Appropriately, for the week which will also contain the Super Bowl, the first state to weigh in on the presidential election was decided (for Democrats) by a coin-toss. Or, to be accurate, seven of them. With tied caucuses in seven precincts, tossing a coin determined the winner between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Clinton won six coin-tosses, Sanders only one. Because of this, Clinton claimed a razor-edge victory in the whole state. To put it plainly, she got lucky. If the coin tosses had been a little less lopsided, Bernie would have had the opportunity to claim victory. Such is life, and such is the political process in Iowa.
Iowa officially kicked off (to continue our football metaphor) the 2016 primary season this week. New Hampshire is next in line, followed by Nevada and South Carolina (for Democrats), or South Carolina and Nevada (for Republicans). Then at the beginning of next month we move from retail politics to the wholesale frenzy of Super Tuesday. Game on, folks!
Of course, when the finals approach, some teams are left by the wayside. A record four candidates bowed out of the race this week, three Republicans (Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum) and Democrat Martin O'Malley. This whittles the total down to eleven candidates (enough for a scrimmage football team!), with two Democrats and nine Republicans left on the field -- all arguing about who is gets to be quarterback. Carly Fiorina just got demoted from the upcoming Republican debate, and so far New Hampshire looks pretty wide-open for the GOP. So grab chips and dip, then sit back and watch the show.
Democrats are down to a head-to-head contest, which was on full display last night in a debate that Debbie Wasserman Schultz never wanted to see happen (for some strange reason). Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made their respective cases fairly well, and the jostling between them for position was notable.
As always, there were several missed opportunities, both for the candidates and for the moderators. Not that Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow didn't do a good job, but we were left with several questions we wish had been asked. By candidate, here's what we would have asked.
For Hillary Clinton: You say you're for expanding Obamacare to cover 100 percent of the public, so how will you achieve this? How, specifically, can Obamacare be improved to become truly universal? You've said before, and I quote, "I am not going to wait and have us plunge back into a contentious national debate that has very little chance of succeeding," but how do you square this defeatism with your campaign slogan of "fighting every day" for average Americans? Are you only going to "fight every day" for things the Republicans in Congress agree to do? And finally, can you understand why some Democrats think you are too conservative when you repeatedly cite Henry Kissinger in a positive way? Most Democrats remember Henry Kissinger's time in office a little less fondly than you appear to.
For Bernie Sanders: You explained that you had to compromise on the veterans' reform bill you got through Congress. So why isn't it just as understandable when other Democrats -- Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- have to compromise on Progressive goals in order to get legislation actually passed? You say you'll have a litmus test for Supreme Court justice appointees on overturning Citizens United, but there is another way to do so. Would you support a constitutional amendment to not only overturn Citizens United but also to clearly state that corporations should not be treated as "people" in the political arena?
For both candidates: Should you fail in gaining the nomination, will you aggressively campaign for your opponent and do everything you can to convince your supporters to vote for him or her? The two of you quibble over some pretty arcane details on reforming Wall Street, but you both seem to agree that reform is necessary. So if your opponent's reform plan -- exactly as described -- came to you as a bill if you were president, would you sign it into law or veto it? Why?
Both candidates last night missed a few opportunities to paint a clear difference with the other. Bernie Sanders, in particular, missed a golden chance to hit Clinton when Rachel Maddow asked him a question which started off with the example of Barry Goldwater. Sanders, before he launched into the rest of his answer, could easily have prefaced it (he had already joked about being asked about something that happened in 1964) with something along the lines of: "I remember that Goldwater election -- I didn't vote for him and didn't campaign for him." He wouldn't have even had to use the term "Goldwater Girl," as the media would have happily dug it out for him. He had another chance to take the same shot when Clinton talked about being energized about politics when she was the age of "a lot of Sanders supporters." Sanders could also have called Clinton on the carpet about that Kissinger praise, as well. Clinton missed the chance to make what we think would be a truly excellent argument for her -- that she will be much better in a debate against a Republican. Clinton could have said something like: "Think this debate is tough? Who do you really want on stage debating Republicans, me or Bernie?" Democrats definitely have their eyes on the final prize, and Hillary should be making the case that she'll run a better general campaign than Bernie could manage.
Carping aside, we thought both Clinton and Sanders had a good night. The questioners were very savvy on Democratic issues and they allowed several free exchanges between the candidates to continue (always easier when there are only two candidates). We're never big fans of picking winners and losers of presidential debates, and last night was no different. Did Clinton or Sanders "win" the debate? Well, we'd have to call it a coin-toss, at best.
