Sanders sticks to one theme, Clinton sticks to Obama

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waving as they arrive on stage before Thursday's debate.

Thursday night — in Milwaukee and on PBS — Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tripped the light fantastic for two hours in the form of a televised debate.

As usual, they claimed to like and respect each other, and how are we to know how seriously to take that? (I assume not very, especially these days.)

But they kept it civil, especially compared to the food fights that regularly break out during the Republican debates. Perhaps it’s easier to pull that off when you are down to two contenders, as the Dems are, compared to the huge stage full of Republicans.

All was not sweetness, of course. Each Democratic candidate came with a couple of zingers that their opposition researchers had found. Sanders brought up the fact — and she didn’t deny it — that Clinton at one time pointed to Henry Kissinger as someone she admired, and who had mentored her. Sanders smeared her a bit by association with some of Kissinger’s baggage, especially the Indochina stuff.

Clinton waited to the very end, when it was almost too late for Sanders to respond, to bring up a list of unfriendly, or at least critical, things Sanders has said about President Obama. Sanders replied that at least he didn’t run against Obama, as Clinton did in 2008, which seemed a cheap shot. He did better in suggesting that there is nothing disloyal or depraved about a senator occasionally differing with or criticizing a president, even one from his own party.

Looking to South Carolina

The political analysts will tell us that Clinton was shrewdly hugging Obama — who has a high approval rating among Democrats, and who is also an African-American — just as the next primary looms in South Carolina, where blacks make up a huge chunk of Democrats. In 2008, more of half of those voting in the Democratic primary were African-American. In fact, Sanders also made several direct appeals to non-whites as well, enumerating some of the many indicators that the systems — law enforcement and the economic system, to mentioned two — are racist.

You won’t be shocked to learn that Sanders made the case that the economy is rigged in favor of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and that the rigging is done by a government corrupted by donations from the wealthy. He said it in his opening statement, and I worried he would say it 20 more times (but in fact, it was more like five). Still, this is his theme, and one that so far has resonated well.

Clinton took a not-so-subtle shot at Sanders on that score, beginning her closing statement with: “I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.”

If, with a gun to my head, you made me pronounce on which candidate I think helped him/herself the most Thursday night, I would guess Clinton, mostly because this comes right after the drubbing she took in New Hampshire and she didn’t act the least bit rattled in Milwaukee.

Sanders, on the other hand, is suspected of being weak on foreign policy, where all modern presidential candidates must be strong. But he showed some depth on the subject, putting Clinton on the defensive as someone who is too drawn to siren song of “regime change.” And, of course, he brought up his vote against the Iraq War authorization, contrasted with Clinton’s “aye” vote. Personally, I don’t get tired of that one, and her “aye” is a big problem. Her now-familiar retort (which she used again Thursday night) that “I do not believe a vote in 2002 is a plan to defeat ISIS in 2016,” just ain’t working for me. But she’s in a hole on that one.

The Washington Post, as it has done with every debate this year, put out a helpful annotated transcript, and got this one up just 34 minutes after the debate ended. How the heck do they do that?

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Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/12/2016 - 10:10 am.

    After Clinton lost a 40 point lead in Iowa, ended up tying Bernie and got drubbed in N. H. she decided to move into “me and Barack” mode. You know Hillary is in panic mode when she hooks her wagon to an administration that led Americans to feel we are on the wrong track economically at home and a disaster on foreign policy. For Dems it comes down to a socialist or a terrible campaigner in Clinton….. How much is a ticket for this clown show? I love watching it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/12/2016 - 11:36 am.

      “I love watching it”

      Will you “love” watching a weak Republican candidate lose the general election? If Trump or Cruz is nominated, will you “love” watching his presence at the top of the ticket drag down a few Republican congressional candidates?

      Do you have any positive feelings relating to this election cycle at all? Your comments all seem to be enthusiastic recitations of negatives against Hillary Clinton, and some backhanded reference to “a socialist (who does have a name).” Is there a candidate you are supporting? Or are you just watching the election as if it were a cage match?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/12/2016 - 02:50 pm.


