interest” is not a phrase in Time Warner’s vocabulary.

The deleted poll in question juxtaposed with CNN's headline.
The deleted poll in question juxtaposed with CNN’s headline.

Sanders won the debate in nearly every metric imaginablein polls, focus groups, amount of social media presence, and number of Google searches on his name. Yet the mainstream media is attempting to hide these number and continue their streak of dismissing Sanders as a viable candidate. They are trying to bury Sanders, labeling him as “too radical” for America. They use the term “socialist” as a pejorative, practically equating Sanders with the likes of Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. This is nothing more than a smear campaign meant to discourage the growing support Sanders has been enjoying in the recent months. Instead of focusing on Sanders’ stances on the issues, they much rather attack his self-bestowed label of “democratic socialist” using American’s deep-root fear of communism to their benefit.
Video after the debate showing CNN report that the live polls overwhelmingly showed Sanders as the winner of the debate.

In the age of the internet and free information, CNN could not keep the truth hidden very long. Supporters of Bernie Sanders were quick to point out the discrepancy between the poll numbers and the headlines, taking to Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit to voice their dissatisfaction. One look at the top comments on CNN’s Facebook page and the picture is clear; people are well aware that CNN and the mainstream media essentially snubbed Sanders. But this is not discouraging them from continuing to support the Vermont Senator. Instead, this has galvanized Sanders’ supporters to rally to his side.

cnn sucks
Some screenshots from CNN’s Facebook page showing people’s dissatisfaction with the news network.

CNN and the mainstream media can try to disregard Bernie Sanders as not being legitimate threat to Hillary Clinton. His critics will say that Americans would never vote for a self-proclaimed socialist, but voters actually see eye-to-eye with Sanders on various issues. So one should not be surprised if he wins the Democratic nomination and subsequently the presidency. After all, a Senator and presidential hopeful that went by the name of Barrack Obama was dismissed as the “radical underdog” during the 2008 campaign. Now, he’s only one year away from finishing his second term in office. With that in mind, let’s see how the 2016 presidential race turns out.


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