Not much else was in the news in the political world. Unemployment hit a new post-recession low of 4.9 percent. Even better, wages may be starting to rise as we approach what economists call "full employment." Too early to tell, but the signs are encouraging.
Out west, the world's first legal drive-through marijuana store will open soon: "A recreational marijuana drive-thru window is set to open in Gold Beach, Oregon on April 20, 2016. The window will be the first of its kind in the nation and will be located near the border of California." Location, location, location! Heh. Gotta love that grand opening date, too.
What else? Best headline of the week, from New Zealand: "Flying Pink Dildo Hits Politician In The Face During Presser" (said dildo was heaved with a cry of "that's for raping our sovereignty," in protest over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal). Truly, a headline for the ages.
Finally, Saturday Night Live is being hosted this week by Larry David, and it has already been noted that Bernie Sanders plans to travel to New York City on the same night. It's only a rumor so far, but it wouldn't surprise us in the least if Sanders shows up for a cameo with the comedian who has done the most brilliant impersonation of him to date. So there's that to look forward to.
Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders deserve at least Honorable Mentions this week, both for tying each other in Iowa and for very impressive debate performances.
But instead, we're going to hand the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to whomever came up with the most pointed question of the night. The questioner wasn't named, all Chuck Todd said about him or her was that the question "comes to us through New England Cable News."
The question was to Hillary Clinton, about whether she would release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs. This issue has cropped up in online discussions among Democrats, after someone recently pointed out that her speaking contract specifies that the only transcripts or recordings of her speeches will be made by her own employee -- meaning that transcripts to all of her speeches should be both available to Clinton and fully within her control. Here is Chuck Todd, reading the exact question (he paraphrases the middle of it):
"I am concerned with the abuses of Wall Street has taken with the American taxpayers money," and then she asks whether you would release the transcripts of your Goldman Sachs speeches, and then added, "Don't you think the voting public has a right to know what was said?"
We were impressed by the question's specificity, and by the fact that it was a better question than most asked last night. It was directed at Clinton, but we would have been just as impressed if similar questions from average voters had been asked of Sanders, as well. We firmly believe that involved voters at times can have much more specific questions than are ever asked by journalists or debate moderators. We also hope that the professional journalists will follow up on this question, especially after Clinton all but blew it off in her answer. She started off with: "I will look into it. I don't know the status, but I will certainly look into it." Three sentences later she said: "My view on this is look at my record." Again, we're hoping some enterprising journalist out there realizes that these speeches are indeed part of her record, and that the public can't "look at" these speeches until she releases those transcripts.
Again, there are plenty of unanswered questions for Bernie which could have been asked as well -- sadly, this example was the only question asked from an average citizen during the whole debate. For breaking through the gatekeepers of journalism and for asking a substantive and specific question that could reveal more of the Clinton record, we have to anonymously award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to whomever sent in that question. Political journalism ain't rocket science -- even average citizens can move the debate forward, at times.
[If anyone knows who the author of this question was, let us know in the comments so we can attach the correct name to the award.]
We're happy to say that no Democrat disappointed us enough to merit an award this week. If we've failed to notice some egregiously disappointing behavior, please let us know in the comments and maybe we'll agree and retroactively award the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week in hindsight.
Volume 377 (2/5/16)
We are turning over the talking points this week to the two Democratic candidates for president. All of these were uttered during last night's debate, taken from the Washington Post transcript. Things like "(APPLAUSE)" were edited out, but that's the only editing that was done. In what we believe is a first for us, we're going to limit the talking points to six, so that both candidates get equal coverage. Also, these are presented in the order they appeared during the debate. These quotes are what we though were both candidates' best moments of the night.
Hillary's main case
Because she had been directly challenged over the issue of her progressivism, Hillary Clinton repeated what will doubtlessly be a go-to campaign slogan for her from now on. The first time she used it, she laid out exactly what she thought it meant.
I am a Progressive who gets things done. And the root of that word, progressive, is progress. But I've heard Senator Sanders comments, and it's really caused me to wonder who's left in the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Under his definition, President Obama is not Progressive because he took donations from Wall Street; Vice President Biden is not Progressive because he supported Keystone; Senator Shaheen is not Progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late, great Senator Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA.
Bernie's main case
A little further on, Bernie Sanders made his main case, in response to whether Hillary Clinton was part of the "establishment" or not (Clinton tried to laugh this off by playing the gender card, without notable success).
