By Sam Tarr
Originally Published in The Massasoit Tribune
As candidates trudge their way through the seemingly endless road that is the United States Presidential election process, it’s easy for some to lose interest, especially in the debates. Eventually even the most dramatic and controversial candidates are reduced to recycled punchlines and canned responses, lulling the electorate back to sleep. That was not the case Friday night.
As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders met for CNN’s Democratic Debate in Brooklyn, it was a whole new ball game. The two hours of intense debate concluded, as most do, with many new questions along with the answers. As Clinton, who leads the primary by 658 delegates, stood at her podium waiting for her opponent’s cheers to subside to give her closing remarks, one thing was clear. If Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” is reaching the end of its road this election, it’s not going quietly.
Moderator Wolf Blitzer rang the bell for round-one by asking Sanders to explain what he meant when talking about Secretary Clinton’s “credibility gap.” Sanders clarified, admitting that the former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State had the necessary experience needed to be a President.
“But, I do question her judgement,” Sanders said. “A judgement which voted for the war in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.”
Clinton responded by encouraging voters to read the recent interview Sanders gave to the New York Daily News editorial board. Clinton said his struggle to respond with specifics on a number of policy points, exposed the Senator’s deficiency in judgement needed for day-one of the Presidency.
“Let’s talk about judgment,” Sanders said, as he began to draw contrasts with Clinton on health care, the Iraq vote, and her use of Super PACs. Clinton equated these points to not only an attack on her, but on President Obama who also raised campaign funds using the same methods.
Clinton snagged her first significant applause of the evening, referencing the “inconvenient” facts regarding her campaign finances. Sanders, when asked to provide a specific example as to when her donors impacted her policies, stumbled, reverting to a previous question involving his position on the “big banks.”
“He cannot come up with any example,” Clinton said. “There is no example.” A positive moment for Clinton, a moment which was short lived, as the conversation shifted, putting her back on the defense.
Sanders supporters roared when CNN’s chief political correspondent Dana Bash pressed Clinton to respond to calls for her to release the transcripts of her wall street speeches. The pro-Sanders members of the audience chuckled ahead of the punchline to Sanders favorite joke, in which he himself releases the transcripts of his own speeches to Wall Street, of which he boasts “there are none.” Sanders remained in his comfort zone as the conversation turned to the minimum wage.
Clinton touted her support for the “Fight for $15” as well as praising New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for approving a $15 minimum wage for the state’s fast food workers. Sanders pounced, pointing out Clinton’s stated position of a $12 federal minimum wage, which she defended. Sanders says that $12 per hour is “not enough.”
“History has outpaced Secretary Clinton,” Sanders said. The Vermont Senator accused Clinton of adjusting her position due the number of cities and states approving a $15 an hour minimum wage. A policy which Sanders proposes to implement nationally. Sanders had the crowd on his side, but then endured his most damaging moment of the debate, when Blitzer turned to the topic of guns.
Clinton was asked to defend her claims that Vermont’s loose gun laws significantly contribute to New York’s gun violence. Sanders laughed off the charge, which Clinton walked back, then used Sanders elongated chuckle as a backdrop while hammering him on an issue she clearly feels is to her advantage with Democratic voters.
“It is not a laughing matter,” Clinton said. Sanders was forced to defend his five votes against the Brady Bill, and his position on gun violence victims and families right to sue gun manufacturers and shop owners. Sanders was not uncomfortable though, when asked about Clinton’s use of the term “super-predator” while pushing for the Bill Clinton’s ’94 crime bill.
“It was a racist term,” Sanders said. “Everybody knew it was a racist term.” Sanders did have to defend his vote on the bill, which both candidates agreed had some positive actions and policy changes, along with the negatives. The conversation shifted to foreign policy where the major moment was the discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” Sanders said discussing the “disproportionate attacks” from Israel. Sanders hit Clinton, saying that there was virtually “no discussion at all” of the Palestinian people when she spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference in March.
As the debate wound down, Clinton tried more and more to shift the focus on the upcoming Republican challenge. The secretary raised the subject of reproductive rights, which her and Senator Sanders have little if any disagreement. Applause came as she downplayed her and Sanders’ differences on subjects like social security, contrasting them with Republican proposals such as privatization.
As the candidates delivered their closing statements, the contrast was clearer than ever. Clinton said her campaign wasn’t going to just “make promises we can’t keep.” She promoted her wealth of experience and ability to get things done. Sanders, presenting and defending his bold proposals, called for revolution, dismissing “establishment politics.”
New Yorkers hit the polls Tuesday, they will have the last word on Thursday’s debate. It is those voters who will help Clinton put the delegate count out of Sanders’ reach, or propel his “political revolution” forward. The evening’s combative debate showed how crucial both campaigns view the Empire State. The voters of New York will play a pivotal role in deciding whether or not, the debate will continue.