Democrats debate — and few of us paid attention

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sharing a laugh with Sen. Bernie Sanders at the conclusion of Saturday's debate.

Thoughts after Saturday night’s Dem debate:

They scheduled it for a Saturday night, which seems like a declaration that they didn’t want much of an audience (although I stayed home to watch, which tells you something about me).

Then its turn came around just after the world decided that the race for the Dem nomination is about over (Bernie Sanders says otherwise, but the recent polling is daunting).

It lacked the cast of (what for want of a less impolite term) we’ll call the colorful characters featured on the Repub side, a cast that — whenever it includes Donald Trump — seems to generate record ratings. (If the Dems’ goal was low ratings, the plan worked.)

Then Paris happened. And so, for all these reasons, Saturday’s debate was overshadowed.

CBS, which aired the debate, took an instant reaction poll and announced the results Sunday morning. Who won? Hillary Clinton 51 percent; Bernie Sanders 28 percent; Martin O’Malley 7 percent, which was pretty darn close to the last whom-do-you-support poll taken before the debate, which makes me think most people stood by their preferences, perhaps because not much happened that would change their preferences.

Personally, I heard little that was new, and the dumb-but-memorable moments that debate watchers live for were not much in evidence.

The early rounds were all about Paris/ISIS. Sanders called ISIS a “virus” and said we must “rid our planet” of it, but nothing very memorable about how to do that, except he said more than once that the Muslim nations of the Middle East have to do more (again with no clear suggestion of how he, if he becomes president, will get them to step up). Asked to defend his previous statements that global warming/climate change is the greatest threat to the world, Sanders suggested that climate change is one of the factors generating ISIS, which may be a bit of stretch.

Clinton made a tiny speck of news by saying that ISIS cannot be “contained” and must be destroyed, which set off analyses that she was contradicting President Obama, who has previously said ISIS has been “contained.” But if you look at the whole thing, you may conclude there is no real there there, since the Obama statement really referred to the size of the territory controlled by ISIS, not its ability to sneak a few murderous thugs into France.

Iraq war vote

Sanders also invoked his vote against the war in Iraq, saying that the Iraq war (which Clinton did vote to authorize) was a key factor in the chain of events leading to the rise of ISIS. To me this is undeniably true, and Clinton didn’t really dispute it. Clinton said (as she has in the recent past) that her vote was a mistake. She has not said (nor did she Saturday) nearly enough about how she came to make that mistake and what lessons she might have learned for the future.

Sanders expanded on his anti-Iraq war vote, saying that the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein was part of a long chain of U.S. “regime change” projects all over the world. He added: “These toppling of governments, regime changes, have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I’m a little bit more conservative than” Clinton.

Clinton didn’t try to defend “regime changes” in general, but said each one needs to be considered individually. Moderator John Dickerson then pressed her on the U.S. role in the Libyan regime change, for which she advocated within the Obama administration. She seemed to argue that it had gone well, while acknowledging “there has been a lot of turmoil and trouble” in Libya in the aftermath, which is an understatement.

Dickerson — who I thought generally did a pretty good job — then caused a waste of several minutes on the dumb question of whether the bad guys should be described by the term “Muslim” or “Islam” or “radical Islam.” This is normally a dog whistle (or does one mean “God whistle?”) used by some on the right to try to make Democrats look like weenies because they believe that using “Muslim” or “Islam” in these context is unhelpful if it comes across as blaming the Islamic faith (and alienating potential Islamic allies) for the violence.

Clinton said we are at war with “violent extremism.” O’Malley said those who claim to be killing in the name of Islam are “perverting the name of a great world religion.”

I suppose that an incident like the attacks in Paris is generically bad for Democrats  (because Republicans are better at talking tough) and for whichever party is in power (which, again, comes up bad for Dems). But let’s move on to other issues that were discussed Saturday night.

Other issues

Sanders wants to raise taxes considerably on the “millionaires and billionaires” whom he often references. But when he was asked what the top marginal tax rate should be, he slipped away with a double-punch-line joke, saying that he didn’t yet know that number but that it would be less than the 90-percent marginal tax rate during the Eisenhower administration (1953-61). Then, having promised to hold the top rate under 90, Sanders added: “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.”

