Earlier this week, the first Democratic debate was held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I watched with interest, thinking about the different angles to take when writing this column. As the debate progressed, some potential storylines emerged: 1) Focus on the beginning, subtle jabs that Mr. Chafee attempted to take at Hillary Clinton as he spoke about his potential presidency being one of high ethical standards and without scandal. 2) The overall polish and presence of Hillary Clinton in this debate, 3) Bernie’s laser like focus on highlighting inequality, 4) O’ Malley’s resurrection as a human being with life – shedding his robotic label as a speaker 5) Or to contrast the fluidity and substance of the democratic debate with the idiocy and shallowness of the Republican debates.
But as the debate approached 10:50pm and the participants began to talk about gridlock in Washington, my storyline crystallized -- I pondered a democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton with Bernie Sanders as Vice President. Yes, Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket (the most likely scenario) trying to become the first woman president in US history and Bernie Sanders, realizing he can't win the nomination -- accepting the VP nod and becoming a trusted ally that keeps the focus on domestic issues while exciting the democratic base in the hopes of high turnout on election day. How powerful could it be? Well, at this moment of populist anxiety about the future, the heightened awareness of money in politics and the corruption that comes with it -- along with the political incompetence and intransigence on the Republican side – this ticket would be very formidable.
The debate highlighted Hillary Clinton’s intellect and Senator Sanders passionate calls for economic justice. They agreed more than they disagreed. Of course there are some policy differences -- of degrees when it comes to how to address inequality, fairness and uplifting the middle class. Senator Sanders is unrelenting and unapologetic when he speaks about the damage the wealthiest Americans and corporations have done to the fabric of this nation. Mr. Sanders calls wealth inequality the “moral, economic and political issue” of our times. On this issue, Hillary Clinton's responses and policy proposals were more tempered, measured and quietly disruptive to the status quo. It is plausible to see some movement toward each other in formulating a dynamic duo.
During the debate, Senator Sanders showed impressive restraint in his refusal to directly attack Hillary Clinton on any issue. Not only that, Senator Sanders provided her political cover in trying to make the email issue, a non-issue. You could see the glow and appreciation in Hillary Clinton’s face as Sanders spoke of the need to move on and focus on the more substantive issues of the nation. When Mrs. Clinton shook Sanders hand and said, “Thank you Bernie, Thank you” it’s very easy to believe the Democratic Party was saying the same thing. If Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, this will be one of the signature moments of this long campaign season.
Throughout the evening -- and at timely moments -- the candidates spoke with civility, depth and contrast of the democratic debate to the cultural demagoguery and the paucity of substance in the Republican debates thus far. There was an acknowledgement that Republican gridlock is real and here to stay. But the immediate issue for democrats is to hold on to the office of the Presidency at this point. Fear has been known to be a great motivator in the accomplishments of many. The fear of a Republican president combined with lunacy of the hard right that runs the Republican Congress – would be a recipe for disaster and a setback for progressive victories (Social Security, Medicare, ACA, just to name a few). There would be an acceleration of inequality and deregulation of the worse kind. Also, the balance of the Supreme Court would shift rightward for years to come with devastating implications for women’s and citizen’s rights in America. This is not based on theory.
The first Democratic debate was filled with intrigue, surprise and competence. We can expect more debates and the eventual -- yet graceful exits of Webb, Chafee and O'Malley. If Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have their own, private beer summit and decide to become the democratic ticket for 2016, would their respective ages (68 and 74) be a big issue on the campaign trail? Probably. One could imagine the Republican headlines: “The Geriatric team are headed to Minnesota”, “AARP members campaign in Wisconsin”, “Social Security vice squad visits fellow nursing home residents in West Palm Beach, Florida” and so on.
Regardless of the inevitable Republican attacks, this is going to be a populist election and the policies of these two candidates reflect the times and needs of the electorate, age be damned. And what two better candidates to join forces and turn this election upside down?
Just a thought.