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What You Missed at Last Night’s Democratic Debate

Last night, PBS hosted a one-on-one debate in Milwaukee between Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. If you didn’t have time to tune in, don’t worry! Below you’ll find your guide to the biggest topics each candidate addressed in the two-hour special.


As the introductions began, Sanders wasted no time and introduced his campaign with a feel-good rags to riches story about the origin of his campaign platform. With no sponsors, no real campaign funds, and no nationwide recognition only months ago, he zeroed in on how corrupt the campaign sponsorship platform is by allowing the 1 percent on and off of Wall Street to pay their way into influencing the political process and the future of the government. According to Sanders, income disparity, the broken criminal justice system and inherent corruption by way of privilege are what is ailing the nation, and his platform for the people and by the people would serve the country instead of allowing wealth to entrap the other 99 percent. He even took a dig at Donald Trump by noting the importance of “not letting the Trumps of the world divide us.” 

Clinton validated the severity of the “rigged economy” that Sanders is concerned about. However, she also emphasized the importance of focusing on righting the setbacks of those who have been forgotten by the system by promoting advancement opportunities, rather than dwelling on the Wall Street power plays of the past.  She identified key socioeconomic barriers facing minority groups such as African Americans, immigrants and women, and explained that her campaign promotes progress by empowering America to reach its potential by empowering all Americans to reach theirs.

When asked, Bernie Sanders wasn’t keen to give a direct answer on how much bigger voters could expect the government to become under his presidency, or how much more his government would cost American taxpayers. He instead touted the quality of life improvements that Americans could expect from his democratic socialist policies, namely his ‘Medicare for all’ universal healthcare coverage and the advantages of taxing Wall Street to make free college tuition possible. His promises of creating more jobs and improving U.S infrastructure all come back to righting the wrongs of the “rigged economy.”

Clinton, on the other hand, was quick to criticize Sanders’ ambiguity by reminding him that voters want and deserve transparency. Her policies, which address key changes like closing the 10 percent gap in the 90 percent of medical costs covered by the Affordable Care Act, implementing paid family leave, and executing tax reform to provide debt-free college education, among others, are expected to cost the American government an additional $100 billion a year. Both candidates were adamant that their policy reform, no matter the cost, would be paid for.  

When asked to comment on the number of women supporting Sanders’ campaign instead of her own (such as the 55 percent in New Hampshire supporting him instead of Clinton) she focused on the importance of women being empowered to make their own decisions, regardless of whether or not the decision was to support her. She did, however, imply that her policy initiatives are better suited to meet the unique challenges that women face, before asserting that she wants the support of men and women alike because of her qualifications to lead the nation, not her gender. 

Sanders gave a brief review of his history of lifetime of pro-choice votes while in Congress, as well as his role rallying progressive House and Senate democrats to abolish the wage gap and instituting paid family leave in the workplace. The audience went wild when Sanders noted the hypocrisy of Republican candidates’ wanting to reduce government influence in every sphere except for women’s reproductive rights.

The topic then shifted to reforming the criminal justice system and improving race relations. Both candidates were in agreement that less emphasis needed to be placed on over policing and incarcerating black communities, and more emphasis should be placed on reforming education, housing and employment opportunities for those communities, thereby alleviating the inherent institutional racism and classism present in the system today.  

Clinton, however, came out ahead on the subject of elevating at-risk communities by voicing her support of reallocating government funds to communities with a history of suffering persistent generational poverty though policy such as Congressman Jim Clyburn’s 10-20-30 proposal. While Clinton was able to present a plan of action, Sanders was really only able to go back to his usual spiel about the economic issues these communities are facing at the fault of special interest paid to the ‘one percenters’.

While addressing immigration reform, both candidates staunchly agreed that implementing deportation of children and families had no place in their campaign policy or presidency.

Both candidates also agreed on the necessity of increasing Social Security payouts, albeit with slightly different approaches. Sanders focused more on macroeconomic metrics of “expand[ing] Social Security to $1,300 a year for people under $16,000,” and “extending the life of Social Security to 58 years.” Clinton, however, focused more on policies benefiting low-income seniors and widowed women who would not have as much income in Social Security as others with a dual-income household or higher paying jobs.

The candidates were next asked to evaluate the role of donors to their respective campaigns in terms of their potential influence in the government. Sanders was quick to point a finger at Clinton for having accepted an estimated $15 million from Wall Street to fund her campaign, while he had accepted none. On the defense, Clinton fired back with plans to regulate the finance center and utilize Dodd-Frank to break up big banks.  

The remainder of the debate focused on the most pressing topic of the hour: foreign policy and its domestic influence.  

Clinton started off strong by acknowledging the necessity of rallying against ISIS, and continuing to foster relationships with both Middle Eastern allies and American Muslims to do so. Sanders responded with a much more cautious response by referencing the past several decades of unforeseen consequences from the United States interfering with governments abroad.

The candidates reached a stalemate when Clinton reminded both Sanders and the audience that the president’s role as commander-in-chief necessitates the ability to evaluate and take action against threats to national security. She contended that her experience as Secretary of State made her the more qualified candidate for these roles, while Sanders countered that the soundness of his judgment could be more valuable than her experience.

They again butted heads when asked about policy action directed at relations with Russia, Syria and Iran. However, both candidates were in agreement that the United States, as well as the rest of the world, has an ethical responsibility to collaborate with NATO to resolve the refugee crisis prevalent in both Syria and Afghanistan.

Before the debate came to an end, Clinton dealt one final blow to Sanders by addressing the personal digs the senator had made against President Obama; namely by calling the president “weak” and “a disappointment.” Sanders countered that Senators are allowed to disagree with the president, and besides, Clinton was the one who ran against Obama in 2008.

The closing remarks saw Sanders repeat, for the umpteenth time, the need for a government that will abolish the privilege and corruption inherent in the existence of the one percent, while Clinton chose instead to focus on elevating the potential of the nation by elevating the potential of the people.

Overall, Clinton had more concrete ideas in the forms of budget and direct policy action to create the government for which she is campaigning. Sanders, on the other hand, was unable to provide the figures necessary for voters to understand and evaluate the scope of the changes he proposes. As the race narrows and the election draws ever closer, Sanders will have to put a price tag on the cost of socialist democracy. If he doesn’t, the race may just pick up the pace without him.

Jenna Adrian is a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. She studies Design & Merchandising. She's currently paving the way to create a career that will unite her passion for both style and government policy reform. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, running, and learning the in's and out's of city culture. You can find her at a coffee shop, a networking event, or brainstorming for her latest article. Check out her thoughts on coffee, fashion, and life in the city on her personal blog, & some like it haute. 
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