But really, when will he divulge the marginal tax rate on the highest incomes and the most profitable businesses that would be necessary to pay for his various ideas?

Sanders also talked about how much support Clinton has received from Wall Street during her career, and implied that the Big Cigars have bought her loyalty. She said he was “impugning my integrity” and wrapped the mantle of the 9/11 attacks around her. Sanders certainly was implying something, but he wasn’t ready with a specific vote she had cast or favor she had done. Their main concrete difference seemed to be about whether the big banks should be broken up. Sanders said yes.

Sanders wants to raise the minimum wage by federal mandate, not immediately but in steps over the next few years, to $15 an hour (which he calls, on every occasion, “15 bucks an hour”). He believes this basically ends poverty for anyone with a full-time job. O’Malley agrees, saying based on the experience of signing a state minimum-wage increase in Maryland (to $10.10/hour), that it stimulated economic growth. Clinton, citing the analysis of economist Alan Krueger, said that $15/hour is too high, but she favors $12/hour.

They talked about this for a while, and the differences began to fade. For me, the differences bordered on irrelevant because the current federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, and most Republicans (including most of the Repub presidential candidates, who were asked about it at their most recent debate) are opposed to raising it at all.

In the real world, a world that includes the current level of gridlock and Republican control of both houses of Congress, I’m not sure the difference between Clinton’s $12/hour and Sanders/O’Malley’s preference for $15 amounts to much. One of the great shortcomings of the debate in general is that there was too little recognition of the complications — represented by the expressed disagreement of Republicans for most things Democrats would like to do — presented by Republican control of Congress.

Sanders obliquely alludes to this with his frequent talk about using his candidacy to spark a “political revolution” by engaging many Americans who do not now participate in politics. Maybe so. But our system is awfully gridlock-prone and determined parties are able to frustrate the plans of even determined majorities (and, of course, no such determined majority exists at present).

O’Malley, by the way, joined Sanders in the general drift of his populist policy proposals and in his use of sarcastic humor. He called, for example, for “the elimination of one big entitlement that we can no longer afford as a people. And that is the entitlement that many of our super wealthiest citizens feel they are entitled to pay, namely a much lower income tax rate and a lower tax rate on capital gains. I believe capital gains for the most part should be taxed the same way we tax incomes from hard work, sweat and [unintelligible word here]. And if we do those things, we can be a country that actually can afford debt-free college again.”

(For more, here’s a transcript of the entire debate.)

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Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2015 - 09:36 am.


    Since the Democrats are all dealing with the same reality (we’re the party that does that) they are going to converge on the same issues and solutions — only the details vary.
    That may make for less exciting theatre, but for better governance.

    • Submitted by joe smith on 11/16/2015 - 01:16 pm.

      What reality is that? The reality that the 3 Dems debating couldn’t call radical Muslims by their name? The reality that Clinton is tied to Wall Street money and trying to use 911 tragedy to cover her tracks? The reality that the Mid East is on fire but no concrete plans to eliminate ISIS? The reality that college should be free? The reality of tax more and spend more? The reality that Bigger Government is better Government? Thank goodness the voting public doesn’t stand in lock step with that reality and Democrats are being voted out nation wide the past few elections!!

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2015 - 06:11 pm.


        In the 2014 Congressional elections, more people voted for Democrats than for Republicans.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/16/2015 - 06:43 pm.

        Lots of Conjecture:

        Meaning what?
        There are lots of radical and not radical Muslims, point is what? Some Sunni & some Shia, have been Radical, guess Christians have never been radical? Wall Street, what about it? Its the global height of free market and capitalism, are you suggesting that Mrs. Clinton should be anti free market and anti capitalism? And what tracks are those that 911 is covering up, if memory serves, she wasn’t even in government for the next 7-8 years, are you confusing her with GWB and Mr. Powell? Middle East on fire? Does that mean the Iraq war was actually a snow storm? Concrete plans? Like what, sending 50,000 of our kids to Syria to bring 10-20% of them back in body bags? College is free in a number of European countries, if not mistaken, Grade School and High school are already free in America, Tech school was free when I was a kid in the 60’s, not a big reach for some of us to see. The so called Tax more spend more looks like; invest more in our children and the future from this vantage point, very free market capitalistic thinking. Bigger government =better government? Interesting analogy, why are bigger companies better companies, why is the concentration of wealth in a few hands = a better society? Voted out? guess that kind of depends where you live, gerrymandering has a lot to do with who is in office and why. “reality” depends on whose eyes one is looking out of. .

