Did anything interesting happen in the Democratic presidential debate?

The only thing that I like less than watching TV is watching politicians on TV so I didn’t watch this evening’s debate. Did anything interesting happen? Here’s what I can find from the transcript:

I have five daughters. Amy works with disabled veterans, Sarah is an emergency room nurse, Julia is a massage therapist, Emily and Georgia are still in school. My son Jim fought as an infantry Marine on the bloody streets of Ramadi. (Webb)

i.e., nobody in this next generation is doing anything that might result in economic growth. #investinasia

What I’m talking about is this, our middle class is shrinking. Our poor families are becoming poorer, and 70 percent of us are earning the same, or less than we were 12 years ago. We need new leadership, and we need action. The sort of action that will actually make wages go up again for all American families. (O’Malley)

The Great Father in Washington will supply higher wages to Americans; there is no need for anyone to study or worker harder. #investinasia

Today, the scientific community is virtually unanimous: climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and we have a moral responsibility to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy and leave this planet a habitable planet for our children and our grandchildren.

Today in America, we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth. African-American youth unemployment is 51 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent. It seems to me that instead of building more jails and providing more incarceration, maybe — just maybe — we should be putting money into education and jobs for our kids. (Sanders)

If more and more Americans are unemployed, why do we have to worry about our shrinking role in greenhouse gas emissions? What is the CO2 footprint of someone who lives in a government-provided apartment and plays Xbox all day? More money into education? We’ve more than doubled per-pupil spending, adjusted for inflation, since 1970 (source). Can we truly spend our way out of the fact that American companies don’t want to hire a good-sized subset of the U.S. population?

Yes, of course, raise the minimum wage, but we have to do so much more, including finding ways so that companies share profits with the workers who helped to make them. (Clinton)

The folks that Sanders mentioned above that companies don’t want to hire at $8/hour are now going to be priced at $15/hour. Who will figure out which workers actually contributed to a multinational company’s profits and apportion them? What if it turns out that people in Asia and Europe are responsible for most of the profit? Will the central planners in D.C. order the company to pay out most of its profits to folks in China, Korea, and the Netherlands rather than to shareholders in the U.S.?

You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. (moderator)

Well, actually, I have been very consistent. (Clinton)

Is there a consistent meaning for “consistent”?

And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. (Sanders)

Why stop at the border? There are a lot of low-wealth folks beyond the U.S. border. In a globalized economy why is the interesting analysis just within the U.S.?

I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people. (Sanders)

Denmark is a country that has a population — Denmark is a country that has a population of 5.6 million people. (moderator)

Nobody is willing to consider the possibility that Scandinavians are, on average, smarter, better educated and/or harder working than Americans. (See schools in Finland; schools in the U.S.) And are Americans actually prepared to live like Scandinavians? What politician is going to support reducing the profit opportunity from collecting child support from its current level down to between $2,000 and $8,000/year (see the International chapter)? How would Americans who currently collect $50,000 or $100,000 per year in tax-free child support transition to the Danish or Swedish upper limit?

You don’t consider yourself a capitalist, though? (moderator to Sanders)

Another English language puzzle. If a person is providing capital to businesses then he or she could be considered a “capitalist.” How are politicians, who spend money rather than invest money, “capitalists”? Maybe a politician could have a friend who was a capitalist or support the idea of capitalism.

You’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues. (Chafee)

An odd way to describe oneself. What is the distance between this statement and “dumb as a rock”?

In one year alone, though, 100,000 arrests were made in your city [Baltimore], a city of 640,000 people. (moderator to O’Malley)


Senator Webb, in 2006, you called affirmative action “state-sponsored racism.” In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminates against whites. (moderator)

I have always supported affirmative action for African Americans. What I have discussed a number of times is the idea that when we create diversity programs that include everyone, quote, “of color,” other than whites… (Webb)

He is not going to be invited to Sheryl Sandberg’s house! But even if sorting school and job applicants by race is to be done, isn’t it getting harder for people to agree on what is an “African American”?

