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God, Country, Notre Dame: The Democratic Debate

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Candidates at Tuesday Night’s Debate in Las Vegas, Nevada

For all of your die-hard politics buffs out there, you may be asking yourself,  “WHY DID THEY HAVE TO SCHEDULE THIS DURING MIDTERMS?! DIDN’T THEY KNOW I WAS GOING TO BE BUSY?”  Fear not.  

To watch the debate in full, click here. For those of you less inclined to spend two hours of your life watching people argue, read on for the sparknotes.

The Winners

Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State, Senator of New York, and First Lady 

The Democratic front-runner tackled the tough questions with confidence, grace and quite a bit of humor.  

The debate began with accustions that Mrs. Clinton has changed her positions based on political expediency.  She countered the criticism by stating that her values have remained consistent.  “I am a progressive.  But I am a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Clinton appeared to command the issues, diplomatic, economic and social.  She promised to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue of Syria, saying it is crucial we end the conflict, create safe zones for Syrian refugees, and find leverage to get Russia “to the table”.  

Economically, Clinton argued for the break up of big banks, a revision of the tax code to remove loopholes for the rich, raising minimum wage, shrinking the wealth gap, and creating jobs by investing in infrastructure and clean energy. In response to Bernie Sanders’ platform of democratic socialism, she responded that we need to “reign in the excesses of capitalism, but we can’t turn our back on what has built the greatest middle class in the world.” 

Socially, Clinton’s strongest points were for gun control legislation, securing mandated paid family leave, and ensuring “verifiable international commitment” to tackle climate change. 

Clinton’s judgment was called into question multiple times throughout the night, most notable on her “yes” vote to the War in Iraq and the recent *gasp* email scandals.  To the first, she responded “I recall very well being on the debate stage, I think, about 25 times, with then Senator Obama, debating this issue. After the election, he asked me to be his Secretary of State. He valued my judgment.” Clinton’s best defense to the second criticism actually claim from her rival, Bernie Sanders: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”

Clinton and Sanders, as well as the other candidates, stressed the importance of talking about the “real issues facing America” instead of dwelling on scandals.  Clinton closed the debate emphasizing her proven track record and tenacious commitment to America’s progress.

Bernie Sanders

Senator (Independent) from Vermont

Bernie Sanders’ passionate call for a political revolution shows he is a force to be reckoned with. 

Bernie Sanders is known for his hardline stance on economic reform.  He defended and defined his campaign for “democratic socialism” as a movement to “mobilize people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.” 

Sanders criticized the government for being complicit with a “rigged economy”, saying that Wall Street and the investment banking system destroyed the American government.  He called for guaranteed health care and social security, pay equity, raising the minimum wage, creating jobs, tuition-free college education, and revising the tax code to rebuild the middle class and reduce income inequality.  He also criticized the campaign finance system as corrupt, representing the interests of the rich, and undermining to democracy. 

Sanders was criticized for registering as a “conscientious objector” during the Vietnam War, as this would not reflect well on the abilites of a future Commander-in-Chief. He responded: “When I was a young man, I strongly opposed the war in Vietnam. Not the brave men like Jim (Webb) who fought in that war, but the policy which got us involved in that war.” While Sanders was adamant about ensuring that the U.S. does not become involved in another war, he insisted that he would be willing to use force if the United States or her allies were threatened. 

Sanders also touted his commitment to combatting institutional racism, reforming the criminal justice system, supporting veterans programs as well as transitioning the U.S. away from fossil fuels for a more sustainable planet.  His weakest moments may have been when Hillary Clinton criticized him for not being strong enough on gun control and for his “no” vote to the Brady Bill. However, he responded tactfully if not very straighforwardly: “The views on gun control in rural states are different than urban states whether we like it or not. Our job is to bring people together around strong common-sense gun legislation.” 

The Losers

Martin O’Malley 

Former Governor of Marlyand and Mayor of Baltimore

Governor O’Malley’s points on criminal justice reform, gun control and climate change may have fallen on deaf ears

O’Malley actually gave quite a strong performance in the debate, calling for comprehensive gun control and criminal justice reform, separating investment banking and commercial banking in a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, and setting out a plan for a “100% clean electric grid by 2050”.

Unfortunately for O’Malley, however, he does not have the support base of the top two candidates, and though he challenged them on the issues throughout the debate, nothing stood out enough to boost his 1.3% in the polls.  

 Poll Chart for the National Democratic Primary

Jim Webb 

Former Senator from Virginia, Secretary of the Navy, and Retired Marine Corps Officer

Webb’s strong stances on foreign policy and immigration may have been overshadowed by his stiff demeanor and requests for more time

Webb is undoubtedly an American hero, but perhaps he is not the hero America needs right now.  His leadership experience is extensive, and he presented convincing points on foreign policy, criminal justice reform and immigration (his wife is an immigrant from Vietnam).  He stated that his “highest priority will be the working people who every day go out and make this country stronger at home, and who give us the right reputation and security overseas under a common sense foreign policy.”

His views on gun control and his support for an “all of the above” energy strategy were not mainstream, and drew criticism from the other candidates. 

Any strides Webb may have made during the debate were perhaps undermined by his constant demands for more time and his less than stellar position in the polls.

Lincoln Chafee 

Former Governor of Rhode Island

Chafee’s rehearsed repetition of his “lack of scandals” and “high ethical standards” were the only memorable thing about his debate performance. He was criticized for his inconsistency and recent “conversion” to the Democratic Party (he has run for office in the past as a Republican and an Independent). There is no doubt that Chafee has a good track record, but his lack of confidence in himself will not do much to gain the confidence of the American people. 

In Conclusion…

Here at HCND, we fully support of diversity of opinions. We don’t endorse any of the candidates, and we tried to be as unbiased as possible. The above article is just one perspective, so don’t let it limit yours! 



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MJ Jackson

Notre Dame

Meadow Jackson is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying Political Science, Japanese, and the Art of Procrastination. Her goals in life are to work toward world peace, run a marathon, and somehow earn a lifetime supply of coffee (not necessarily in that order). She loves learning languages, traveling, eating copious amounts of vegetarian food, and finding hole-in-the-wall cafés in all corners of the world (where she can do all of these things at once). Feel free to email her at any time at mjacks12@nd.edu (especially if you have any information on how to win a lifetime supply of coffee ).
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