Former First Lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and as a result all eyes were on her performance. What was most interesting about the debate was that Clinton did better than many people had expected as it is the frontrunner in any political contest that has the most to lose from open debates. She didn’t manage to be fuck up-free but she was able to hold her own in many of the areas of debate.
Clinton’s first comments were regarding her policy positions to which she responded “I have been very consistent over the course of my entire life. I have always fought for the same values and principles” and when Anderson Cooper pressed on whether she identified as a progressive she responded “I’m a progressive that likes to get things done”. This statement greatly amused me as my understanding of a progressive, from a non-American perspective, is someone who supports universal healthcare, tough financial regulations and is less hawkish on foreign policy; in relation to these three criteria alone she is not a progressive.
When asked about capitalism Clinton said that “when I think of capitalism I think of small businesses…our job is to save capitalism from itself” and the proceeded to do a bit a ye olde America-glorifying by talking about how America was the greatest nation in the world etc. The next time Clinton got to speak was on the issue of guns which is the only area where she is to the left of Bernie Sanders; when asked by Anderson Cooper if Sanders was tough enough on guns she replied “no, not at all” and went on to get a decent amount of applause after saying that “it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA”.
On foreign policy Clinton said that Putin shouldn’t be involved in Syria and that the US “should be in a stronger leadership position” which is the same phraseology used by Republicans to mean ‘more hawkish’. When criticised for her vote on the Iraq War she responded that Obama had valued her judgement by making her Secretary of State, which is irrelevant as it doesn’t address the fact that you were sufficiently hawkish to vote for the Iraq War on the same ‘evidence’ that both Bernie Sanders and Lincoln Chafee had as they were also in the Senate and didn’t vote for the war. When she was challenged by Martin O’Malley she responded that she was glad for his endorsement in the 2008 Democratic Primary, because that’s totally relevant, and finished by saying that she would “try to get Russia to the table”. Clinton said that the US was right to remove Gaddafi in Libya, even though most people now acknowledge that, considering the current state of Libya, it was wrong to do so. The final foreign policy issue she mentioned was her belief that the biggest national security threat was that of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons. She later said that among the enemies she’s most proud of is the Iranian government.
When asked about her use of a private email account at the State Department Clinton said that it was a mistake, even though it was allowed at the tie, and correctly pointed out that “the committee [investigating her emails] is an arm of the Republican National Committee” and has spent “$4.5 million of taxpayers’ dollars” investigating what they are playing up as a scandal. The most memorable part of the night came at this point when Bernie Sanders responded to the question by saying “the American people are sick hearing about [Clinton’s] damn emails”, which prompted Clinton laughing, shaking his hand and generating one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night.
On race Clinton criticised Congressional Republicans for obstructing Obama’s plan to deal with race-based issues, but didn’t care to offer any real solutions to the problem of systemic racism in many aspects of American society.
On economic issues she returned to being capitalism’s cheerleader by saying “I want every American to have the same opportunity that we had” before declaring that she had a five-point economic plan to prove that her competence but then failed to mention what any of the points were. She very cleverly ended her first remarks on the economy by subtly quoting Donald Trump: “the economy does better when there’s a Democrat in the White House”.
When questioned on banking regulations Clinton argued that her plan, charge big financial institutions more in fines and taxes rather than breaking them up, was tougher than Sanders’ plan because it doesn’t just deal with banks; this statement was met the contempt that it deserved as Sanders went into explaining his viewpoint. However the funniest bit of Clinton’s remarks came in the context of banking regulation as she said that “I represented Wall Street as a Senator from New York…and I went down there and said cut it out, stop foreclosing on people’s homes”. The first part was a wonderful Freudian slip as her top campaign donors in many of her campaigns have been big Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, and the second funny part was her attempt to portray herself as tough. Don’t brag about something that had no impact; Clinton saying that she went down to Wall Street and said “stop foreclosing on people’s homes” would only be a good thing to say if people’s homes then stopped being foreclosed upon, but they weren’t so what you’ve actually just said is ‘I tried to do something but failed’.
On higher education Clinton said that she wants people to be able to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates as well as improving the benefits for the poorest students. She also said that undocumented immigrants should be able to receive in-state tuition as was the case in Maryland under Governor O’Malley. When asked about immigration more broadly she said that she would open up the opportunity for undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance via the healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Clinton was challenged on her vote in favour of the Patriot Act but she defended her vote and instead shifted the blame to President Bush who she claimed “went too far”, which is a competitor for the biggest understatement of the decade. When questioned on the related topic of Edward Snowden she said that he “broke the law” and should be punished as a result.
She was then asked what differentiates her from President Obama. This is a golden opportunity to come off as your own person by being markedly different from President Obama; unfortunately Clinton, being the calculating politician that she is, played the woman card. As an ardent feminist myself I’m opposed to a woman becoming president, but it can’t be the only reason you would vote for someone; identifying your possession of a vagina as the first thing to think of is is not a good political move as it essentially admits that your leadership would change nothing.
Indeed she was then asked how an insider like herself would perform in an election where outsiders are rising in the polls, and her response was laughable. She, the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, genuinely said something along the lines of ‘I’m not an insider, I’m a woman’. Now ignoring the first part of this statement because it is so clearly untrue, once again endeavouring to attain uterus-derived political capital is annoying because it ignores the question. You can both be a Washington insider and a woman; you wouldn’t say that Dianne Feinstein or Nancy Pelosi weren’t Washington insiders by virtue of them having the ability to lactate.
Towards the end of the debate Clinton was asked about two other issues of substance: paid family leave and marijuana. On paid family leave she said that nothing bad happened when California introduced it and then derided the Republican Party for complaining about big government in this area and then accurately pointing out that “the Republican Party doesn’t have a problem with big government denying women the right to choose what to do with their own bodies”. She finished up by saying that the wealthy would pay for it. On marijuana Clinton refused to give her position on the issue of legalisation but said that she does support medicinal marijuana and that people shouldn’t be imprisoned for it.
To conclude Clinton was given the most airtime in the debate and as a result was given a lot of opportunity to flesh out her policy positions however despite this she still didn’t give much detail in certain policy areas, most notably specific policies to create jobs and ways to combat institutional racism. As the frontrunner she had the most to lose from an open debate but she managed to hold her own and performed better than I thought she would but, unlike as has already been shown by the mainstream media, I don’t think she was the overall winner of the debate as people already know who Hillary Clinton is.