Also I believe, and I’ve fought for, to understand that there are thousands of people in this country today who are suicidal, who are homicidal, but can’t get the healthcare that they need, the mental healthcare, because they don’t have insurance or they’re too poor. I believe that everybody in this country who has a mental crisis has got to get mental health counseling immediately. (Sanders, in response to questions about guns)

Is there any evidence that the Americans who have gone on recent rampages were lacking in health insurance or access to psychotherapy? Or evidence that psychotherapy reduces the incidence of mass shootings? The era of mass killings seems to have coincided with a rise in the number of psychotherapists per capita. Webb points this out:

… the shooting in Virginia Tech in ’07, this individual had received medical care for mental illness from three different professionals who were not allowed to share the information. … But we have to respect the tradition in this country of people who want to defend themselves and their family from violence. … There are people at high levels in this government who have bodyguards 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The average American does not have that, and deserves the right to be able to protect their family.

If we are going to argue over this forever, wouldn’t a young skilled American concerned about gun violence be better off simply moving to a country with lower tax rates and lower rates of violent crime? Wikipedia shows that a lot of low-tax nations have a homicide rate less than 1/10th that of the U.S. Click to rank by “rate” and Singapore, Switzerland, South Korea, etc. jump out.

We don’t want American troops on the ground in Syria. I never said that. What I said was we had to put together a coalition — in fact, something that I worked on before I left the State Department — to do, and yes, that it should include Arabs, people in the region. (Clinton)

We should be putting together a coalition of Arab countries who should be leading the effort. (Sanders)

Mercenaries and puppet governments are going to do our military work for us, i.e., the same plan that we had in Vietnam and, more recently, in Afghanistan.

We are live in Nevada, in Las Vegas, at the Wynn Resort (moderator)

We are going to talk about the need to use energy efficiently, conserve water, and make middle class Americans richer in an enormous city built in the middle of a desert, rapidly depleting an underground aquifer, and consuming insane amounts of energy for air conditioning so that middle class Americans can lose whatever money they previously managed to save.

…if you don’t have schools that are able to meet the needs of the people, or good housing, there’s a long list… We need a new New Deal for communities of color… (Clinton)

Aren’t the things on her list already run by the government? People who are poor generally live in a government-provided house and send their children to a government-run school. Clinton herself has been right near the top of that government since 1992. How could a government-run New Deal be different than the government-run Old Deal for these communities?

And 0.6 percent of Americans are at the top echelon, over 464,000, 0.6 Americans. That’s less than 1 percent. But they generate 30 percent of the revenue. And they’re doing fine. So there’s still a lot more money to be had from this top echelon. I’m saying let’s have another tier and put that back into the tax bracket. And that will generate $42 billion. (Chafee)

Budget deficits were over $1 trillion per year from 2009-2012. The last full fiscal year deficit was $500 billion (WSJ). $42 billion sounds like a lot, but where will the rest of the money to plug the deficit come from?

A college degree today, Dana, is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago. (Sanders)

Finally a statement that is supported by facts! #investinasia

We’re here in Las Vegas, one of the most sustainable cities in America, doing important things in terms of green building, architecture and design. (O’Malley)

I guess he didn’t visit Lake Mead during his trip (National Geographic on aquifer depletion).

I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law. I know what it’s like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms. (Clinton)

So an economically rational young woman would seek to have sex with a high-income guy and harvest the child support rather than work? Why would it make sense to take on “incredible challenges” of simultaneously working and parenting when the same spending power can be realized without working?

Every other major country on Earth, every one, including some small countries, say that when a mother has a baby, she should stay home with that baby. We are the only major country. That is an international embarrassment that we do not provide family — paid family and medical leave. (Sanders)

What if we look at child support as an extended maternity leave? Suppose that a woman goes to a bar in Massachusetts and has sex with a dentist earning $250,000/year. She is now entitled to $40,000 per year in tax-free child support, which is roughly equivalent to median household after-tax income in Massachusetts. The cash will flow for 23 years and she can double this income, if desired, by finding a different dentist to have sex with in order to produce a second cash-yielding child. If “family leave” or “maternity leave” is defined as “payments received because of the birth of a child that do not require going to work” then couldn’t we consider the 23 years of child support to be an extended “maternity leave”?