        I do enjoy the media and liberals falling all over themselves to legitimize Bernie (who is a socialist) and Hillary who is not a very good politician.

        I agree with Bernie that the system is broken but his top down big Govt solution is creating more of the same. Instead of having crony capitalism where lobbyists, big businesses, big banks, Wall Street, the Federal reserve and the elites run everything, our current system, (yes Obama grew this monster) you will have HUGE Government (more tax money in DC), Bernie, if elected, plus 550 politicians, the federal reserve, big banks, MORE lobbyists (money attracts lobbyists like moths to a flame) and unions deciding how to spend Trillions of dollars yearly. That means more Obamacare type laws written by lobbyists, elites and what ever special interest group who gets in tight with politicians. How is that giving power back to the people? Hillary wants another 4 years of Obama, you decide if you like that.

        I will vote for whoever gets rid of the 1,000’s of pages of the corporate tax code, where big businesses cozy with administration or those with deep pockets get sweetheart deals. Lower the corporate tax rate to 15% and NO loopholes for anybody. Unleash the creative spirit of all businesses folks in America by not regulating/taxing small businesses (engine that drives job creation) into the poor house. Bring back manufacturing jobs with the lower corporate tax rate and a 1 time, up front, out in the open, incentive to build plants and hire workers here in the USA. Have a flat tax with 2-3 different brackets with no loopholes for anyone. Who ever shrinks the DC machine and gives power back to the states (so we can change states if we like another state better, hard to change countries). Someone who wants to use our natural resources to create good paying jobs not destroy mining, logging, oil/gas drilling. Someone who is interested in turning our schools back to preparing children for a competitive work force with skills employers are looking for instead of churning out unskilled, uneducated, politically correct, unemployable 18 year olds. I haven’t decided which candidate will truly try to change the DC machine and give power back to the folks who work hard for a living. One thing I do know is I am not interested in someone growing DC.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/12/2016 - 03:14 pm.


          Your vision for America is “no big government/no big business?” How is that supposed to happen?

          It is one thing to grouse on endlessly about big government. I am not entirely unsympathetic to this complaint. Suppose, however, we do downsize government–down, if you will, to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub. What happens then? Is big business going to disappear magically?

          Nature abhors a vacuum, nowhere more so than in politics. Government is neutered, and now business has its free hand to do what it will. The country may no longer be run by lobbyists in Washington, but big business will continue to have sway without the polite pretense of representative democracy.

          Or do you think we can return to being a nation of small farmers and artisans? Good luck with that.

          • Submitted by joe smith on 02/12/2016 - 04:21 pm.


            No problem with big business by me. Only problem is companies like GE getting in bed with politicians and paying no taxes. That is why you have a flat tax without loop holes for the big businesses to buy politicians off with. Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I’m for Big business, small businesses, medium businesses and 18 year old kids educated by our tax dollars qualified to work there and bring value. I’m for logging, mining, drilling oil/gas and the high paying jobs that go with it. Let businesses grow to any size they can just don’t give them special treatment by buying off folks we elect. When that happens Crony Capitalism happens.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/12/2016 - 04:33 pm.


              Big business is SO much better than big government. It always has our best interests in heart.

              I can vote against a politician who isn’t working for me. I can’t vote against a mining company that puts toxins in my water.

              • Submitted by joe smith on 02/12/2016 - 07:37 pm.

                No, big business employs tens of thousands of people and Big Government wastes tens of thousands of dollars. One makes money (big Business) one spends money (Big Govt),…. our money!!! I guess you like the spending money, I personally like the making money and employing folks so they can live a better life.

                Fair rules for all is the only true form of freedom, your 2 candidates want all the money, power and influence with them in DC. I would love to see the freedom to succeed no matter the color of your skin or where you were born.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/13/2016 - 02:53 pm.

