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Watching Clinton and Sanders debate is a thankless task — but sometimes illuminating

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton shaking hands before the start of the Univision News and Washington Post debate in Kendall, Fla., on Wednesday night.

This is just how devoted I am to the thankless task of informing the electorate: I watched the Univision/Facebook/Washington Post-sponsored debate Wednesday night between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

I didn’t think there was anything they could say that I hadn’t heard before. But I was wrong.

I didn’t know before Wednesday night that neither of these candidates favors deporting any immigrants, although they entered the U.S. illegally, unless they have broken further laws since they arrived or are plotting to harm Americans. In fact, they both favor a “path to citizenship” for them all.

That’s pretty much a proposal of the full Republican nightmare of amnesty plus citizenship, which is not only the exact opposite of the position of the leader in the race for the Republican nomination, but is a substantial break with the sainted Barack Obama, who has presided over the deportation more than two million undocumented immigrants, many of whom broke no law other than having moved to the United States without permission.

So there’s that.

As you have figured out by now, when the Republicans debate, the candidates supply all the rudeness, whereas Clinton and Sanders cling — at least on the surface — to an admirable civility that by this point in the campaign probably masks bilateral smoldering hatred.

Blunt questions

But Wednesday night, the moderators threw courtesy out the window and asked a series of defensible but blunt questions that bordered on rude.

They asked Clinton why polls show Americans don’t consider her honest or trustworthy. (Her answer, which I’ll append below, was so devoid of substance — suggesting that she takes responsibility for the perception, even though there is no basis for the perception — that it was sort of an illustration of the problem, rather than a rebuttal of an unfair charge.)

They asked her if she would leave the race if she gets indicted. (She took offense at that one and refused to dignify it with a response.)

And they invited Sanders to repeat his demand that she release the transcript of the private and highly compensated talks she gave to Wall Street firms. He, as usual, mocked her usual reply that she will release the transcript when all candidates do, adding that he had already released all such transcripts because none exist because he gave no such private talks to Wall Streeters.

Let me just say this bluntly: Clinton’s usual excuse that she won’t release the transcripts because other (unnamed) candidates have not done so (and she doesn’t believe she should be unfairly singled out for transcript-releasing demands) is a tacit admission that there is something embarrassing (or worse) in the transcripts. And it suggests that the obvious political damage engendered by refusing to release must be a lesser theat to her candidacy than the political damage of what she said to the Wall Streeters being known. And it leaves the nature of that damage up to our imaginations.

Sanders on Cuba

The moderators also bushwhacked Sanders with an ancient video of him speaking favorably of the benefits that the Castro government had brought to Cuba. Here’s what Sanders said, in the 1960s video:

SANDERS: You may recall way back in, when was it, 1961, they invaded Cuba, and everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world. All the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro. They forgot that he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed their society.

Sanders weaseled his way out this one, suggesting that his remarks were about his opposition to the U.S. policy of overthrowing (or trying to overthrow) leftist Latin American governments (“regime change”) in Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile and Venezuela. By my lights, that’s a solid critique that’s become more widely accepted over the decades. But if you look at the quote from the old interview, it is about the many benefits the Cuban people enjoyed under Castroism. There’s truth to that, too, but it’s a much more controversial statement than the one he pretended to defend.

Anyway, as I trudged up from the TV room to my desk to file this report, I found that New York Times columnist Gail Collins had filed an instant reaction that included this fabulous paragraph:

“This was Wednesday’s Democratic debate — the second one in a week, not counting the back-to-back town halls in between. People, do you remember when we used to complain that there weren’t going to be enough debates? Ah yes, long ago. Dinosaurs roamed the earth and Marco Rubio was a hot ticket.”

My sentiments exactly. Collins’ full report is here.

The Washington Post’s usual instantly annotated full transcript of the debate is here.

Trusting Clinton

And here’s the promised verbatim Clinton reply to the question of why Americans don’t trust her:

Question from the Washington Post’s KAREN TUMULTY: Secretary Clinton, a Washington Post poll just yesterday found that only 37 percent of Americans consider you honest and trustworthy. Now, when you’ve been asked about this in the past, you have said that this is the result of many, many years of Republican attacks upon you. But Americans have also had 25 — more than that — years to get to know you for themselves. Is there anything in your own actions and the decisions that you yourself have made that would foster this kind of mistrust?

CLINTON: Well, first Karen, obviously it’s painful for me to hear that. And I do take responsibility. When you’re in public life, even if you believe that it’s not an opinion that you think is fair or founded, you do have to take responsibility. And I do.

