The Democrats’ Presidential Debates: Underway and Underwhelming

Who thought this up – Giving a  private corporation (CNN) control of a presidential debate? In the most recent Democratic presidential debate, CNN controlled which candidates were invited, who asked what questions, and the location, Las Vegas – the glittering, gambling center of America. This is a mirror image of the control Fox News exercised during their Republican candidates’ circus. Corporatism aside, the debate with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee was not a debate. With few exceptions – most notably Hillary Clinton going after Bernie Sanders on gun control, about which she is reborn – the stage was the setting for a series of interview questions to each candidate by Anderson Cooper and his colleagues.

Granted, the quality of the questions was higher than has been the case with other debate spectacles in recent years. Yet CNN’s self-censorship – in part reflected in the content of the questions and the favored positioning given to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – was not obscured.

For example, our country has been plagued by a corporate crime wave from Wall Street to Houston. These crimes are regular occurrences, often with recidivist corporations such as giant oil, drug, auto, banking, munitions producers, and mining companies corrupting our politics. Such chronic violations are reported more often than they are properly prosecuted.

Corporate crimes affect American as workers, consumers, taxpayers, and community residents. Unfortunately, corporate criminal law is woefully weak, prosecutions are minor, and enforcement budgets are scandalously tiny. Moreover, corporate lobbyists ensure that corporate privileges and immunities are preserved and expanded in corporate-occupied Washington, D.C.

Somehow, in presidential debate after presidential debate “corporate crime and punishment” or “law and order for corporations” almost never get mentioned either by questioner or candidate. Bernie Sanders – break this taboo in the next five scheduled Democratic debates.

Another perennial omission is the question of how the candidates plan to give more power to the people, since all of them are saying that Washington isn’t working. I have always thought that this is the crucial question voters should ask every candidate for public office. Imagine asking a candidate:: “How are you specifically going to make ‘we the people’ a political reality, and how are you going to give more voice and power to people like me over elected representatives like you?” Watch politicians squirm over this basic inquiry.

The most remarkable part of the Democrats’ “debate” was how Hillary Clinton got away with her assertions and then got rewarded – though not in the subsequent polls, but by the pundits and malleable critics like the Washington Post’s usually cynical Dana Milbank who fell very hard for the Clintonian blarney.

Well-prepared and battle-tested in many political debates, Hillary knows how to impress conventional political reporters, while limiting their follow-up questions. She started with her latest political transformation early on. “I don’t take a backseat to anyone when it comes to progressive commitment….I’m a progressive.”

And the moon is made of blue cheese. Hillary Clinton, a progressive? She is the arch Wall Street corporatist, who hobnobs with criminal firms like Goldman Sachs for $250,000 a speech, and goes around the country telling closed-door business conventions what they want to hear for $5,000 a minute!

As a senator, she did not challenge the large banks and insurance companies whose avarice, willful deceptions, and thefts set the stage for the economy’s collapse in 2008-2009. In fact she supported Bill Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street with its resulting painful consequences for single mothers and children who suffered the most from the deep recession.

A progressive would not have waited year after year, while receiving the entreaties of women’s and children’s assistance groups to endorse a modest minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over three years by her own Democratic Party in Congress. She finally took the plunge and endorsed it in April 2014, during a speech to the United Methodist Women in Boston. If the Democratic lovefest were a real debate, Bernie Sanders, who voiced domestic progressive positions all evening long, would have intervened and sent her packing. What  everlasting hubris do the Clintons exude! (See Peter Schweizer’s new book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped make Bill and Hillary Rich. Harper Collins, 2015)

As an embedded militarist, during her tenure as Senator and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton never saw a boondoggle, obsolete weapons system, or boomeranging war she didn’t like. She delivered belligerent speeches against China, and scared Secretary of Defense Robert Gates by overruling his opposition through her White House contracts to overthrow the Libyan dictator. This illegal war opened up the savage chaos, bloodshed, and havoc in Libya that continued to spread into huge areas of central Africa.

Hillary’s war didn’t seem to interest anyone on stage except former Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee (D-RI) – an anti-war stalwart – who was promptly marginalized despite making much sense in his brief declarations.

Senator Bernie Sanders missed opportunities to highlight Hillary Clinton’s true corporatist and militarist identity. Most unfortunately, she placed him on the defensive with the socialist/capitalist questioning. Next time, Bernie Sanders should tell the millions of voters watching the “debates” that local socialism is as American as apple pie, going back to the 18th Century, by mentioning post offices, public highways, public drinking water systems, public libraries, public schools, public universities, and public electric companies as examples.

He then could add that global corporations are destroying competitive capitalism with their corporate state or crony capitalism, despised by both conservatives and progressives.

There was one question – “which enemy are you most proud of?” – that Hillary Clinton did not anticipate and had about a minute to ponder. Her answer: “Well in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians.” Iranians? An entire people, her enemy? Is this what her self-touted, foreign affairs experience has taught her?

For more information on what debates could be, visit www.opendebates.org.

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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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