                  Of course

                  you couldn’t post this without the Internet, the power grid, and other services provided by the government.
                  And American ‘big business’ (I assume that you mean large corporations) has been cutting real wages and reducing the size of the domestic work force.
                  They employ American workers only when that is to their economic advantage.

              • Submitted by joe smith on 02/13/2016 - 12:11 am.

                That is why socialism is acceptable to some, they believe an individual who takes in other folks money will be more responsible than the guy who makes the money. I have seen way more crooked politicians than I have crooked business men. I trust my local butcher way more than my local congressman and I know them both pretty well.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/15/2016 - 02:20 pm.

                  Crooked Politicians v. Crooked Business Men

                  Crooked politicians tend to be prosecuted when caught. Business men have their stooges in office write or rewrite laws to their sole benefit, so what they do is legal (“Hey! Quit picking on the job creators!”). Immoral, but legal.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/12/2016 - 05:26 pm.

            Does your love of oil drilling and your antipathy for…

            …”Crony Capitalism” cause you any cognitive dissonance when pondering the oil depletion allowance?

            • Submitted by joe smith on 02/15/2016 - 08:48 am.

              Lower corporate tax rate with no loopholes. That includes oil/gas or solar/wind.

              • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/15/2016 - 01:37 pm.

                I’m with you there, Joe, as long as “no loopholes” means…

                …ZERO loopholes, which is what I take you to mean.

                It would be good for everyone to pay their fair share.

                Of course, we’ve got to do something about this matter of corporate “inversion”, which is about a loophole in the law for no other purpose than avoiding taxes while enjoying all the benefits of an American presence.

                • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/15/2016 - 03:05 pm.

                  ALL loopholes.

                  The loopholes are created when a person or organization convinces enough officials that they provide some sort of benefit to society that should be encouraged, the other side of the ledger that has the same effect is subsidization. Regulations providing special treatment (either for or against) or publicly funded infrastructure are other common tools that are used to get to the same place. That place is where everybody is asking for special treatment based on what political support they can leverage. Not a recipe for good governance.

                  Create a dirt simple tax system that treats everyone the same and eliminate all exemptions. No more mortgage tax credits or interest deductions, deductions for having more kids, or different status based in being a church or “nonprofit”. If we want a progressive system build it in a way that is completely transparent and difficult if not impossible to manipulate. A sales or other consumption tax balanced by a minimum income for all citizens. States, counties and cities can add to either the tax amount or the payout but make other forms of taxes and payouts illegal. No welfare, corporate or otherwise in any form. Direct user fees would be the other available option.

                  If all benefits of taxation are provided equally to all citizens (or direct user fees are what support items like transit) it reduces dramatically any incentive to game the system.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 02/12/2016 - 02:55 pm.

        Election as cage match

        Wouldn’t that be something? Good one . . .

        What you say about not hearing who Joe supports and his long-time fascination with Hillary seems to apply pretty much across the board when it comes to the Republican-inclined who comment here.

        Starting in about August or Sept Eric’s articles seemed to be almost all about Trump, Trump, Trump. I remember Paul U. and a couple others saying, “Hey . . . Could we get a little Bernie coverage going on around here?”

        And since that started happening it’s been interesting to see how open and “extensive” the Democratic-inclined have been about what they like and don’t like about Bernie and the same about Hillary. Interesting comment after comment about how those that will be voting Democrat see things, with plenty of Republi criticism of both — and, of course, O’bama — thrown in.

        But almost nothing at all about who they support or why or not or what they see as good or bad about their positions or their whatever, who they’d like to see nominated, etc..

        I may have just missed it, but they sure have seemed shy about letting on where they’re at with their candidate of choice. Or maybe they’re just being cagey. Holding their cards close. Not wanting to tip their hand too early.

        Whatever the reason, I’m looking forward to what the more conservative have to say about which member of the Deep Bench they think would make the best president and why they’d be better for the country than Bernie (“the Commy”) or Hillary (“The Liar”).