I will absolutely admit that Secretary Clinton has the support of far more governors, mayors, members of the House. She has the entire establishment or almost the entire establishment behind her. That's a fact. I don't deny it. But I am pretty proud that we have over a million people who have contributed to our campaign averaging 27 bucks apiece. That we have had meetings where 25,000-30,000 people have come out. That our campaign is a campaign of the people, by the people, and for the people. So, Rachel, yes, Secretary Clinton does represent the establishment. I represent, I hope, ordinary Americans.
Hillary: Say it to my face, Bernie!
Clinton had her best moment of the night (in our opinion) when she directly took on Bernie's innuendo over her ties to Wall Street. Sanders didn't take her up on her challenge, and responded in general terms about Wall Street corruption. But taking this shot across Bernie's bow was smart politics for Clinton.
I think it's fair to really ask what's behind that comment. You know, Senator Sanders has said he wants to run a positive campaign. I've tried to keep my disagreements over issues, as it should be. But time and time again, by innuendo, by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to -- you know, anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought. And I just absolutely reject that, Senator. And I really don't think these kinds of attacks by insinuation are worthy of you. And enough is enough. If you've got something to say, say it directly. But you will not find that I ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation that I ever received.
Sanders: Wall Street plays by different rules
Bernie had plenty of quotable moments when talking about how Wall Street operates by different rules than the rest of us. At one point, he directly stated "the business model of Wall Street is fraud." So there were a lot of quotes to choose from. Below is our favorite from the night.
Goldman Sachs was one of those companies whose illegal activity helped destroy our economy and ruin the lives of millions of Americans. But this is what a rigged economy and a corrupt campaign finance system and a broken criminal justice is about. These guys are so powerful that not one of the executives on Wall Street has been charged with anything after paying, in this case of Goldman Sachs, a $5 billion fine. Kid gets caught with marijuana, that kid has a police record. A Wall Street executive destroys the economy, $5 billion settlement with the government, no criminal record. That is what power is about. That is what corruption is about. And that is what has to change in the United States of America.
Sanders: I never said that!
Sanders has had plenty of opportunities to take on what Clinton has been saying about him out on the campaign trail. He's been pushing back on the strawman notion (which Clinton has been using for weeks) that he would somehow join with Republicans to dismantle Obamacare before even having the debate on single-payer. But last night, Bernie pushed back on another falsehood: that he would normalize relations with Iran immediately.
Who said that [I] think we should normalize relations with Iran tomorrow? I never said that. I think we should move forward as quickly as we can. And you're right. They are a sponsor of terrorism around the world and we have to address that. But you know, a number of years ago, people were saying normal relationship with Cuba, what a bad and silly idea. They're Communists, they are our enemy. Well guess what? Change has come. So please don't suggest that I think we normalize relations with Tehran tomorrow. We don't. But I would like to see us move forward, and hopefully some day that will happen. And I would say if I might, Madam Secretary -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong. When you ran against Senator Obama you thought him naive because he thought it was a good idea to talk to our enemies. I think those are exactly the people you have to talk to and you have to negotiate with.
Clinton: My agenda is bold
Clinton, in one of the final questions of the night, totally ignored the moderator's premise, which was to name the number one priority she'd have in office. Instead, Clinton turned the question on its head and trotted out her whole agenda. She was forceful, she sounded strong, and it wound up being one of her best moments of the night.
I'm for a lot of things. I don't want to just stop bad things from happening, I want to start good things happening. And I believe, if I'm so fortunate to get the nomination, I will begin to work immediately on putting together an agenda, beginning to talk with members of Congress and others about how we can push forward. I want to have half a billion more solar panels deployed, the first four years. I want to have enough clean energy to power every home the next four years. I want us to keep working on the Affordable Care Act, to get not only to 100 percent coverage, but bring down the costs of prescription drugs and out-of-pocket costs. I want to move forward on paid family leave, on early childhood education, I want us to do more for small businesses. Small businesses have to create most of the jobs, and we're not creating and growing small businesses. I think, if you have a smart agenda, you pick the committees that you know have to begin to work on these various pieces -- because that's the way Congress is set up. You go through different committees, and you really make a big push in the beginning. Immigration reform, economic revitalization with manufacturing, with infrastructure -- we put it out there, and we begin to work on an ambitious, big, bold agenda that will actually produce the results that I want to see for our country.
-- Chris Weigant