And just like that, we’re past the last Democratic debate before the Iowa Caucus, or in other words, past the point of no return. It is a point from which Martin O’Malley will not [return], while Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders will fight for the ability to do so. Here’s how things have changed (or haven’t):
First off, accept that things change. Bernie Sanders’ popularly hailed status as being “always on the right side of history” is impressive, commendable, and totally anomalous. It is all but impossible for a candidate, or anyone else, to go through decades of life without being subject to changes of opinion, whether as a result of political developments or personal experience.
People change, they grow; and they have to be allowed to vary in stance over the course of time in light of that. It’s unfair to hold candidates — who, lest we forget, are still ordinary human beings — hostage to public opinion by condoning such wildly unrealistic expectations of righteousness and uniformity. We need to stop associating Presidents with superhuman standards, because the delusion that whoever is in office is capable of meeting them needs to stop, and quickly.
On the subject of humanity, Hillary Clinton — despite being known for coming across as robotic, sterile — has moments of sincerity and accessibility, now and again, which are (to me) when she seems most presidential. And it’s not because she’s a woman, thus translating for a need of male voters for her to be nurturing and reassuring; but rather because a President should — no, must — have human qualities in order to lead.
Analysts and spectators are already calling this “the Bernie Debate”, and in many ways, it was. Not only did he win — objectively, no argument there — but it seemed largely concerned with him, and not always in a relevant way. Questions directed towards the Senator concerned past quotes which might have assailed his credibility as the anti-establishment candidate his campaign’s success hinges on. At one point, the mediators went so far as to inquire about his stance on Bill Clinton’s extramarital ongoings in the Oval Office. I suppose it was foolish to actually hope for a policy driven campaign.
But the man fielded every question well — not seamlessly, but well. It helped a great deal, of course, that Hillary’s answers felt scripted and trite; and that O’Malley’s disposition continued to closely align with that of a stubborn child who is refusing to admit defeat in a game he’s been losing from the start (though in a somewhat endearing and likable way). Suffice it to say, then, that Bernie Sanders won the debate just as much as his opponents lost it.
It’s hard to know when a Presidential candidate is being genuine. Owing to a history of malleable policies and opportunism, Hillary has earned a reputation of being untrustworthy (mainly among Republicans). Bernie, meanwhile, has stuck to his guns and beliefs for more than 40 years, which is pretty cool, but I’m worried about what he can actually do for the country. At present, Sanders has so many problems he wants to address (a lot of which really do need addressing) that it strikes me as being impossible to really pull of — not unlike Obama in 2008.
He seems to focus a lot on campaign finance, and that’s good, but there are issues of more national importance at hand. His misgivings with the corruption of Wall Street, too, though justified, are not the most impactful problems facing America right now. Thankfully, he seems pretty serious about addressing climate change, and likewise gun laws; but we’ll see how that progresses as Super Tuesday approaches.
What I’m saying, I think, is that Bernie Sanders is liable to pursuing an agenda of political righteousness in office rather than political awareness. Not what most of us Democrats would like to hear, I know, but it’s something to consider. I don’t know that Hillary could do a better job, if I’m honest. I know she has a broader and better connected political network, plus she would probably be able to interface with Congress a bit more successfully than Bernie. It’s all up in the air, though — which is not a good place to be, at this point.