And I also have, you know, very much committed to the best of my ability my energies and efforts to helping people. That’s something that I care deeply about. And I will continue to do that, to demonstrate by my past actions and my present levels of commitment and plans that people can count on me.

That is certainly what happened to me in New York, where people got to know me. They saw me in action. And they did.

Look, I have said before and it won’t surprise anybody to hear me say it, this is not easy for me. It’s not easy to do what I think is right, to help people, to even the odds, to hear a story like the woman’s story we just heard. And to know that I can make a difference and I want to in every way possible.

I am not a natural politician, in case you haven’t noticed, like my husband or President Obama. So I have a view that I just have to do the best I can, get the results I can, make a difference in people’s lives, and hope that people see that I’m fighting for them and that I can improve conditions economically and other ways that will benefit them and their families.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/10/2016 - 09:31 am.

    The truth

    It must be frustrating for Hillary to be criticized for the occasional lie by politicians who very rarely tell the truth about anything.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/10/2016 - 12:10 pm.

      Yes, especially when she says she TRIES SO HARD…

      …to tell the truth !!

      It seems to be so very, very difficult for her that she has to strain to do it.

      • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/11/2016 - 05:19 am.

        The strain

        And the strain is so visible, and she is so bad at it. Never at that level has a candidate pandered so awkwardly. There is sort of Clintonian kind of lie that is so obvious, it almost seems there is no intent to deceive.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/10/2016 - 09:36 am.

    Prime time?

    It was way past their bed time.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/10/2016 - 01:56 pm.

    Yes and no

    I concur with Hiram Foster. It must be more than a little frustrating for Mrs. Clinton to have to defend herself against charges of not telling the truth when those charges are often made by people who haven’t told the truth since they were in second grade.

    That said, however, her response to the question posed by Karen Tumulty is as good an example as any, I suppose, of why lots of people don’t think she’s trustworthy. In fact, her response is no worse than many another politician’s non-answer to an embarrassing question, but since the question has to do with Clinton’s credibility with the public, it’s especially unfortunate (that’s as politely as I can put it) that she chose a fairly standard “direct their attention somewhere else” non-answer as a response instead of just dealing with it. I think she’s probably pretty accurate in suggesting that much of the negative perception of her trustworthiness is the result of decades – decades – of relentless propaganda from the right wing, particularly ironic since she and Bill have essentially behaved as good Republicans in the years since each of them left office.

    And I think Eric is spot-on, by the way, about why she hasn’t released the text of her speeches to Wall Street. What’s in those speeches is likely far more damaging to her chances to become the Democratic nominee – not to mention the country’s first female president – than any damage created by her (so far) refusal to release those speeches. Even in politics, there are times when you’re between the proverbial rock and hard place, and this seems to be one of those for Mrs. Clinton.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/10/2016 - 03:13 pm.

    For the Media to Ask Hillary WHY She Isn’t Trusted

    is a bit like asking a male politician (who’s never done so) if he’s stopped beating his family members or his dog yet.

    He can deny all he wants and even prove that he’s never done such a thing,…

    but the question, itself, plants the seed and leads many to believe he’s guilty.

    I can’t help but believe that if there had been a well-financed, well-orchestrated campaign carried out for the specific purpose of planting doubt in the minds of the general public,…

    and making folk wonder whether or not you’re trustworthy,…

    a campaign of glorified gossip, breathlessly delivered,…

    a campaign that’s been going on for more than 20 years,…

    most of the rest of us would long since have retired from public life.

    The very ASKING of that question represents furtherance of the campaign to raise doubts about Hillary.

    But the same forces that failed to make Hillary Clinton a universally-reviled public pariah,…

    as those running that campaign had so deeply and earnestly hoped,…

    a campaign with which the media quite gleefully helped,…

    (because hot gossip grabs eyeballs and there’s no such thing as journalistic standards, anymore),…

    those same forces are only just beginning to turn their sights on Bernie Sanders.

    The Castro question from last night was only the tiniest tip of the million-ton iceberg they’ll throw at him before November should he become the candidate.

    To copy the typical media style, I can’t help but ask the “logical questions, that the public wants answered.,”

    After the onslaught Bernie will face, will HE still be standing by November?

    What other damning video clips are lurking out there just waiting to be discovered, misinterpreted (or accurately interpreted) and howled about?


    (see how that works.)

    Meanwhile, the icebergs they’ve been throwing at Hillary for more than 20 years have long since melted and the puddles evaporated. She’s still standing and still electable.