    • Submitted by Brian Simon on 02/12/2016 - 04:44 pm.

      On the wrong track

      Methinks you misdiagnose when exactly we got on this wrong track. The Obama administration certainly deserves some criticism for failing to address the ongoing slide of median income & growth of people living in poverty, but this isn’t a problem created in the last 7 years. It wasn’t even created in this century, though I’d argue that Bush 43 economic policy pushed us in the wrong direction. Except for the tech boom blip in the latter half of Clinton 42’s presidency, the middle class has otherwise steadily been losing ground since sometime in the 80s.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 02/14/2016 - 09:40 am.

        After 90 years

        The Progressive era started in ernest with the New Deal there have been 90ish years of various policies and programs directed mainly at equalizing outcomes of life. After all of that time and the massive changes and in the technology which have provided huge improvements in everybody’s standard of living the goals of Progressive ideology have failed to come to fruition in any way. Wealth inequity is as bad now as it has ever been and racial disparities haven’t improved much either. Racial inequity being exacerbated by government policies designed both for ill, Jim Crow, and for good, huge public housing complexes that concentrated poverty while destroying the natural social structures or the neighborhoods where they were placed.

        While good intentions are nice they don’t ensure good outcomes. The core drivers for the failure over the last 90 years is due to flaws which are integral to the Progressive philosophy. The first is that as systems get larger, more complicated and the number of variables increase it because harder and harder to manage them. Both because there is a cost to forcing the people to do what policies require them to do and because even if they do comply complex systems don not often produce predictable outcomes. Often the unintended consequences are more impactful than the original focus of the policies.

        The second is that in a democracy where government holds such massive sway (over 40% of GDP is direct government spending plus all the other controls created through regulations at every level) there is huge value to having control policy. That means there is massive incentive to manipulate the system from all sides. From the very beginning FDR’s policies were designed in large part to manipulate elections rather than for overall economic impact.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/12/2016 - 10:56 am.

    Clinton was on her game

    She definitely got her act together, but one suspects that some of her jabs at Bernie, like claiming he wants Iranian troops on the Israeli border, are disingenuous. I think Bernie may have hit upon a theme that can counter Clinton’s claims of foreign policy acumen going forward when he said experience is good but good judgment is better. Clinton’s response, was to try to take credit for Bin Laden’s killing by saying she’d recommended the raid… and Obama followed her advice. Kind of weak in my estimation. I would recommended the same thing if he’d asked me.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/12/2016 - 11:50 am.

      Appreciate your restraint…

      “disingenuous” here is a bold act of kindness. HRC spent four years mostly just “hanging out” (somewhere), in this case taking credit for an objective set and planned years before she got there. I’m surprised she hasn’t claimed this to be the ultimate achievement of her Senate term.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/12/2016 - 02:23 pm.

        Then there’s a question of what kind of accomplishment…

        …killing bin Laden actually amounted to.

        All the hand-wringing of what bravery this took on the part of the President just amazes me, along with the claim this was some kind of great achievement. A team of commandos gunned him down in his own prison of a home, long after he was any kind of operative factor in al Qaeada.

        I realize this had symbolic value and slaked the public’s thirst for revenge, but what did it actually accomplish? It would be so very typical of Mrs. Clinton to try to capture some of the reflected “glory” of this killing.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/12/2016 - 03:17 pm.


          “All the hand-wringing of what bravery this took on the part of the President just amazes me, along with the claim this was some kind of great achievement.” You can say that because the operation was successful. There was a very real possibility that bin Laden would not have been killed, or that American soldiers would have died. They did not, so it looks like an easy call.

          President Carter’s decision to rescue the US hostages in Iran was an operational failure. Until that happened, the polling was still close between him and Reagan. There are many pundits who believe Carter had a good chance of winning re-election until the mission failed.

          • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/12/2016 - 04:35 pm.

            I understand your point, and the comparison with..

            …Carter is apt, TO A POINT, but Carter was trying to save a large number of hostages, Obama was trying to kill a single enemy. These two do not weigh the same, nor are they even in a similar spirit.