When asked about legalizing recreational marijuana, you told her let’s wait and see how it plays out in Colorado and Washington. It’s been more than a year since you’ve said that. Are you ready to take a position tonight? (reporter to Clinton)

No. I think that we have the opportunity through the states that are pursuing recreational marijuana to find out a lot more than we know today. I do support the use of medical marijuana, and I think even there we need to do a lot more research so that we know exactly how we’re going to help people for whom medical marijuana provides relief. (Clinton)

I predict a big rush of applicants for the job of “doing a lot more research” on the effects of marijuana for the Clinton Foundation!

I agree completely with the idea that we have got to stop imprisoning people who use marijuana. (Clinton)

How many Americans are actually in prison right now for using, as opposed to selling, marijuana?

My mission as president will be to raise incomes for hard-working middle-class families and to make sure that we get back to the basic bargain I was raised with: If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead. (Clinton)

Can an American politician credibly promise to do this? What if the reason an American can’t get ahead and stay ahead is that there are millions of people in Asia who have better educations, better skills, and work harder? What difference does it make who is in the White House if the job is in Hong Kong?

9 thoughts on “Did anything interesting happen in the Democratic presidential debate?

  1. Phil,

    I have a close friend who is heavily involved in the Dems at the national level and she states Hillary simply isn’t well liked in her own party. Does that mean she won’t receive her party’s nomination? No. But my friend also says many, many heavyweight Dems are still looking for someone else “electable” to nominate in lieu of Hillary.
    I didn’t watch the debate, since I had some paint drying that was far more entertaining.

  2. “Another English language puzzle. If a person is providing capital to businesses then he or she could be considered a “capitalist.” How are politicians, who spend money rather than invest money, “capitalists”?”

    Well consider the finnish politicians investing money in schools, providing the country with a better workforce and thus everyone with a higher standard of living. That’s investing.

    “What difference does it make who is in the White House if the job is in Hong Kong?”

    Well, the politicians can make long, risky bets. Like the New Deal. They can, actually, make people richer in the long run. If they’re not just corrupt scumbags.

    As a capitalist I only make short, safe bets, focusing on the money ending up in my wallet. If I ruled the world, with all my caution, there’d be less wealth.

  3. Philip, thanks for commenting the transcript—which will be the extent of my involvement with that debate (btw, foreign affairs commentators in Europe are as usual all over it, but then it’s their “job”).

    Three thoughts:

    — you have one sick puppy of an electoral system, where no one of intellectual merit nor moral spine can ever compete. Obama did try, see what became of it… where’s Hunter J. Thompson where we need him? (Aaron Sorkin is too upbeat for any viable conclusions).

    — you are obsessed with no prospects for real growth in specifically American economy in either short or the long run, hence the need to #investinasia. The wealth already comes from there, and the Chinese hold your debts to account. This rapidly sinking-ship scenario applicable also to education and whatever. But isn’t all that a consequence of the Holy Unbridled Capitalism that you’ve collectively chosen as your bottom line religion: in unlimited eternal growth we trust? Also, you talk the talk, but if it’s as bad as you post, are you soon up sticks and live la vida loca elsewhere? (you can run the server from afar). If not, get the “Children of Men” preview of coming distractions DVD before the supplies run out, and there’s no one left with the knowhow to reorder more of them.

    — you are obsessed with young co-eds having sex with dentists and/or dermatologists in bars, in well in advance chosen states with the right kind of child support payment$. It’s kind of refreshing because, for once, you are talking of, euphemistically speaking, white trash femmes exploiting nouveau riche guys using the white man’s laws, rather than unwed teenage black mothers living off the welfare state (them food stamp costs add up!) I know you’re not imagining things, those things happen; on the other hand you constantly presenting that “3-kids-with-3-dentists” gold-digger model as a serious, wide-spread and common alternative life choice for all college-age women is no little demagogic [counter-instructional video: An Education].

    I wouldn’t want to be nosy or anything, but have you personally “experienced” such accidental fatherhood as a result of sex with a crafty co-ed in a bar in Massachusetts? That would explain A LOT.

  4. What is not surprising, is how boring these snippets all sound.

    Did any of the candidates raise even 1 point, that is outside the “narrative” that the current Democratic party puts forward? Climate change, need for gov’t intervention, there are people hurting out there and gov’t needs to help them, etc. etc.

