By Robert A. Vella
To my utter displeasure, I watched the first Democratic Party presidential debate for 2016 last night moderated by what used to be a legitimate news organization. I can best describe the over two hour experience as going to the city zoo with a self-appointed expert who happens to hate animals. Although there was little if anything substantive to be learned about the five candidates’ policy positions, CNN moderators ensured that the candidates’ individual idiosyncrasies – as well as their own – were fully exposed to viewers. It was a terribly sad affair, missing both real political statesmen and real professional journalists.
Since the debate was so dismal and disappointing, you’ll forgive me for injecting sarcasm into this review.
Hillary Clinton seemed unusually pleased with herself as if she was a happy-go-lucky debutante attending an aristocratic party in her honor. Suspicion might lead me to think she had taken mood enhancers of some sort.
Bernie Sanders appeared to lack focus and energy. At one point, he referred to himself as “old” to which I must reluctantly agree.
Martin O’Malley shamelessly kept touting his accomplishments as Governor of Maryland like a prolific seller might advertise himself on eBay. It looked shallow.
Lincoln Chafee, the ex-“liberal Republican,” promoted himself as an anti-war peacemaker. Just about everything else he said obviously fell on deaf ears.
Jim Webb, the conserva-Dem cold warrior, gave the impression that this debate was the very last place he wanted to be. Not only did he not connect with the audience, his flashback recollections of his military service in Vietnam as well as his statements on America’s foreign policy left the audience speechless on several occasions and even drew audible sighs a couple of times.
Anderson “Pooper-Scooper” Cooper was just that, a skilled media personality and onetime journalist who was shoveling CNN’s transparent narrative-shaping excrement like a corporate automaton in a pork factory. He added absolutely none of his own thoughts and experience to this farcical debate. After Cooper reiterated his (or, was it CNN’s?) meme asserting that “people want to know” about Benghazi, Sanders backhanded him with a remark ostensibly directed to Hillary. “Americans are sick of hearing about your damn emails,” he said.
Dana Bash was so stern and robotic in her interactions with the candidates that her persona seemed better suited for a low-ranking guard in a Nazi concentration camp. Justifiably, Clinton indirectly stung her with a clever “Republican sympathizer” barb in one entertaining exchange regarding paid family leave.
A third moderator, visually presented well by CNN as a clean-cut Hispanic, seemed more at home as a neophyte lackey in some sleazy corporate law firm. His name is irrelevant.
Okay, enough with my pathetic attempts at humor. Here’s a little more straightforward critique of the debate.
CNN posited questions on roughly 18 general topics of discussion (in the order in which they were offered):
- Specific elicitations for each candidate to address their greatest perceived electoral weakness (dishonesty for Clinton, socialism for Sanders, not being a real Democrat for Chafee, etc.)
- Gun Control
- Foreign policy (Russia, China, Middle East turmoil, war, etc.)
- Benghazi (i.e. Clinton’s email scandal)
- Race relations (e.g. the Black Lives Matter movement)
- Income inequality
- Student debt
- Social security
- Immigration reform
- Veterans affairs
- Government surveillance (Patriot Act, the NSA, Edward Snowden, etc.)
- How would your presidency not be an Obama third term?
- Establishment politics versus economic populism
- Climate change
- Paid family leave
- Legalization of Marijuana
- Republican intransigence
- Which enemy of yours are you most proud of?
I highlighted four questions in red which were exceedingly salacious and superfluous. While the remaining fourteen topics were substantively legitimate, each were couched in a contextual manner which cast aspersions on liberal and progressive politics or were conducted like a jump ball in basketball where the official does nothing other than throwing the ball up in the air to initiate play.
Clinton had her best moments when discussing women’s issues and race relations. She was astonishingly smug on matters concerning economic inequality, and her self-labeling as a “progressive” came across as condescendingly insincere. As previously noted, Sanders’ performance was generally flat although he did have a few highlights such as describing climate change as the greatest national security threat facing the nation in addition to his railings against the corrupting influence of money in politics. O’Malley did well when criticizing Wall Street, but he otherwise reflected the tarnished image of a typical politician. Chafee was there, period; and, Webb shouldn’t have been there at all.
Except for a casual reference by Sanders, the highly controversial and contentious free trade deals being pushed by President Obama and establishment Republicans (e.g. the TPP and TTIP) were completely ignored.
Thanks CNN, now go f**k yourself.