The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Boring, Almost Pointless Saturday Night Democratic Debate

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley are now loudly complaining that the Democratic National Committee scheduled two of the four debates before the Iowa caucuses on Saturday nights. They contend the viewership will be much lower than it would if scheduled on a weeknight, and history suggests they’re right. The last Saturday night debate had 8.5 million watching; the Republican debate earlier this week had 18 million viewers.

Sanders and O’Malley would have a stronger complaint if the Democratic debates didn’t turn out so boring and predictable. Sanders rants and rambles; when asked about heroin dealers, “We’ve got to tell the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies that they’ve got to get their act together with all these opiates.” (While many medical professionals agree that opiate painkillers were over-prescribed for many years, there’s intense debate about whether the effort to crack down is helping or is keeping painkillers out of the hands of patients who genuinely need them.) There’s no specifics there; President Sanders would yell at people to get their act together. It’s not that different from Trump’s lament that most of the problems in the United States government stem from leaders who are weak, incompetent, stupid, etcetera.

Someone must have told Martin O’Malley he needed to connect with the audience emotionally; he responded by sounding as if he was about to burst into tears.

Still, if Sanders had sharply criticized Clinton on her “damn e-mails” in the first debate, would there be more interest in their debates. But he hesitated, and she’s ridden ball-control offense, reciting safe, poll-tested, focus-group-approved responses to front-runner status.

When asked a hot-button issue, like “how do you bridge the divide between civilians and law enforcement?” Hillary responds with some typical bland pabulum. “Trust has been totally lost in a lot of places , but also we must remember in a lot of places, police officers are bridging that divide… We need to build upon the work of the policing commission that President Obama empaneled.” In short, she wants everyone to be respectful of each other, salute the good cops, and punish the bad ones.

Sanders wasn’t much better, and the audience in the auditorium seemed to practice the soft bigotry of low expectations: “We need a major effort to come together as a country to end institutional racism… Police officers should not be shooting unarmed people, predominantly African-Americans.” The audience greeted this line with applause, demonstrating their low bar for stirring rhetoric.

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