    A friend on Facebook was hinting that maybe there was a conspiracy by the media, given the hype over the Republican candidates and the lack of media interest in the Dem debates.

    However a more logical reason is simply that the Dem debates are/were a known quantity with no surprises in store – and your summary above certainly seems to show this.

  5. Paddy,

    what “points” outside the known narrative could any of the main contenders raise without being pounded down by more-populist-than-themselves opponents, and, ABOVE ALL, idiot pundits imagining themselves to be Voices of The Silent Majority? (whereas they’re simply bottdom-feeders with mouths to feed and coke habits to maintain).

    So all the politicians go through the motions, and stay clear of making any bigger dents, or even promises of dents, in anything lest they end up having to explain themselves X years later. That’s why such a no-hoper like The Donald can for a while sound so refreshing – because he knows he won’t be held to account, so he can say what he damn pleases.

    You’d have been better off with voting for a pool of eligible presidential hopefuls (using whatever new criteria that that would demand), then picking the winner in a lottery or equivalent. Provided there would be proper enforceable ways to recall an occasional “dud,” I don’t foresee more problems with that kind of vote, than with the current elections of electoral colleges, which then pick the fewer-hanging-chads winner.

    Somebody should write a modern follow-up to the “Dark Horse” novel by Fletcher Knebel (1972), with similar “last-ditch, last-minute presidential party nominee threatening to win the sentiments of the bipartisan public” tale set in Internet-savvy times. (The Obama-like one in Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing” was much too much a product of politically correct wishful thinking, rather than of true WHAT IF–COME HELL OR HIGH WATER stage speculation).

  6. “Well consider the finnish politicians investing money in schools, providing the country with a better workforce and thus everyone with a higher standard of living. That’s investing.”

    No, it ain’t. That’s semantic sleight of hand. When I was in law school I took a course given by a guy who had been a financial wizard in the NYC government at the time they were going broke in the ’70s. NY law forbade the use of long term financing for short term spending. So what they did is that they said exactly what you said – that education was a long term investment in the future of NYC children, so therefore it was OK to fund teacher salaries using bond funding.

    “Investment” means risking private capital to purchase income producing assets whose marginal output is expected to exceed the cost of capital. Theoretically the government could make these kind of decisions too but too often the government decision making process is contaminated by considerations other than whether the investment will produce a return. See Solyndra.

    As Phil points out , the US is now spending twice as much (on an inflation adjusted basis) as in the past on education, but the results only get worse. Some of the school systems with the highest costs (e.g. Washington, D.C.) have the worst test results. Most of the results of education are predetermined by the time the kid sets foot in the school (no matter how early we start school). If the kid is from an intact two parent family with high IQ parents, he will do great. If not, not so great. Very little the school does matters compared to the raw material they are presented with. The idea that children are infinitely malleable balls of clay that schools can mold into valuable Wedgwood vases if we only spend enough money on them is a beautiful thought but it has very little relationship with reality.

  7. “Can an American politician credibly promise to do this? What if the reason an American can’t get ahead and stay ahead is that there are millions of people in Asia who have better educations, better skills, and work harder? What difference does it make who is in the White House if the job is in Hong Kong?”

    Sure, the government can do a lot to shape outcomes thru tax policy, immigration policy, trade rules, etc. When Disney brings in H1B’s to take away American programmer’s jobs, the government can either look the other way or tighten whatever loophole they are slipping thru. When they ship those jobs to Bangalore, the US can or cannot allow them to deduct the overseas wages as a business expense on their US return. When the Chinese flood the market with cheap tires, they can either allow them or impose an anti-dumping penalty.

    Sanders made the point that while overall wealth in the US has been increasing, a very small % of the population has been getting almost all of the increase. Despite all those smart Asians, the US has been getting wealthier but the benefits of that wealth have accreted to very few. You can take the heavy handed “spread the wealth” approach and literally take that money from the rich (e.g. a 90% marginal tax rate, which is what the US had during the Eisenhower years) or you can impose other policies which favor the middle class over the rich.

  8. Yes, you missed an interesting moment: criticizing “Assad’s invasion in Syria”. From a presidential candidate — priceless.

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