Bernie Sanders speaks passionately about inequality, campaign finance and other serious issues that Americans should care about. Martin O’Malley has a record of progressive accomplishment as governor of Maryland. But can you imagine either in the Oval Office?
Friday’s Saturday’s second Democratic debate suggested that either man’s candidacy is more than a mirage.
Despite Sanders’s rhetorical fire, he once again failed to demonstrate the range or the realism the presidency requires. He began the night with a couple obligatory lines on the Paris attacks, but he pivoted back to his one-note message about economic inequality and billionaires so quickly it was jarring.
Then, challenged to explain how he would make good on his rhetoric, Sanders repeated his lines about leading a “political revolution” in which Americans will press his agenda forward against the wishes of the billionaires. “What we need is leadership in this country which revitalizes American democracy and makes people understand that if they stand up and fight back and take on the billionaire class, we can bring about the change that we need,” he said.
This is not a serious answer to a question about political reality, in large part because the billionaire class is not the only reason Congress wouldn’t ever approve his program. Sanders’s is a version of the same pitch we hear every four years from one presidential primary candidate or another: If we rise up, Americans will realize that they really agree with us, political incentives will reverse and we will have to compromise less. That sort of thinking has done wonders for Republican Party lately.
Meanwhile, O’Malley seemed more awake than in the previous debate, but he still undercut himself with his inert style and a puzzling answer in which, instead of touting his executive experience, he seemed to downplay the extent to which it prepared him for the White House. He has “not ready for prime time” stamped on his forehead.
Hillary Clinton’s performance wasn’t as clean or as crisp as her last one. Among other things, she invoked 9/11 in order to dodge a question about her campaign donors. But she effectively made the case that, though Sanders speaks about important questions, his solutions are ultimately simplistic and hers are better. Instead of railing about breaking up the big banks, focus on identifying and moderating the biggest risks to the financial system. Instead of making college free for everyone, increase access to those who need it and decline to subsidize wealthy kids’ tuition.
Clinton won the debate. And, if she and her opponents keep this up, she’s almost certainly going to win the nomination.