Skewed News — Yesterday I tweeted that last night’s Democratic debate — inexplicably held on a Saturday when few Americans could be expected to watch it — would be a “do or die” moment for Bernie Sanders.
But he couldn’t have done it without a major assist by former Maryland Martin O’Malley, aka That Other Guy.
Bernie, who has seen his lead in early Iowa and New Hampshire primary polling slip away to Hillary’s advantage, launched broadsides against Hillary’s 2003 vote to invade Iraq (which was probably the biggest reason she lost to Obama in 2008) and her cozy ties to the big Wall Street banks that have poured millions of dollars into her campaign and the foundation she shares with her husband and daughter. That set the tone for most of the night, with Hillary on the defensive as Bernie kept coming, with O’Malley working as his reliable sidekick.
The big takeaways:
Hillary projected presidentialism. Clinton’s campaign is about surviving the surprisingly strong primary challenge from Sanders, then projecting competence and professionalism against whomever the Republicans nominate for the general election in November 2016. Toward that end she strives to project presidential bearing and a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience. Once again last night, she largely succeeded, repeatedly invoking foreign affairs arcana (“I think that is very unfair to…Jordan, which has put a lot on the line to the United States. It’s also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and has been therefore subjected to threats and attacks by extremists themselves.”) and reminding us that she knows all the major power players. This strategy plays to her inherent strengths, but it could prove insufficient if the economy worsens and Sanders’ populism regains its momentum of a few months ago.
Sanders came off as a bit of a Johnny One Note. The socialist senator from Vermont came to the ball on the strength of his message for a “political revolution” against the billionaire class that has sucked up most of the gains from the post-2008 recovery, his call to break up the big six “too big to fail” Wall Street banks, and restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which blocked retail banks from selling securities. But that populist message, powerful as it is, is beginning to sound short of specifics. Asked what the top marginal tax rate would be in a Sanders Administration, Bernie said “We haven’t come up with an exact number yet. But it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower which was 90%.” Funny line, but Inauguration Day is just over a year away. Don’t we need those numbers now? And on other domestic issues, there didn’t seem to be a fleshed-out Bern agenda. Most concerning, given the news from Paris this week, was the candidate’s vagueness on foreign policy. “This world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy [ISIS],” he said. How? With more war or something else? He didn’t say.
Martin O’Malley kicked ass. After a slow start, O’Malley came out of the gate with an impressive command of the issues coupled with the passion voters look for in…their next vice president? There may never have been, at least not in recent memory, a more obvious choice for veep. This was the night when O’Malley stepped onto the national stage for real — and that we began to forget (if we ever remembered) the former Baltimore mayor’s dismal role in the militarization of that city’s police force — remember Freddie Gray?
Hillary’s Biggest Weakness Is Still Her Warmongerism. “I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq — something that I strongly opposed — has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” Sanders said about Clinton. In other words, the massacre in Paris — that’s partially on you, Madam Secretary. “Libya is a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess,” O’Malley added. Those Bush- and Obama-era “regime change” operations — wars that toppled oppressive governments without having new ones to replace them with — all received Hillary’s imprimatur. “I have said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake,” Clinton said, truthily. Truth really is, she has painted herself into a corner with the antiwar progressive base of the Democratic Party. If she keeps on keeping on with her all war, all the time approach to the world, she quadruples down. If she reverses course and issues a genuine apology (I made a mistake), she looks weak.
Hillary’s Weird 9/11 Moment Could Haunt Her. If I were working for the Sanders campaign, I’d be spending this morning drafting the text of a commercial mocking her attempt to deflect her corrupt relationship with Wall Street by invoking, Bush-style, the 9/11 attacks. “I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked,” Clinton said. “Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy, and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.” After a Twitter user called her out for deflecting a campaign finance question by using the terrorist attacks, she backtracked: “Well, I’m sorry that whoever tweeted that had that impression because I worked closely with New Yorkers after 9/11 for my entire first term to rebuild.” That’s actually true. What’s also true, however, is that anyone who doesn’t want Goldman Sachs to own the next White House (too) probably shouldn’t vote for Clinton.
Hillary Clinton Is a Rich, Cheap Person. Secretary Clinton is worth between $11 and $53 million. Yet she’s pushing back against Bernie Sanders’ call for a raise in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — something that a number of cities, notably Seattle and Los Angeles, have already adopted with a minimum of fuss. As far as The Hill is concerned, working peasants should content themselves with a mere $12 an hour. (For the record, if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation and productivity increases since its peak during the 1960s, it would now be at least $22 an hour. Failure to increase the minimum wage, economists say, is a cause of rising income inequality since that decade.) Memo to Hillary: when the other two guys on the stage are offering workers $15, you don’t want to be the de facto DINO (Democrat in Name Only) rolling Republican-style. Make that double when you’re, you know, really really rich.