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First Democratic Debate [updated]

October 14, 2015

2015.10.14 07:17 GMT-5 ; Trying to write this before reading any commentary.

Watched first Democratic Debate, expecting a snooze-fest. Very pleasantly surprised. Was completely engaged the whole time.

mis-en-scene

Location: private residence

Audience: 3:1:3 Sanders:Clinton:Undecided/Apathetic/non-US-resident. So I guess the deck was stacked.

Imbibing: moderate

impressions of candidates

Sanders: got right to the point, and rocked it! we wanted to see what he had, and he had it. (exception, from my POV: foreign policy. local audience was not concerned)

Clinton: exceeded expectations (I had an very negative opinion of her going in for substantive reasons, basically unchanged). Well prepared and sharp. Bouncy, less unpleasant than expected, reasonable level of phoniness, less condescending than expected. Notably evasive on some issues, but very slick.

O’Malley: looked like a Clinton sycophant at times. Made a positive contribution at other times.

Webb: nervous. Made a positive contribution.

Chafee: extremely nervous, looked a bit creepy.

issues

Campaign finance reform: prominently mentioned – Yes!

Inequality: prominent topic- Yes!

Health Care: talked about single payer- Yes!

Race Relations: Everyone talked the talk… how much to believe? who knows. Webb the weakest here per audience.

Foreign policy: eh. not that great. Sanders reaffirmed that he is going to provide continuity in existing policy (for me, a bad thing). Clinton, the same obviously, being Secretary of State during Obama’s first term. She tried to present Libya as a positive accomplishment… um… Webb, O’Malley, and Chafee had to stir the pot on this one.

Benghazi: Sanders took the high road, mostly, just a poke with the one-liner about the emails, returning to his issues. Clinton evaded, obviously.

Gun control: not a top issue for me either way. I think all the candidates represented their positions. For someone that views this a make-or-break issue, Sanders was arguably evasive, turned the question into talking about mental health and single payer health care. That works for me however.

Republican bashing: not much. which I liked – if the focus was trying to out-do each other on making the thousand ridiculously easy criticisms of the Republican debate, it would’ve made this debate much duller, I think. Of course, going back to the 2000 election, I thought the same. Bush, once he opened his mouth, I viewed as a completely unelectable embarrassment to himself that would not be taken seriously. And he went on to win (sortof), so maybe some Republican-bashing is called for.

All else: didn’t make an impression on me.

final impression

Overall Winner: Sanders. Passionate, and genuine and direct most of the time (exception: gun control, a divisive issue he is avoiding).

Strong Second Place: Clinton. Positioning herself as the centrist. She played the sidekick candidates well to make this so. Also an undeniably skilled debater.

Debate Quality: Hats off to the all the candidates for being positive and engaging, and Anderson Cooper for helping make it so. I couldn’t help but get the impression that many of his questions were presented as perfect set-up lines, but nevertheless they cut right to the heart of many of the issues.

Take-Home: The trick is to try as best we can to judge who is just talking the talk to please the polls, and who actually means it.

Best criticism so far: Candidates took positions on issues, but didn’t say much about how they are going to get from point A to point B.

update

Debate on Syria, since that’s a hot topic: http://www.juancole.com/2015/10/clinton-rejects-intervention.html

update 2015.10.14 20:00 GMT-5

After reading some other bloggers’ impressions, it seems pretty unanimous that Clinton managed to exceed expectations. What was her best selling point? Being a centrist, being tough, and getting things done. Getting things done. This is where you, if you are a Democratic voter, have a chance to What and How. GWB got things done. GW asked for and received full support from Congress for his signature “accomplishments”. Bill Clinton got things done too – incarcerating record numbers of people under the war on drugs (how’s that for BLM?), dismantling financial regulations (irrational exuberance? Nah!). Get what done? How?

And, to be fair, one should ask Sanders the same — let them go into detail, beyond slogans. I hope the next debate does this. A head to head format would be nice as well.

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