            What they have in common is only the political risk you have emphasized.

            In Carter’s case, he risked the lives of soldiers to save a lot of Americans. Obama risked the lives of soldiers to kill a single enemy to gain a public relations victory.

            These two cases DO have points of comparison, but they don’t extend very far.

            • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/12/2016 - 08:58 pm.

              Depends on who is looking!

              And depends on success or failure: The “R’s have been hanging on to Benghazi as their last breath of air long after it was buried.

          • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/12/2016 - 07:41 pm.

            Nothing Brave

            An executive execution of a pre-determined objective given the military intelligence and technology finally afforded to say “Go” with “high confidence.”

            Carter, on the other hand, did make a pretty brave decision with respect to timing urgency, lesser intelligence and marginal technology (sand mediation). Carter was also pressured by raging public opinion and the audience capture by ABC’s introduction of “Nightline,” a program produced solely to follow daily developments in the hostage situation. Well, the rescue failed embarrassingly and Carter took the blame (and consequences), Carter deserves the credit for making the brave decision.

  3. Submitted by Rodgers Adams on 02/12/2016 - 11:30 am.

    Implementing change

    If there was a “low blow” at the end of the debate, I don’t think it was Sen. Sanders’ reference to Sec. Clinton’s opposition to Barak Obama in 2008, it was her list of examples of “the kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans.” Sec. Clinton has been critical of Sen. Sanders for “innuendos” regarding the influence of Wall Street donations on policy makers, but she was clearly engaging in the innuendo that Sen. Sanders was hostile to President Obama. In the commentary after the debate, reporting on some of the examples Sec. Clinton offered, pundits showed that she had exaggerated or distorted the facts. This, despite the fact that Sen. Sanders has repeatedly praised President Obama’s recording in dealing with major issues facing the country. And in what world were the things she claimed that Sen. Sanders had said in any way similar to the blistering attacks on everything Obama that have been launched in the Republican debates.
    There is one underlying issue in the debates that I hope will attract Eric’s attention in the future: Whose plan is really most realistic? On the surface, Sec. Clinton’s plans seem incremental and reasonable. But weren’t many of President Obama’s proposals also attempts to find a reasonable middle ground in order to elicit Republican support? How did that work for him? Without a major change on Capitol Hill, what are the chances that Sec. Clinton’s proposals will get off the ground? So, to me, the crucial question is not only their goals (which are similar), but whose plan most likely to get the votes on Capitol Hill? Sen. Sanders did not spell out his answer as clearly as I wish he would have, but he did note that Presidents can’t make significant changes without strong public support, and suggested that his “political revolution” might force the change. Practically, that means his revolution needs to elect supportive Senators and Congresspersons, and to strike primary fears into others. Sec. Clinton makes no claims that her approach will trigger a significant legislative turnover, but Sen. Sanders has yet to show that he can lead a “revolution” that changes the down-races.
    I’ll admit that an ineffective Clinton presidency or an ineffective Sanders presidency would be my preference over any of the most likely Republican presidencies, but my choice of a Democrat depends on who can make the most persuasive case that they can actually get their programs adopted.

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 02/12/2016 - 12:22 pm.

    Why a “cheapshot”?

    “Sanders replied that at least he didn’t run against Obama, as Clinton did in 2008, which seemed a cheap shot.”

    Seems pretty politically pertinent to me, and to many others, I suspect.

  5. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 02/12/2016 - 02:04 pm.

    Hillary and Obama

    Come now folks, this is politics which is about who gets the most votes. I believe Madam Secretary’s
    admiration for Obama is motivated by making sure she gets most of the black vote plus those of the main stream of the “Democratic” party.

  6. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/12/2016 - 02:41 pm.

    The many faces of Hilary Clinton.

    I doubt we’ve seen them all yet in this campaign, but she is adding to this gallery, banking on our forgetfulness.

