“I’m not taking a backseat to anyone on my values, my principles and the results that I get,” she declared, before saying she would target additional federal spending at people who really need it rather than promising massive expansions of government programs in order to offer benefits to rich as well as poor. Bernie Sanders responded that he would radically raise taxes on the rich to pay for new universal entitlements, which can’t justify poorly targeted programs and is beyond politically impossible.
For his part, Sanders displayed the same rhetorical flair he’s shown all campaign. As usual, he identified several real challenges the country faces, passionately condemning income inequality, a “corrupt” campaign finance system, the continuing human contribution to climate change and overcrowded prisons, among other things. As usual, he did a poor job explaining why his sledgehammer “democratic socialism” is a smart or realistic response. He did — once — argue for nuance and realism in policymaking — as he tried to explain away his checkered record on gun control. He will continue to be a major thorn in Clinton’s side, but he is beatable by a candidate who’s willing to argue without apology that big problems require careful solutions, not simplistic ones, and tangible progress, not hopeless causes.
Then there were the others.
Martin O’Malley tried to run on his record implementing progressive policies such as same-sex marriage, gun regulations and a higher minimum wage in Maryland. He separated himself from Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee by not seeming totally out-of-place, but he had neither Sanders’s passion nor Clinton’s authority. His inert style didn’t serve him well on an evening in which he needed a breakthrough performance.
Meanwhile, Jim Webb complained incessantly about not getting enough time to speak. And Lincoln Chafee claimed that he is “a block of granite,” which is not true: A block of granite would have been more interesting to watch.
There is no doubt: Tuesday was Clinton’s night.