The Face of Democratic Debate


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

By Edmond Y. Azadian

It seems to be the era of populism in American politics. Voters are tired of conventional politicians and are looking for people who label themselves as outsiders, who can breathe fresh air into the political system. This mood is apparent in the meteoric success of Donald Trump in the Republican camp and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic camp. Both candidates infuse raw and elemental energy into the political narrative.

The Republican debate anointed Donald Trump as the front- runner of his party and the Democratic debate enhanced Sanders’ image, almost undermining frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s foothold.

The Democratic debate mostly focused on Clinton and Sanders, leaving the rest of the contenders in the shadows — Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb. (Webb just announced this week that he is quitting the primary, though he is leaving open the possibility of running as an independent.) Another candidate, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, is trying to get enough momentum to participate in the debates.

The Republican debate was more crowded and at times tense, although the moderator, Jake Tapper, was highly professional and courteous. During the Democratic debate, moderator Anderson Cooper allowed himself some abrasive questions, but all in all, there was an element of camaraderie among the candidates.

Bernie Sanders raised his profile tremendously by continually harping on the nation’s income distribution disparity. He was after the top 1 percent of the population, who do not incur their fair share of the tax burden. That line of thinking has won tremendous popularity and boosted his campaign financing, which does not depend on a few donors with deep pockets; rather he attracts many donors who make small donations.

By definition, Bernie Sanders is a socialist, not even a member of the Democratic Party. He plans to emulate the Scandinavian countries — especially Denmark. “I love Denmark,” quipped Clinton, before adding, “but Denmark is a small country with a scant population.” A system which works for Denmark does not necessarily work for the US. In fact, socialism succeeds in countries of abundance. The Soviets tried to apply equality in poverty and the system collapsed. What the Chinese are trying to do is to raise the living standards of 1.5 billion people with a goal of applying socialism in a country of plenty.

However, the concept of socialism is so tarnished in the American political lexicon, that people even don’t have to study the principals of the concept. No matter how popular Sanders’ candidacy may be, he is on a doomed mission.

The two top Democratic candidates had run-ins and more friendly moments. Their views on reining in Wall Street were in contrast, with Sanders aiming to revive Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which separated deposit-taking banks from riskier wheeling and dealing institutions. Mrs. Clinton came out with a more practical alternative, however, both candidates are not favorites of Wall Street, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times: “If Wall Street’s attitude and its political surviving are any indication, financiers themselves believe that any Democrat, Mrs. Clinton very much included, would be serious about policing their industry’s excesses. And that’s why they are doing all they can to elect a Republican.”

Another issue of contrast between them was gun control, in which Sanders turned out less consistent than Mrs. Clinton, who claimed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was after her.

All five candidates swear by the Second Amendment, but have different views on gun control. No one dares to say that the emperor is naked. In all civilized countries, where gun ownership is prohibited or limited, the homicide rate is dramatically lower. It does not take a legal scholar to figure that out. It is only common sense. But ironically, when there is a mass murder, sales of guns skyrocket, because people are duped into the NRA paradigm that “a good person with a gun is the only deterrent against a bad person with a gun,” whereas the abolition of all guns would make everyone safe. In the US, we may send probes to Mars, but we are still living with frontier mentality.

In one instance, Bernie Sanders bailed out Clinton when he said that Americans are sick and tired of “hearing about your damned emails.”

That was one of the most exciting highlights of the evening, when Mrs. Clinton gratefully extended her hand to Sanders.

It is true that the news media has been using and abusing the email issue ad nauseum. It is also true, as the failed candidate for the Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader, admitted on Fox News that the investigative committee was out to undermine Mrs. Clinton’s credibility and lower her rating. However, there is a real national security issue when a secretary of state avoids using the official channels of communication and opts for her personal channel.

Mrs. Clinton performed her best at the debate, which helped her with her sagging poll numbers. She was perfectly dressed, fine-tuned through rehearsing and even adept in her use of body language. Her studied smile was always shining through, although sometimes she was caught off guard on camera and her “monster” personality, as described by Samantha Power, would emerge.

Her credibility and trustworthiness are always in question, although she claimed that President Obama had confidence in her judgment and that is why he offered her the position of secretary of state.

When questioned about why she changed her mind in regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, she immediately refuted being a flip-flopper on the issue and said that she always absorbs new information and based on the new information, she changes her mind if need be.

Clinton has more than one skeleton in her closet. The Benghazi tragedy, which cost the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other personnel, will haunt her to the very end, and also she shrugs off responsibility by stating, “That was left to the security professionals …. In the State Department, who had to make some tough decisions.”

Her “yes” vote on the Iraq war is another skeleton, which she cannot hide nor get rid of. Like many other flip-flopping politicians, she claims that she voted yes on that misguided war based on the information available at the time, when she believed that Iraq possessed WMDs, where as revelation after revelation was available at the time that a lie was being manufactured to justify that ruinous war. Any observer of the news could see plainly that a web of lies was being spun around to railroad legislators and the public. Actually, she voted yes based on her record as a politician beholden to the military industrial complex, and she may not vote any other way, if the same circumstance arises again.

Mrs. Clinton has also bought the argument of the proponents of regime change in Libya, which has led to that country’s destruction. During the debate, she was repeating the “regime change” mantra, which is applied to all the leaders of the Third World countries who have been targeted, accusing them of “slaughtering their own people.” Col. Muammar Qaddafi ruled Libya from 1969 to 2011 and built an egalitarian society, distributing the oil wealth to the population. He was an eccentric ruler but in no way would he fit Mrs. Clinton’s description.

During this election campaign, Clinton’s adversaries will bring out all the skeletons. She is a smooth talker and only the future will tell how effectively she can talk her way to the top office.

Armenians are always interested in how the candidate will treat issues that are of vital significance for them. However, the lessons have been learned; candidates will promise them the sky to get the contributions and the votes, only to renege on their pledges after the election. President Obama came closest to uttering the “g” word, but still, he demurred.

Clinton must be well versed on Armenian issues; after all, she was the architect of the protocols, signed between Armenia and Turkey. She even flew to Switzerland to witness the signing ceremony which would have been a crown jewel in her foreign policy career, but she failed to break Turkey’s intransigence.

Her trip to Armenia is another reflection of her perception of the Genocide issue. In Yerevan, she went to the Genocide memorial, claiming that she was making a personal visit to the monument, mind you, not as a secretary of state, thus patting the ego of the Armenians and signaling on the other hand to President Erdogan of Turkey across the border that she is not trespassing the red line set by that country.

As Armenians and as US citizens, we need to study the total image and substance of a candidate, because educated voters will always opt for the right candidate.