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Why Black Lives Matter Won the First Democratic Debate

After two Republican debates, Democrats finally got their moment to shine. Meeting in Las Vegas and moderated by Anderson Cooper, the candidates had a sometimes-contentious debate that focused more on the issues than personal attacks. There are two takeaways about the candidates and one clear winner.

Hillary is Polished

She rarely misspoke. She was cool and confident. Everyone knew she was the front-runner and treated her accordingly. She embodied ‘practiced spontaneity’ and, in my eyes, outperformed Sanders. She came off as a pragmatic centrist that can win in the general election. When given the opportunity, she attacked Sanders on gun control and, amazingly, made him look like a centrist on the issue. She is a force to be reckoned with. She banged the ‘I’m a mother, grandmother, and possible first woman president’ drum a bit too hard, but she did so in a way that reminds us of the fact that we have a choice between white men and history.

Bernie is Passionate.

He tripped over his words early in the debate. He unconvincingly explained how a Democratic Socialist could be a viable candidate in the general election. He was flustered when his untenable gun policy was discussed, and he seems shaky at best on foreign policy. Yet, while he lacks the polish of Secretary Clinton, he was unwavering in his enthusiasm. Catering to his supporters, Sanders consistently raised the issue of economic inequality. In doing so, he pushed Clinton so far left that she disingenuously tried to characterize herself as a ‘pragmatic progressive.’ I do think Sanders made a crucial error by coming to her defense about the emails. Principled politics is fine if you are only a symbolic candidate, but that is a genuine weakness for Clinton that should have been exploited.

#BlackLivesMatter are the real winners of the debate

Van Jones rightly declared BLM the true winners of the debate; institutional racism and police brutality were front and center. The Movement for Black Lives forced candidates to address their concerns with clarity and care. More should have been said, but the fact that the candidates were forced to address overt and covert forms of racism speak to the impact this group is having upon the political landscape. Candidates are no longer taking black votes for granted. They now see that they must cater to black and brown people or be taken to task publically for their silence.

Those of you who were disapproving and condescending to #BlackLivesMatter activists and supporters about protesting Sanders should now see the error in your thinking. The goal was never to work within a white supremacist political frame to gain trickle down justice. Black folks have tried that. It’s gotten us poverty, inadequate healthcare, and the new Jim Crow. The goal, now, is to force politicians to address black concerns or risk disruption. That is happening. BLM is having a real impact upon American political discourse. Let’s hope this translates into policy soon.

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Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He can be reached at:  Law.writes@gmail.com.

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