    Her #1 surrogate, Bill Clinton, ridiculed Obama’s campaign in 2008 as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen”, and then, after Hilary’s humbling defeat in SC, dismissed Obama’s win by comparing him to Jesse Jackson.

    Now, Hilary claims to be Obama’s #1 fan!! How soon we forget!!

    I agree with Mr. Million above that Eric’s characterization of Sanders’ reference to her previous opposition to Obama as a ” cheap shot” is confused. Rather, it casts an appropriately doubtful light on the integrity of her current claims.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/12/2016 - 09:06 pm.

    Come on:

    8 years ago! So should we still hate the Germans and the Japanese, Vietnamese, etc. etc. Times change, conditions change, people change, life changes, or are we required to hold grudges and positions our entire life despite the changes. Is there some special date when enough time has passed? Churchill was the one for war, but not the one for peace.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/13/2016 - 11:24 am.

      “conditions change, people change”

      So true, natural as can be!!

      However, in Mrs. Clinton, we see the manipulation of her views according to their perceived benefit.

      In 2008, she saw it as beneficial to excoriate Obama, so her campaign ridiculed him.

      In 2016, she sees it as beneficial to associate with him, so now she’s Obama’s #1 fan!!

      It’s hard to see this, IN HER CASE, as other than self-serving opportunism. She is loyal only to herself & her career, as near as I can see.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/18/2016 - 06:43 pm.

        Yah but,

        Suppose these type of love hate relationships don’t happen in other sectors of life? Sports, business, schools, etc. etc, Vikings used to hate Brett Farve, then one day they woke up and loved him! Sorry ST, having a tough time biting on the argument. Christie hated Obama, until he brought some Billions to NJ after hurricane Sandy! Republicans hate NY (never votes red) until 911!

  8. Submitted by Solly Johnson on 02/13/2016 - 02:48 am.


    Several writers on national sites have noted that Mrs Clinton most often uses the word, “I,” when talking about potential solutions to problems, while Mr. Sanders uses, “we.”

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/13/2016 - 10:04 am.


      You could say that Sanders is using the ‘royal we’; as in “we are not amused”.
      Or you might say that Sanders speaks in the plural because he expects other people to actually come up with solutions to the problems that he has identified.

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/13/2016 - 02:35 pm.

    One thing goes uncommented: the fact that we are, at last! having a number of Democratic town halls, forums, and debates for the whole country to see.

    The head of the Democratic National Committee seemed to have been determined not to give either Senator Sanders or anyone else much of a shot at Hillary Clinton’s views (she’s a friend of the national committee chair) by limiting the number of debates/encounters. That strategy was protested by at least one of the national committee’s vice chairs–Minneapolis’s own R. T. Rybak.

    Or is it that the press is simply finding it in their interest to cover Senator Sanders now that that they see a lot of people and a lot of campaign money following him?

    In any event, for Mr. Black even to suggest that Clinton-Sanders debates are similar in incivility to the GOP “debates” (name-calling insult shows) is unfair to both Democrats. Pot shots about policy differences and contrasting votes in the Senate are not uncivil: these are two people with admirable public records (also, unlike the GOP candidate bunch). What we are finally seeing is that there is, America, an alternative to a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz!

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/13/2016 - 04:42 pm.

      Watch the next GOP forum

      You may find it to not be one of your “(name-calling insult shows).”
      The field is reduced to manageable size now.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 02/14/2016 - 11:55 am.


      The CBS factotum was no “moderator,” encouraging a politically pointless dog fight, so the boys took the program into the back alley. I guess CBS needed some blood sport to make their programming more colorful.

      Gloves came off and some fingernails got dirty, others a bit bloody. Catharsis…finally!

      John Kasich became moderator pro tempore.
      [Notice MinnPost doesn’t even have him in their dictionary?]

      And today I hear the HRC machine now wants at least four more opportunities for her, now that Bernie is clearly holding his edge. Question: Who is wearing figure skates, and who’s wearing hockey skates?

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