early and often

What You Missed in the 6th Democratic Debate

Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate In Milwaukee
The Democratic debate, now with 25 percent less shouting. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Even if you watched Thursday night’s Democratic debate on CNN, it was pretty clear that it was a PBS production. Though the debate came just days after Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, the two candidates leaned heavily on talking points used in last week’s debate. (In a boring, wonky way — nobody emerged as the Democrats’ answer to Rubiobot.) However, there was an interesting evolution in their ongoing discussion about health care, an unexpected debate about Henry Kissinger, and a fiery dispute over whether Sanders is sufficiently loyal to President Obama. Here are the highs and lows.

Most Widely Debated Attack Line
Sanders’s jab, “Well, Secretary Clinton, you’re not in the White House yet.” If you like Sanders, it was a hilarious zinger. If you prefer Clinton, it was condescending and akin to Obama’s “You’re likable enough, Hillary.”

Best Twist on the Single-Payer Health-Care Argument
As New York’s Eric Levitz explains, we’ve seen the two candidates discuss whether Democrats should push for Sanders’s “Medicare for all” plan, or incrementally improve the Affordable Care Act, as Clinton prefers, in every debate. But this is the first time Clinton has responded to Sanders’s point that many other nations have single-payer health care.

“We are not England. We are not France,” she said. “We inherited a system that was set up during World War II; 170 million Americans get health insurance right now through their employers. So what we have tried to do and what President Obama succeeded in doing was to build on the health-care system we have, get us to 90 percent coverage. We have to get the other 10 percent of the way to 100. I far prefer that, and the chances we have to be successful there, than trying to start all over again, gridlocking our system, and trying to get from zero to 100 percent.”

Best Use of a Debate Factoid
Clinton said that unlike former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, she doesn’t think women who vote against her deserve a special spot in hell. Then she lightened the mood by adding, “Just for a historic aside, somebody told me earlier today we’ve had like 200 presidential primary debates, and this is the first time there have been a majority of women on the stage. So, you know, we’ll take our progress wherever we can find it.”

Best Use of Years-Old Line About Women’s Rights
SANDERS: “When it comes to a woman having to make a very personal choice, ah, in that case, my Republican colleagues love the government and want the government to make that choice for every woman in America. If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what hypocrisy is.”

Points Clinton and Sanders Agree On
They acknowledged that their views are fundamentally the same on the following issues, but spent a long time discussing them anyway:

  • We need criminal-justice reform, and are “sick and tired of seeing videos on television of unarmed people, often African-Americans, shot by police officers,” as Sanders said.
  • President Obama was right to use executive action to shield certain undocumented immigrants from deportation, but wrong to implement immigration raids.
  • We should put more money into the Social Security system.
  • FDR played an important role “both in war and in peace on the economy and defeating fascism around the world,” as Clinton said.

Least-Surprising Name Drop for a Democratic Debate
Ted Kennedy. Clinton brought up the late liberal icon, noting that she voted for the comprehensive immigration-reform bill he sponsored in 2007, while Sanders was against it. Sanders said he stands by the vote because the Southern Poverty Law Center said the bill’s guest-worker programs were “akin to slavery.” The senator made sure to note that despite their disagreement, “I worked with Ted Kennedy. He was the chairman of my committee. And I loved Ted Kennedy.”

Least-Surprising Name Drop for Any Debate
Republicans love to talk about Teddy Roosevelt, and Sanders does too. “I think if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, that great trust-buster would have said break them up,” he said, referring to the big banks. “I think he would have been right. I think he would have said bring back a 21st-century GlassSteagall legislation. I think that would have been right, as well.”

Least-Successful Obama Comparison
On the issue of the influence of campaign donors, Clinton argued that Sanders should stop attacking her for taking money from Wall Street because Obama did the same thing, and “when it mattered, he stood up and took on Wall Street. He pushed through, and he passed the Dodd-Frank regulation, the toughest regulations since the 1930’s. So, let’s not in anyway imply here that either President Obama or myself, would in anyway not take on any vested interest, whether it’s Wall Street, or drug companies, or insurance companies, or frankly, the gun lobby to stand up to do what’s best for the American people.”

Nevertheless, Sanders went right on implying. “Let’s not insult the intelligence of the American people. People aren’t dumb,” he said. “Why in God’s name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess just for the fun of it; they want to throw money around.”

Most-Confusing Moment for Younger Voters
Sanders attacked Clinton for mentioning in her book that she consulted with Henry Kissinger. “Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of State in the modern history of this country,” he said. “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” For those under 40, Kissinger was secretary of State under the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Enemy Sanders Is in Favor of Talking With
Once again, Sanders brought up Clinton’s fight with thenSenator Obama about whether the U.S. should talk with Iran. “I recall when Secretary Clinton ran against thenSenator Obama, she was critical of him for suggesting that maybe you want to talk to Iran, that you want to talk to our enemies,” he said. “I have no illusion. Of course you are right. Iran is sponsoring terrorism in many parts of the world, destabilizing areas. Everybody knows that. But our goal is, in fact, to try over a period of time to, in fact, deal with our enemies, not just ignore that reality.”

Clinton pointed out that the fight was about whether to meet an adversary without conditions, which the Obama administration did not do.

Inevitable Battle Over Who Loves Obama More
Nobody really answered the final question of the night, on which great leaders would influence the candidates’ foreign-policy decisions. Sanders pivoted to FDR’s domestic policies and said he thinks Winston Churchill was a pretty great guy, too. Clinton took the opportunity to unload on Sanders for criticizing President Obama. “In the past he has called him weak. He has called him a disappointment,” she said, adding, “the kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans.”

Madam Secretary, that is a low blow,” Sanders responded. He argued that he generally supports Obama and, “Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job.” Sanders concluded, “Well, one of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

What You Missed in the 6th Democratic Debate