The Debate Lesson: America Now Has an Openly Socialist Party

by Jim Geraghty

Sure, this batch of candidates sounded like a bunch of loons. They contended socialism is mostly about standing up to the richest one percent and promoting entrepreneurs and small business; climate change is the biggest national security threat facing the nation; college educations should be free for everyone; all lives don’t matter, black lives do; Obama is simultaneously an enormously successful president in managing the economy and the middle class is collapsing and there’s a need for a “New New Deal” which is in fact an Old Old Idea, considering how FDR called for a Second New Deal in 1935. The audience in Nevada applauded higher taxes, believes that Hillary Clinton doesn’t need to answer any more questions, supports the complete shutdown of the NSA domestic surveillance program, and that Obamacare benefits should be extended to illegal immigrants. There are kindergarten classes with more realistic assessments of cost-benefit tradeoffs than the crowd watching this debate at the Wynn Las Vegas.

So yes, the candidates sounded like hard-Left, pie-in-the-sky, free-ice-cream-for-everyone, Socialist pander bears. But they do so because that is what the Democratic Party’s primary voters demand. Don’t blame them; blame the party rank-and-file that craves these promises, rhetoric, and worldview.

With that in mind, Hillary Clinton is the class of the field on that stage, and the only real obstacle to the nomination that remains is a Joe Biden bid. Compared with everyone else, she’s polished and knows what she’s doing. Even when she’s being robotic and inauthentic, she’s remembering her talking points, pivoting to her preferred issues. The software upgrades to her personality may look awkward when she’s alone, but she’s still a much, much better candidate than anybody else on that stage.

Sure, she was duplicitous, but she’s a Clinton; that’s baked in the cake — for example Hillary said during the debate she had hoped that the Trans Pacific Partnership would be the gold standard; in her book, she said it was the gold standard.

In one of the few surprises of the night, Bernie Sanders did his best to try to save her on her troubles with her personal e-mail server. He’s an old fool if he thinks Hillary will return the favor when he needs it. Martin O’Malley, who sounded tough in cable-news interviews, wimped out in the end once he saw the audience’s roaring applause to Sanders’s declaration that the issue was settled and nobody needed to hear any more about “her damn e-mails.”

Sanders may rock the arenas when they’re filled with progressive grassroots activists, but his style doesn’t transfer well to a broader audience. He’s the party guest whom you instinctively don’t want to talk to, who begins shouting immediately, who grabs your lapel and spits a bit as he jabs his finger into your chest for emphasis. He’s Senator Larry David. You want to get away from his perpetually irritated (and irritating) ranting, but he just won’t stop talking, and he won’t let you gently back away or escape the conversation. Every two-minute answer felt like ten minutes of shouting — and he had the audacity to give Hillary grief about shouting.

Beyond his giant wimp-out on Hillary’s e-mails, O’Malley was more pleasant to listen to but is ultimately going to be a non-factor in this race. When Sanders finished his call for a revolution, O’Malley turned to the camera and said with a big smile, “What we need is a green-energy revolution!” And for a moment, he waited for applause that didn’t come. The Democratic audience wasn’t in a mood for innovation. They are in a mood for populist revenge against people who have more than they do. Sanders shouts, O’Malley whispers.

Jim Webb pointed out how affirmative action disadvantages poor whites, the need to respect the rights of gun owners, the seriousness of foreign-policy threats that Democrats rarely acknowledge — like cyber threats, hacking (ahem), and China. He was the lone voice of reality saying,“With all due respect to Senator Sanders, I don’t think the revolution is going to come, and I don’t think the Congress is going to pay for all this.”

Webb has a good chance of winning the Democratic nomination in 1948. You almost have to wonder how Webb would be doing in the GOP presidential primary, but at a key moment, Webb flinched, saying he wouldn’t have a problem with extending Obamacare benefits to illegal immigrants. But give him style points for his declaration that his biggest enemy was the man who tried to kill him with a grenade . . . a man who’s not around any more.

It seemed as if Webb complained he wasn’t getting enough time or enough questions every single time he was called on by Anderson Cooper.

Lincoln Chafee was there, and he thought Cooper was hard on him when he asked about one of the first votes he took in he Senate. 

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