Presidential Debate

Democratic Debate: Candidates So Different You Can Barely Tell Them Apart

All three candidates are determined to increase the government's power over labor, wages, the economy, and health care, among other things.


Foter / Gage Skidmore

It seems fairly clear that the Democratic presidential primary debate schedule was deliberately designed to ensure that as few people as possible tuned in: After the first debate, the next two events were set on Saturdays—including one the Saturday before Christmas—and the one after that set for the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday.

And in a way, it makes sense: Why would Democrats want more viewers? Even though Sen. Bernie Sanders is performing notably better than many expected, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic party nomination. Because she is already so well known and well established with the general public, debates have little upside and large potential downside: She's unlikely to say anything to help her chances all that much, and, given the base-pleasing incentives of the primaries, more likely to say something that would come back to hurt her in a general election. The Democratic party scheduled presidential debates so that they could say they had debates—not to actually have a contest.

And so it was hardly surprising that tonight's showdown between Clinton, Sanders, and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley largely played out like the last two minutes of a football game in which one team is ahead by three touchdowns.

In almost every exchange, Clinton played it as safe as possible, while Sanders and O'Malley pushed harder, hoping for big scores. Sanders was more successful, and there were a few moments in which it felt like he briefly knocked Hillary off her balance.

The opening segment on national security, forefronted after last night's terrorist attacks in Paris (to the loud objection of the Sanders campaign), suggested the difficulties the debates present for Clinton: She's more hawkish than the Democratic base, and so struggled to avoid saying much at all. At one point, she weirdly seemed to suggest that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001 would cover any possible step an administration might want to take against ISIS, while also indicating that she believed it should be updated and passed again to cover additional actions. Clinton's difficulty on the subject tonight may be a preview of things to come

Overall, however, Clinton's commanding lead, and the rigorous safety of her answers made it feel less like a debate and more like an interview with Clinton in which Sanders and O'Malley were also present.

And yet, thanks in part to the big swings taken by O'Malley and (especially) Sanders, as well as strong questioning and pointed follow ups from moderator John Dickerson, some differences between the candidates emerged—especially on domestic policy issues like health care, Wall Street, and the minimum wage.

Sanders defended his call for a $15 and hour federal minimum wage in response to a question noting that former Obama administration economic adviser Alan Krueger, whose research on the minimum wage has been a key influence on calls to raise it, warned of the potential for "severe" consequences with a $15 federal wage floor. Clinton responded with calibrated support for a hike to $12 an hour, in what will probably be described as a compromise. 

Sanders hit Clinton for being the candidate of Wall Street, and the two went back and forth over whether Clinton was sufficiently tough on the financial industry, though both agreed that Glass Steagall should be reinstated. Neither, notably, offered even a cursory explanation of what Glass Steagall does, how it might have stopped the last financial crisis, or how it might improve economic stability in the future.

And while Clinton attempted to straddle the line on Obamacare by saying that the law should be defended from Republican critics, but also saying that it should be strengthened to help control costs and reduce health premiums (didn't President Obama promise it would already be doing that), Sanders insisted that the only true path was to go the single-payer route—Medicare for all—in which the government is the universal insurer for everyone. He didn't mention that a long-gestating single payer plan in his home state of Vermont had recently been called off because the tax hikes would have been unbearably high

O'Malley was also present at the debate, and he said several things as well.

The debate helpfully illuminated the distinctions between Clinton and Sanders, the most prominent avatars of the Democratic party's center and its leftward, respectively. And yet it also illuminated the broader ways in which they are all rather similar, determined to increase the government's power over labor, wages, the economy, and health care, among other things. The only real debate was over how much. 

NEXT: Bernie Sanders Campaign Refuses to Focus on Foreign Policy at Tonight's CBS Debate

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  1. Can somebody check the Cal score for me? I don’t have the internet right now…

      1. Stanford fan, eh? I can see why you’re so irritable.

    1. Cal is up 24-10 at the half.

    2. Fool me once…

      BTW, you’re a dick!

      1. It took you 2 years to figure that out. What does that make you? I’ll give you extra time to figure out the answer…

  2. “The only real debate was over how much.”

    I’m sure the hag was considered ‘reasonable’.

  3. O’Malley was also present at the debate, and he said several things as well.

    Ooooh, feel the Bern!

    1. Yeah, that made me chortle. Is there anything worse for a politician than being irrelevant? (Even ridicule is better – at least it means someone is paying attention to you.)

  4. To be halfway serious, if we can’t have no government, I really wish we had a true federal system, with the national government limited to, say, national defense and defense of the Constitution, leave roads to local governments, and leave all the real money grubbing to new social governments people would choose for taxes and benefits independent of geographical jurisdiction. I’d choose the one with zero taxes and zero benefits, and Hillary, Bernie, and what’s-his-name could forge ahead with their tax and spend regimes, competing with each other, and everyone else could see the real world results.