        • Submitted by joe smith on 11/18/2015 - 08:14 am.

          Dennis, I had a reply much longer but it didn’t get ok’ed by Minnpost. Short version, K-12 is not free it costs over $150,000 to educate every student K-12. When government gets involved in “free college” add another $100,000 to that total for a price tag of $250,000 per student, surely not free. I agree on the Mid East problems being started by Bush after 9/11, but gasoline was thrown on the area by Clinton/Obama mis-reading the Arab Spring so badly. Unless they have moved state lines losing Senate seats and Governships has nothing to do with gerrymandering.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2015 - 02:57 pm.

            Gerrymandering has little effect on votes for the Senate or governors (we have two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor).
            However, state legislatures are as subject to gerrymandering as the House of Representatives, and that’s where the Republicans seem to be strongest.

            • Submitted by joe smith on 11/18/2015 - 06:08 pm.

              Dems have lost both Senate seats and Governships throughout the country. This is a national race after all. I had the gerrymandering not figuring into Senate and Governors races all figured out by little old self.

              • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/18/2015 - 07:23 pm.

                Let’s see what happens

                in a Presidential election year with a higher voter turnout.
                Republicans typically do better in off years, since their base is smaller but better trained.

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 11/18/2015 - 07:36 pm.

            Free is the relative term!

            You do not write a personal check to get your kids through K-12, Lets not play word games. My friend has 11 kids, he is not writing 11 checks for school every year, Same rules apply. You don’t write a personal check for police protection either. Yes we clearly understand that somewhere the check is written. Misreading the Arab spring? Guess its in the eyes of the beholder, when we re institute the draft for “everyone” no deferments, or pass a mandatory military participation plan, we can talk about misreading, not seeing that waiting line of parents wanting to risk their kids coming home in body bags. The house of representatives has been gerrymandered. Fully understood about the Senate (just changed hands 2 years ago, we get a new look next year) and the Governor ships, we should be a very careful on how we use those numbers, Last check California (D) Governor, New York (D) governor represent represent 58+ Mil of the population, is there a suggestion that we should weigh them equally against Mississippi and North Dakota at a combined ~ 3.6 M population? Florida and Texas only come in at 48.8 M.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/16/2015 - 09:20 pm.


      I have to agree with you that they were consistent:

      If you elect me President, I will provide many of you with additional programs, funding, services and bureaucracy, and it won’t cost you anything because I am going to take the money from other evil greedy people.

      If you elect me President, I will encourage more illegal “no background check” aliens to cross the border, and budge in front of legal “background checked” immigrants, by offering them amnesty, a path to citizenship and immediate programs, funding, services and bureaucracy. And it won’t cost you anything because I will raise the minimum wage and take the money from other evil greedy people.
      I think I heard that common message at least 5 times before I drifted off to sleep.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 11/16/2015 - 10:03 am.

    Bernie is a Cheapskate

    Am I the only one who wonders why Bernie Saunders limits his minimum wage increase demand to only “15 bucks” per hour? If all it takes is a government mandate, liberals should be insisting the minimum be $25 an hour. With that amount, every full-time worker could be making $50,000 a year and should be very happy. It is a simple solution to a simple problem.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/16/2015 - 10:33 am.

      You’re probably not

      the only one,
      but read my first post in this thread.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/16/2015 - 12:22 pm.

      “Am I the only one who wonders . . .”

      Probably. People who understand the purpose of the minimum wage know that it is meant to ensure a basic living wage.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/16/2015 - 10:38 am.

    Paying attention

    I admit I’ve yet to watch a debate by either Democrats or Republicans. Everything I’ve read suggests that, if it’s entertainment we’re after, the Republicans win, hands down. It occurs to me that that very fact may be an inconvenient or unwelcome indicator of the ill-health of our experiment in democratic government.

