The most exciting moment of the debate came on the subject of Wall Street, long Bernie Sanders’s nemesis, whom he has been hunting for decades in the company of the giant Fezzik ever since it killed his father. Finally, Sanders confronted Hillary Clinton on it.
SANDERS: I have never heard a candidate never, who has received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military industrial complex, not one candidate say, oh, these campaign contributions will not influence me. I’m going to be independent. Well, why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? they expect to get something. Everybody knows that.
Once again, I am running a campaign differently than any other candidate. We are relying on small campaign donors, 750,000 of them, 30 bucks a piece. That’s who I’m indebted to.
CLINTON: Well John, wait a minute. Wait a minute, he has basically used his answer to impugn my integrity. Let’s be frank here.
SANDERS: No, I have not.
And then Clinton — with some degree of subtlety? — proceeded to fire every weapon in her arsenal.
CLINTON: Oh, wait a minute, senator. You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small. And I’m very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent.
CLINTON: So, I represented New York, and I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy and it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.
So, you know, it’s fine for you to say what you’re going to say, but I looked very carefully at your proposal. Reinstating Glass-Steagall is a part of what very well could help, but it is nowhere near enough. My proposal is tougher, more effective, and more comprehensive because I go after all of Wall Street not just the big banks.
You can tell, generally speaking, when a candidate feels that a question has hit too close to home because that candidate responds by Playing a Card.
If you say, “Now, Alexandra, you still haven’t established your whereabouts on the night of the crime” and my response is “Listen, John. I am an American, not just an American, but a woman, a veteran, and a cancer survivor, of immigrant descent, raised by a single mother, a police officer, and — like so many others — I have not forgotten September 11th, nor do I ever intend to. I am a brave fireman. I saved a child from drowning. Also, I, a Christian, am wrapped in an American flag right now.” (This does not, you will notice, answer the question, but it will get the audience to clap and it will make the person who asked or accused feel bad that he ever dared cast aspersions on someone who holds as many cards as you do.)
The only trouble with the Card Playing answer that you have to be a little bit subtle when you deliver this answer or else people will notice what you are doing and their sympathy will evaporate like morning dew and they will say things like “The woman card AND the 9/11 card, wow!”
In fact, later in the evening, a follow-up — from Twitter, no less — (out of the mouths of eggs!) commented: “I’ve never seen a candidate invoke 9/11 to justify millions of Wall Street donations until now.”
Clinton replied, “Well, I’m sorry that whoever tweeted that had that impression because I worked closely with New Yorkers after 9/11 for my entire first term to rebuild. So, yes, I did know people. I’ve had a lot of folks give me donations from all kinds of backgrounds say, I don’t agree with you on everything, but I like what you do. I like how you stand up. I’m going to support you, and I think that is absolutely appropriate.”
In other words, “Yes, well, now you have.”
Handed this muddle, Sanders could only manage, “Well, I — if I might. I think the issue here is — and I applaud Secretary Clinton. She did. She’s the senator from New York. She worked — and many of us supported you — in trying to rebuild that devastation. But at the end of the day, Wall Street today has enormous economic and political power. Their business model is greed and fraud. And for the sake of our economy, they must — the major banks must be broken up.”
Too late. The card was played.
Oh, and Martin O’Malley was there too.