    • Submitted by Hiram Foster on 03/11/2016 - 05:25 am.

      is a bit like asking a male politician (who’s never done so) if he’s stopped beating his family members or his dog yet.

      That’s an argumentative question, one that assumes a point in dispute. Asking Hillary why she isn’t trusted isn’t quite that because there is a lot of evidence that she isn’t trusted. I know even as strong a Democrat as I am, I don’t trust her. I simply don’t believe her, to name one example, when she says opposes TPP. I firmly believe that once in office, there will be some change in circumstance, some newly found piece of information, that will cause her to change her views, to revert to the norm. It’s really more of an issue, not of trusting Hillary but whether we should trust other politicians more. Other politicians lie just as much as Hillary, it’s just that their lying is not an integral part of their narrative, as it is for the Clintons.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 03/10/2016 - 04:48 pm.

    Exit polls show jobs as the number 1 concern for voters this primary season. I have yet to see how either party is going to bring back good paying jobs to America. The GOP is too busy calling each other names and the Dems are talking about Cuba, BLM and free college. The closest thing I heard to a plan was Cruz saying go to his web site and find out what his plan is. Bernie wants to use Govt money on infrastructure programs (see 1T stimulus pack) and tax corporations more, how does that bring jobs back?. Not to be outdone by Bernie, Hillary wants to use “claw back” approach retroactively fining companies who have shipped jobs out of the country. That will just force more companies offshore and hurt Americans looking for good paying manufacturing jobs, Trump must have a plan but is too busy call Rubio Little Marco to tell us. Little Marco is too busy calling Trump a fraud to share his plan.

    Amazingly the candidates are tone deaf to what concerns the voters the most. No wonder 75% of folks feel the system is broken and want change.

    • Submitted by colin kline on 03/11/2016 - 08:22 am.


      Did you really ask how 1 trillion in infrastructure projects would create jobs?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 03/11/2016 - 10:24 am.

        No Colin

        I’m saying I saw and lived the 1 trillion dollar Obama stimulus package, touted as a job creating machine for Americans, spend 6% on infrastructure. Also saw the laughing Obama saying “I guess shovel ready jobs were not so shovel ready hahaha”. The other 94% went to union paybacks, pet projects and DID NOT employ thousands as promised. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me… As the Who said in my generation “won’t be fooled again”!!!

        • Submitted by colin kline on 03/11/2016 - 09:22 pm.

          Obama is not running

          I thought you were talking about Bernie Sander’s plan, my mistake. You see in the United states of America a president is not allowed to be president for more than two terms, so Obama having served two terms is not running for a third.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/13/2016 - 02:50 pm.

          Get out more

          JS you need to get out more. Unemployment rate has dropped to to ~ 3.7 % in Minnesota from 8% in 2009. Nationally we went form ~ 10 to 5.5, across the same period of time, then there is the drop out rate, only moved form ~ 11% to 9.6%, not sure what the message is here, lack of technical or sell able skills, lack of interview skills? Point is, in general the country has done better, some maybe not so good. 2009 I was self employed, making ~ $5/hr flipping a house, self funded (cobra) insurance, the better side (wife) wasn’t making enough $ in real-estate, we could qualify for food stamps. That situation has changed dramatically and then some since 2010. Sorry you weren’t able to participate.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/14/2016 - 01:26 pm.

          “The other 94% went to union paybacks . . .”

          ” . . . pet projects and DID NOT employ thousands as promised.”

          Do you have a source for the 94% assertion? In particular, what is your reason for claiming “union paybacks?”

          Here’s an interesting point to ponder: What would have happened (or not happened) without the stimulus?

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2016 - 05:08 pm.

    This audience knows the history.

    ” But if you look at the quote from the old interview, it is about the many benefits the Cuban people enjoyed under Castroism.”

    Let’s talk about all the “benefits” the Cuban People had under Batista before Castro, Batista was dictator. And then let’s talk about all benefits Pinochet brought to Chile, and Somoza brought to Nicaragua, or how the US backed dictators that ruled Guatemala for 40 years improved everyone’s lives, etc. etc… all installed by CIA engineered coup’s.

    The fact is when Castro overthrew Batista he was NOT a strict communist, and sought normal and strong ties with the US. The US rebuked Castro and decided upon a course of… you guessed it- regime change. That policy isolated Cuba and forced Castro into a relationship with the Soviet Union.