    I’d still be pissed about trumped up (!) military spending, and no doubt local governments would make the usual hash of roads, but at least they’d be limited, and the social governments would be fantastic laboratories which might finally shut up the vast majority of social scientists.

    1. The free market system would prevail, and then the statists would accuse it of undermining their system, and try to take it down.

      You know, kind of like how it is now.

    2. Yeah, but we’d probably see a lot more predatory local governments.

      1. So move. The beauty of competition.

        1. Can you check the score for me? I need an update and my internet just went down again.

          1. Jeeze if my Internet went down I’d be sitting in this chair and enjoying it all day and all night. At my age the refractory period is about 24 hours.

    3. “national defense and defense of the Constitution”.

      The socialization of defense is a disaster. Why would you pay for something that is rife with inefficiency, waste, and fraud? If you wouldn’t find a business that operates in such a manner, why should you want to force it on others?

      Next, defense of the constitution???? Lol.

      “leave roads to local governments”

      Why???? They already control their road budgets and are subsidized with further stolen money by the fed gov. There’s a reason there is a crumbling infrastructure. It’s because gov’t already has a monopoly on roads. Any economizing is impossible, and there is no incentive to do so. Road bureaucracies don’t utilize crumb rubber and the latest technology available to make roads last long. It’s not in the interest of the state to do so.

      Anything they touch turns to crap. It is evident in every area of an economy. So why should they control any of it? Because people are uncomfortable thinking of free individuals doing these things? So folks should have to sacrifice their liberty for your comfort. Got it.

      1. Ya mus be a mite touchy after staying up all night, and not thinkin rightly.

        As such, you didn’t see the very first few words:

        if we can’t have no government

        and as such, the remaining rambling addresses the two primary problems which twist every statist’s panties — national defense and roads.

        Me, I can’t think of anything for a government to do except come up with common definitions and policies, such as “threat”, which I would define as “imminently unavoidable”, as in, “if you don’t act now, you won’t be able to avoid or prevent the coming harm”, which would be as susceptible to ordinary lawsuits as anything else. Policies would be common things like how to register verdicts. Such a government would of course require no budget, no income, no expenditures. It would have legislators, but they would be elected by contract, which would also of course be as susceptible to lawsuits as any other contract, and all the legislators would do is come up with common definitions and policies. Any pay they receive for such purely part-time jobs would be in the form of begging, but there’d be so many power-hungry clowns eager to debate “threat” that pay would be unnecessary, and corruption immaterial; lawsuits would take care of election contract violations and shoddy definitions and policies.

        So put it back in your pocket, bub.

        1. Ok, ok. It’s in my pocket. But it’s mine and I’ll rub it if I want to!

      2. “The socialization of defense is a disaster.”

        This is psychobabble. You can’t have a free market capitalist system without the peace that only government creates.

        1. Yeah, all that peace we have right now, and it’s only costing upwards of $600 billion per year.

          You’re kidding, right?

        2. Gov’t creates peace? You’re really delusional. For a person who never even served, has never seen the gross inneficiency, contracting and procurement abuse, you sure spew a lot of bullshit from your broken down armchair. All while ignoring the reality of a violent coercive monopoly, with after 70+ interventions into other countries since WW2, has done nothing to create peace, or secure liberty.

          This has come at the cost of the lives of my brothers and sisters who lost life, limbs for what many thought was protecting freedom, but only benefited the military industrial complex, the politicians, and the banks, who robbed folks through currency debauchery.

          Everywhere one looks, the private production of security and defense has outperformed the state in efficiency and effectiveness. With less violence to boot.

          1. Guys, check out Libya or Somalia. No government there = libertopia!!


            Conclusion: The government preforms best at security and defense functions, and worst at innovation. While I’d agree that we need the private sector to get our government back in order again, anarchy is not a viable option. Would you rather live under a state that unilaterally protects property rights, or one which the idea is to what warband can compete to oppress you the most?

            1. Typical response to anarchism, that the only real option is Might Makes Right, and thus, we’re better off having government oppress us than whoever the most powerful warlord might be.
              It overlooks the question of legitimacy, which warlords almost never have. And it is essentially saying that man is doomed to violent conflict no matter what we do. In other words, the statist position is to give up on humanity, and try to select what is deemed to be the lesser evil. So it really boils down to what one believes about human nature.

  5. Frankie the Griz killed ewoo and I had a ball. The D’s had a debate up against college football saturday. We might have to rethink which party is the stupid one.

    Though they probably don’t want people to know what they are all about. Pretty funny.

    1. One thing I’d bet they didn’t want people to see was how not one of the three could bring him or herself to call ISIS, or the terrorists who attacked Paris, radical Islamists or a problem of radical Islam. Not even when directly and pointedly questioned about it by the moderator. Hillary insisted they were radical jihadis. Someone else said violent extremists or extreme jihadis – anything, but don’t connect it to Islam or Muslims. Three gutless wonders.

      1. not one of the three could bring him or herself to call ISIS, or the terrorists who attacked Paris, radical Islamists or a problem of radical Islam.

