Now, that was a debate.
Courtesy of a Democratic Party that’s shifted left thanks to its base, for the first time in American history a national television audience was exposed to a serious discussion about capitalism vs. socialism, expanding Social Security, providing debt-free college, protecting reproductive rights, and jailing bankers. Early reporting tells us it was the most watched Democratic debate in history. What happened in Las Vegas Tuesday night surely won’t stay in Las Vegas.
Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley all had good nights, with debate performances strong enough to let each candidate’s supporters legitimately spin the night as a “win,” as they did. Progressives had a good night, too. The differences between Clinton and Sanders were made clearer, but not bitter. In fact, Sanders delivered the best line of the night, probably in service of Clinton. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails.”
But that’s Sanders: He knows the e-mail “scandal” isn’t a scandal at all, and he said so.
Sanders’s moral denunciation of the media’s fixation on Clinton’s e-mail to the neglect of real issues seemed to chase the issue from the stage, at least for the night. And that was good for Clinton. She was relaxed, but passionate; as D.D. Guttenplan writes, “she seems to have figured out how to look presidential without seeming entitled—at least on television.”
She defended her shift left on many issues as coming to terms with reality. When CNN’s Anderson Cooper confronted her with a statement she made recently about being a “moderate,” Clinton retorted: “I’m a progressive, but a progressive who likes to gets things done.” That sums up Clinton’s pitch.
Sanders’s best moment, on his own behalf, was, typically, less about him. “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress,” he declared to cheers, as he politely ripped Clinton for failing to support the restoration of Glass-Steagall banking regulations.
According to social-media mentions and search data, Sanders generated the most broad curiosity, if not appeal. But in some ways Clinton was playing to an audience of one–Vice President Joe Biden–and she did very well.