    Sanders can’t go into this kind of detail in a TV debate… but he doesn’t have to, THIS audience doesn’t need Sanders to go into that detail because THEY already know, they and their parents and grandparents escaped those dictators and dirty CIA wars. You have to remember a very small number of Latino’s in this country are actually old Cuban anti Castro’s. Sanders wasn’t there to teach history to ignorant white Americans who think people eat Mexican food in Panama. Sanders was there to connect with Latinos, and he connected in a big way.

  7. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/11/2016 - 12:05 pm.

    what the debate showed

    Democrats get questions the press won’t ask Republicans, and Jorge Ramos is a bit of jerk.

  8. Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/11/2016 - 02:25 pm.

    And then there was the Republican debate

    I just got done (actually) listening to it. I could do that because, for some mysterious reason, they actually talked about their positions on some of the issues the moderators brought up and refrained from whatever is they’ve been doing since their debates got started.

    All I can say about what I heard is “Wow”

    I’m biased, of course, but I’m not so sure they don’t sound MORE sane when they’re yelling obscenities at each other.

    When it comes to the questions of lying, not lying, being more or less trustworthy, etc., there’s something about this group of Republican candidates that makes those issues look like genuine small potatoes compared to the difference in “the direction” each party is saying America should go.

    I’m definitely not going to do it (I feel like I’ve done my duty by making myself listen to almost all of it), but if someone had the ability and mental wherewithal to go through the transcript of the Republibate and pick out the major topics or themes and a few of the choice responses, I’m pretty sure everyone would find the comparison of the Democratic and Republican positions on those issues much more informative and useful than trying to figure out which of the potential nominees is the more prolific liar.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/12/2016 - 05:14 pm.


      I guess that would depend if you want the next President of the USA to be of excellent Character,
      or if you are happy when they mislead you to get them to vote for them.

      I mean Bernie seems to have the best Character marks, however he keeps preaching about the big changes he is going to make… Totally denying the reality that unless Congress changes massively, he would pretty much be a lame duck President for all 4 years.

      Now is he lying to his followers or is he just naive? Either way I don’t I would vote for him. Well, that and his dreams would be disastrous for the USA.

  9. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/12/2016 - 06:06 pm.

    One more reason

    “neither of these candidates favors deporting any immigrants, although they entered the U.S. illegally, unless they have broken further laws since they arrived or are plotting to harm Americans.”

    Well there is one more reason not to vote for them. I can not even imagine the mess we would have and how many migrants would die if everyone in the world believed that they just needed to “get across the border” to become a US citizen… It would likely make the Middle Eastern flight into Europe look calm. And the impact on low end workers would be terrible.

    And finally, why would anyone legally apply for immigration if all they need to do is make to American soil?

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/14/2016 - 06:42 pm.

      Follow the bouncing ball

      One of the reporters even said: Its not up to them need congress and the senate. Lets see how successful whoever the “R” is at getting 12 Mil folks deported. No sense in discussing the he said she said, its political carnival time!

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/15/2016 - 08:09 am.

        Carrots and Sticks

        One does not need to deport illegal residents. One just needs to make it less pleasant for them to be here than somewhere else. Then they will self deport. Unfortunately many Liberals want to make this country very appealing to border jumpers and visa over stayers.

        Kind of like Parents who let their adult kids come to live at home with no rent, no rules, no food bills, no chores, etc, Of course the kid may come home and stay.

        • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 03/15/2016 - 03:16 pm.

          The luxurious life of the illegal

          …the life of an illegal is “appealing”? Spoken by someone without a clue as to what that kind of life is actually like.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/15/2016 - 06:15 pm.

            Happy to Keep It Unappealing

            I am a supporter of making it as unappealing as possible for illegal immigrants who reside in this country.

            I want people to be allowed into our country after they have applied for legal immigrant status, had due diligence completed regarding their back ground, etc. If you want more immigrants, just increase this legal pipeline.

            I can think of nothing good that comes of making it easier and more rewarding to become an illegal immigrant in the USA. Let’s count the down sides:
            – No control over who comes over and which jobs they take from who.
            – Encourages poor hopeless people to trust their lives and fortunes to human smugglers.
            – No due diligence or background checks completed.
            – Discourages people from following the legal process.
            – Fewer people allowed in by legal process to account for illegals entering the country.

            Please tell me the upside of encouraging illegal entry?

            • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/16/2016 - 07:50 pm.


              Not sure anyone advocated illegal immigration, anymore than they advocated having tornado’s coming through their neighborhood: The point was they are here. Want to make it less appealing, tank the economy. People in desperation, care not much for laws or walls or seas or oceans, or due diligence, they care to stay alive! We now reap the harvests of our drug wars, and central American right wing polices. Answer, make it better there than here.

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