        Surprised they didn’t call them right-wing Christian extremists.

      2. If only there were some jihadis that weren’t radical or Muslims.

        Seriously progtards words have meanings.

  6. FOX News Sunday is on right now. Ben Carson is about to go on to explain how he would deal with ISIS.

    I don’t usually eat popcorn this early, but now is as good a time as any.

  7. Ugggh. This is painful. He sounds like me explaining what I would do to separate twins conjoined at the skull.

  8. Slap Daddy Dambo is not going to like that at all.

    1. My new handle.

  9. “O’Malley was also present at the debate, and he said several things as well.”


    The MSM does this to Libertarians on a daily basis, especially in election season (the standard disclaimer at the end of nearly election article is that a third-party candidate is also in the race (“Also running is Libertarian Bubbles McFenster”).

    Since we’re the constant victims of this sort of reporting, it’s a shame for a publication which represents a minority viewpoint to do the same thing.

  10. Neither, notably, offered even a cursory explanation of what Glass Steagall does, how it might have stopped the last financial crisis, or how it might improve economic stability in the future.

    Why should they? Ten years after its repeal there was a financial crisis. Obviously that was the cause. I mean, what other explanation is there? La la la I can’t hear you la la la la laaaaa Glass Steagall! BOOOOOSH!

    1. Also just ignore the fact that Canada never had a full equivalent to Glass Steagal and the closest it had was eliminated in the 1980s (or so I heard) and no financial crisis here.

      1. I could almost imagine some progressive claiming that it was socialized medical care that kept Canada from having a financial crisis. I mean, how couldn’t it? Prove it didn’t. See? The progressives must be right.

  11. The difference is that Bernie speaks his evil ideas from his evil heart. Hillary has no such heart. She will go where the wind blows (ex criminal justice reform). The key is that we must be the ones who blow.

    1. ‘Hillary!’ most certainly does have an evil heart. She’s just so power-hungry that she’s learned to attempt to hide it (like an elephant under a throw-rug, a lot of it shows at the edges, but you can’t see its eyes).

      Didn’t she work with Alinsky after college? (or was she just offered and turned it down to join the Marines after she got rich trading cattle futures)

  12. Wow, the next Blue debate really IS on the Saturday before Christmas? When I first heard it, I just thought it was the Reason commentariat being its typical sarcastic self.

    I guess it makes sense, though. ‘Hillary!’ is the most unpleasant Presidential candidate I can remember (and I have a child’s memory of Nixon). I can’t imagine what would possess ANYONE (even a Dem) to vote for that beastly human being for anything.

    1. I can’t imagine what would possess ANYONE (even a Dem) to vote for that beastly human being for anything.

      I can think of a few reasons:

      She’s a woman.

      She’s a Clinton.

      It’s her turn.

      She’s a woman.

      She’s a Democrat.

      She’s like really smart and stuff.

      She’s a woman.

      Conservatives hate her, so that means she’s doing something right.

      She’s a woman.

      Oh, and did I mention that she’s a woman?

      Wait a sec. Did you mean actual thought out reasons, not emotional reactions? In that case I got nothing. But then again, it seems that most people run on emotion instead of thought, so it doesn’t really matter.

      1. You forgot that she isn’t a Republican.

      2. Don’t forget Free Shit.

  13. Fact: All governments are frauds/scams.

    Fact: There are _NO_ government solutions to _any_ problem, regardless of whether its a proposed Trump “solution”, or one from one of the other current crop of scam artists. ‘Never have been, never will be any government “solutions”.

    Fact: 99 % of perceived “problems” are directly caused by government[s]- it/they can never solve _any_ of them

    The Dictator Syndrome

    Fact: One of the most freedom- damaging beliefs you can have is the belief in the necessity, and the effectiveness, of government and of your political involvement – to supposedly “improve” your own life and the lives of others .

    This “unfortunate” mental state is what is known as “Dictator Syndrome”:


    Fact: for fundamental and entirely unchangeable reasons, government solutions can never work, therefor, as an individual you will _never_ enjoy a freer life for yourself until you completely rid yourself of “dictator syndrome”, and see through/ reject the “drug”, “religion” [ or whatever else you want to call it] known as “political activism” or “political involvement”, in its entirety.

    Regards, onebornfree.
    Personal Freedom Consulting:

    1. Sounds like a conspiracy site mixed in with some psychotherapy sessions for libertarians. You better not be tripping on that Scientology shiz, hmm?

    2. Y’know, the fundamental problem with “anarchy” is that people naturally gravitate towards order. And if you have enough people gravitating, you’ll end up with someone in charge.

      You may prefer anarchy, but it’s quite simply not sustainable for large groups. And when we have millions of people we’ve well surpassed that limit.

      1. So you’ve given up on humanity, too? You can’t see the difference between top-down authoritarian order and bottom-up spontaneous order? I’m not necessarily recommending onebornfree’s site, I haven’t looked at it, but I think there’s more hope for humans than you give us credit for.

  14. Im making over $9k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,


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