    Republican calls for persecution of immigrants, building a wall that would cost billions, and be just as effective as my back yard fence, further calls for “religious liberty” that involves imposing a rather narrow set of theological beliefs and practices on a population that doesn’t necessarily share them, and suggestions that we bomb the s**t out of terrorist groups that are mostly invisible to us, thereby inflicting thousands more casualties on innocents whose religion and culture we don’t much like, in part because we don’t know much about it, all of those sorts of thing make for television sound bites at 5, 6 and 10, and lurid headlines in metro newspapers all over the country, but they don’t constitute serious thought about policy, much less policy that might be of benefit to the society as a whole. If a majority of voters go in that direction, our foreign policy is doomed to abject failure, thousands more American troops will be killed or maimed for no purpose beyond stroking the ego of some Republican faux-leaders, and the society we’ll be sending those troops out into the world to “protect” will be far less deserving of the kind of sacrifice we’ll be asking those young people to make.

    I’d like more specificity from all candidates, but especially from Democrats. I’d also like the bickering between/among Democratic candidates to turn into something approaching a serious conversation about exactly what’s wrong with Republican policy proposals. If the Democratic candidates think they have better ideas that those being proposed by Republicans, they ought to clearly lay those ideas out in public as part of their “debate.” They don’t even need to name names – we can figure out whose particular bombast balloon is being ventilated. The campaign between views of what the nation should be like has already begun, whether the candidates themselves have been selected or not. Let the Republicans – for a marked change – form the circular firing squad that typically describes inside politics for the Democrats, while Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley illustrate their differences by showing how they would deal with the multiple forms of shallow bigotry that characterize so much of what passes for Republican thought recently.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/16/2015 - 01:21 pm.


      “Innocents” seems to be the latest “code word” use by Mr. Black and now by Ray.

      Why did you not use this word during the Planned Parenthood debate?

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 11/16/2015 - 03:21 pm.

      What’s Entertainment…

      …is your rant on Republicans. Your description only highlights of someone who refuses to listen because everything you have written is far from true. Persecution of immigrants? Conservatives just want people to follow the law. Religious liberty? Isn’t that part of what this country is founded upon? The slope to dictatorship is when government starts to eliminate freedom. Terrorists that are unseen? Tell that to those who died on 9/11, those in Madrid a couple of years ago, the innocent girls kidnapped in Africa, and those just hurt or killed in France.

      What we head from the Democrats is more of the same old, same old. More money for the government to decide where it goes. After all, the biggest inhibitor to moving up to a higher class is a punitive tax policy. After all, look at the recent 7 years. The Dems demonize those with money but fail to look that the expanding distance between the haves and have nots have hugely increased more than ever under the Obama administration and their policies.

      Why do the Democratic candidates not have much to talk about? It’s because we hear the same tired things that don’t work and it’s what no one wants to hear.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/20/2015 - 12:49 am.


      Ray, I generally agree with most of your opinions, but I disagree with your comment about a lack of specificity from the candidates. I feel that Bernie Sanders, like him or dislike him, has had the most specific positions and proposals of any of the candidates in this election cycle or any recent one.

      Thank you.

  4. Submitted by Annie Grandy on 11/16/2015 - 12:06 pm.

    Thanks for the transcript

    Since CBS isn’t publishing the 4th segment of the debate, thank you for providing a transcript so those who did not have the opportunity Saturday night and were relying on the entire debate being online have an opportunity to see what was said.
    Here is a link to the 4th segment for those who are interested:

    As to responding to Republican *proposals* – there will be time enough for that after the primaries/caucuses and we know which candidates and proposals they need to be discussing. Now we need to be focusing on who is the best candidate representing the voice of the people in each party so we have a *real* choice in November, 2016.

