By Richard E. Vatz
Saturday’s Democratic Debate had a few surprises.
John Dickerson, who reliably and regularly gives Democrats room to dodge issues and avoid tough questions, pursued his prey considerably. Follow-up questions abounded when the Democratic candidates did not give responsive answers to his queries.
One typical example, Dickerson asked, “Have we underestimated ISIS,” implying President Obama has been asleep at the foreign policy wheel.
Hillary Clinton didn’t answer the question; nobody answered the question.
Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary, and that was a predictable change, as she seems to be consolidating her lead for the presidency. The roughest, most unanticipated moment was when Clinton accused Sanders of impugning her integrity when he criticized her ties to Wall Street contributors, but that tension quickly dissipated.
Sanders alluded briefly to Benghazi, about which Hillary was not questioned during this debate, and instead criticized her vote supporting the Iraq War. She conceded that was a mistake, although she was not asked and did not volunteer as to why that was a mistake.
O’Malley criticized Hillary’s tenure as Secretary of State: “Libya is a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess,” but he seemed to be uninformed on foreign policy in specifics, as did Sanders. Asked directly by Dickerson if he were sufficiently prepared on foreign policy to be president, O’Malley avoided the question.
No surprises on domestic issues
The domestic issues covered provided no unexpected positions, as the candidates cited “Wall Street” as a devil figure and argued who would be harder on regulations as president.
Sanders called for free college tuition, and no one mentioned that such a policy requires an explanation of who would pay the gigantic sum needed to replace college tuition.
They discussed income inequality and various ways to transfer funds from the rich to the poor, without much specificity on how much could be raised or any speculation on how much the national debt would need to be raised.
Martin O’Malley reiterated his “Black Lives Matter” reversal of his earlier “All Lives Matter” in the most conspicuous pandering of the primary season. (Regardless, I personally would vote for him since his wife, Judge Katie Curran O’Malley, was my excellent former student.)
But, in the end, we saw the Democratic nightmare: the unexpected salience of the consequences of foreign-policy passivity by the Obama Administration- – major terrorism against a democratic Western state. The Democratic Debate agenda Saturday night was ordered to be changed by CBS president Steve Capus.
There was no horror expressed by any of the candidates regarding the Paris terror attacks, only a plaintive promise by Clinton to “coordinate efforts” to eliminate terrorism.
Nothing enrages the Democrats against terrorists; they can only muster outrage against Republicans. This disposition could hurt them if terrorism is active in the fall of 2016 and if the Republicans nominate someone other than Ben Carson or Donald Trump.
Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University
How did O’Malley do?
Here are clips assembled by the O’Malley campaign, mostly positive, but a fair amount of criticism.
Washington Post Headline: Winners: Martin O’Malley
“Still, taken in its totality, the debate was one of the better moments for O’Malley in this race,” writes Chris Cillizza.
“His best night of the campaign to date,” writes Mark Halperin. “Solid, confident, and often lyrical—although only occasionally hit the bulls-eye that has thus far eluded him: What is he selling that Clinton and Sanders don’t have to offer? Frequently emotional and engaging on domestic policy, especially when effectively pushing his Maryland governing record and hitting Clinton hard on gun control. Too often grim on national security, but spoke movingly about an Iowa military family. Has a long, long way to get in the game, but this performance will rally his supporters and allow him to enter the next phase of the campaign with the potential to be more than a sidebar player.
Bustle Headline: O’Malley’s Debate Performance Was His Best Yet
Boston Globe Headline: Martin O’Malley’s big line of the night? Slamming Donald Trump
Baltimore Sun Headline: O’Malley takes tougher approach in second debate
Washington Examiner Headline: O’Malley calls Trump an ‘immigrant-bashing carnival barker’
Talk Radio News Headline: O’Malley: Trump Is An ‘Immigrant-bashing Carnival-Barker’
Bloomberg Politics Headline: After ‘Carnival Barker’ Barb, Trump Calls O’Malley a ‘Clown’
Des Moines Register Headline: Clinton, O’Malley Spar over Minimum Wage
Politico Headline: O’Malley Got the Counter-Punch from Donald Trump He was Spoiling For
Business Insider Headline: Donald Trump snipes back after Martin O’Malley calls him a ‘carnival barker’ at the Democratic debate
The Hill Headline: O’Malley Slams Trump as ‘Carnival barker’ on Immigration