This was, indeed, a very different presidential debate from the ones Republicans had in August and September. Sixteen candidates then used their allotted time trying to outdo each other in scaring Americans out of their pants by warning them about enemies everywhere, from illegal immigrants pouring across our borders, selling drugs and sex and bringing all kinds of disease, to jackbooted government agents wrestling guns out of the hands of mothers protecting their children from thugs breaking into their homes, to countries like Iran, Russia, and China interfering with our ambitions to make the planet a cradle of democracy, to which they promised ultimatums followed by military action once they got into the White House.
All this when they were not raising alarms about living babies being chopped up here at home by Planned Parenthood employees and having their body parts sold, or promising to close federal agencies that protect consumers and to dismantle regulations that stand in the way of banks and businesses, while getting rid of entirely or significantly reducing most of the programs for the less fortunate, from Obamacare to Social Security and Medicare.
One expects imbecilities and outright lies from politicians running for office, but not so much undisguised meanness and desire to hurt people. Many of the conservatives we saw seemed moved by nothing as much as hatred. Women, young people, blacks, immigrants, gays, liberals, teachers—the list could go on for pages. The impression I had was that there was a wish to see the lives of millions and millions of their fellow citizens made miserable. The audience loved it. Applause greeted many of these heartless pronouncements. They didn’t sound to me like a crowd pining to elect a future president of a constitutional democracy.
No wonder the Republicans found the Democratic debate dull. What could be more boring than listening to Senator Bernie Sanders telling us that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country in the world and more wealth and income inequality than any other, and that we are the sole advanced country that does not guarantee health care to all of its people as a right of citizenship, or Hillary Clinton calling for mandated paid family leave when Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 20 company, made it clear that if the government requires paid leave, it will force small businesses to “hire fewer people and create fewer jobs”—despite California, a state as big as many countries, having had a paid leave program for a number of years with no ill effect of the kind she fears?
I must confess that I didn’t know what to expect from the Democratic debate, although I expected it would be less about fooling the voters and more about…
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