  5. Submitted by Ellen Hoerle on 11/16/2015 - 12:16 pm.

    A key question

    Eric wrote: “She has not said (nor did she Saturday) nearly enough about how she came to make that mistake and what lessons she might have learned for the future.” Ah yes, nor will she because it is not necessary for her to ruminate on this issue and come up with thoughtful ideas in order to get automatic voter support and money.
    Bernie was asked what specific policy he could point to that would show how money was influencing her decisions. There is not one specific policy but the general inability to maintain a degree of independence and apply critical thinking skills to any set of issues and circumstances in order to determine the best action going forward. That’s what her Iraq vote shows. She is too easily swayed by political expediency. That’s what worries me about Clinton.
    I don’t think she’ll inspire young people to vote either (my son, 20, supports Sanders) and until we get voter turnout above 80% on a consistent basis in this country, not much is going to change.

  6. Submitted by Ed Felien on 11/16/2015 - 12:19 pm.

    Desertification of Syria

    You said, “Sanders suggested that climate change is one of the factors generating ISIS, which may be a bit of stretch.” But it was precisely desertification of eastern Syria that caused the problems. Global warming had turned parts of eastern Syria into a desert. Farmers went into the city to ask for help. They began peaceful protests. The protests were violently suppressed by Assad. The empty vacuum of leadership and infrastructure left cities like Raqqa vulnerable. It is a Sunni Arab area being invaded by Alawite Shia from Damascus, Iranian Shia from Iraq, Kurds, Russians and the U S. France had original colonial control of Syria from the time of the Sykes/Picot Agreement after WWI up until the Baath Socialist movement, part of Nasser’s Pan Arab Revolution, took power after World War II.
    Here is an analysis I published in Southside Pride last week:
    The French are now fighting fire with fire.
    MLK: fight fire with water.

  7. Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/16/2015 - 12:34 pm.

    not complicated

    Saturday night? Who watches TV on Saturday night? (except for football). Well no one of course and that is exactly why they had the debate on Saturday night. It is all a part of the scripted, less media exposure is better, run out the clock strategy for Hillary and the hand picked stooges on the stage with her.

  8. Submitted by Brian Lebakken on 11/16/2015 - 06:15 pm.

    Bit of a stretch?…

    “Asked to defend his previous statements that global warming/climate change is the greatest threat to the world, Sanders suggested that climate change is one of the factors generating ISIS, which may be a bit of stretch.”

    Here is the NY Times article from March, 2015 titled “Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change”.

    Read through the article. There are likely many variables contributing to the turmoil, but to ignore the fact that climate change is a significant one doesn’t pass scrutiny. Dismissing Bernie’s acknowledgement as being “a bit of stretch” doesn’t seem warranted.

  9. Submitted by Joe Musich on 11/16/2015 - 09:29 pm.

    And here …

    Regarding the Wall Street “control of the Hillary vote you say….Sanders also talked about how much support Clinton has received from Wall Street during her career, and implied that the Big Cigars have bought her loyalty. She said he was “impugning my integrity” and wrapped the mantle of the 9/11 attacks around her. Sanders certainly was implying something, but he wasn’t ready with a specific vote she had cast or favor she had done. Their main concrete difference seemed to be about whether the big banks should be broken up. Sanders said yes.

    Other media sources saw here “mantle wrapping” not only 911 but her small donor base coming from women as pretty my choice of words “cynical!” Some suggested that the words Ms Clinton used and the tone in which she expressed them were going to be brought up again. And I would agree that the posturing on Clinton’s part should be pointed out. When I heard it I wretched. It was Nixonian in my opinion. But even more so a huge fumble. The connection of her Wall Street connection is still unanswered. I agree with Sanders “Wall Street” is not stupid. This incestuous connection of big money and politics has got to end. No one is gaining from the relationship to the monies of the capitalists.

  10. Submitted by Mike Davidson on 11/16/2015 - 09:57 pm.

    Saturday Debate Is the Problem

    Why was there a debate on Saturday? The last time they got together it was the ‘first in the south’ forum hosted by Rachel Maddow, that was on a Friday night. Many fellow Dems and Liberals say this is because Wasserman-Schultz is trying to favor Hillary. As a longtime Hillary supporter I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know the DNC is doing a huge disservice – to Bernie, Hillary, and O’Malley – by scheduling these debates on nights guaranteed to produce low ratings. If this is in fact her strategy, then Wasserman-Schultz needs to be fired as DNC chair for this and a few other reasons.

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