The contrast could not have been starker. Compared to the rambunctious two debates that the Republican Party has had, the inaugural Democratic Party debate showcased a party largely united on what it stands for and against. It was like stepping into another country — the message was one of inclusiveness, of taking the country forward, and was directed to future voters. Gun control, social and income inequality, and climate change are all issues that younger Americans care about deeply.
Such was the level of unity across the party line that when offered a golden opportunity to criticise Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders decided to come to her rescue. Asked if he would like to comment on Mrs Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state, he emphatically said that the American people “are sick and tired of hearing about her damn email!” It was one of the most memorable moments of the debate, ending in smiles and handshakes between the two candidates. The message was loud and clear: rather than indulge in smearing their opponents, Democratic candidates would rather debate on policies and issues.
It was a stellar night for Mrs Clinton, as she occupied the limelight for the vast majority of the debate. After a horrendous last few months, she was in full form, targeting her opposing numbers, effectively deflecting tough questions and railing against the Republican Party on issues such as defunding Planned Parenthood. She even made the most of an opportunity to lay into her rival and number two contender, calling Sanders out on his weak stance on gun control. The fact that few issues caused significant disagreement during the entire debate is evidence that the party is united and moving towards the left in unison.
The Republican Party leadership, keen to get its candidate into the Oval Office, should be concerned. Its plethora of candidates, including one who believes that life on earth is actually 6,000-years-old, have not been able to offer a vision for the future. The Grand Old Party (GOP) is so divided that it is unable to elect a speaker simply because it is unable to get its caucus in a straight line. Its members deny scientific evidence pointing to climate change, continue to push for hawkish foreign policy decisions, and double-down on positions that isolate African-Americans, Latinos, Muslim and women voters in the US.
For any Democratic candidate, setting aside a late entry by Joe Biden, and this will most definitely be Clinton’s narrative, the story writes itself: Republicans are living in the past and want to take the US backwards. Meanwhile, the Democrats can paint themselves as the party of reform that wants to reform America and take it forward.
A Democratic candidate will most definitely argue that by tackling institutional racism, solving the immigration crisis and making bold reforms to provide equal pay and paid family leave to women, they could take the country forward. This would win them a majority of African-American, Latino and women constituencies that are so critical to success in a presidential cycle.
It was a breath of fresh air to see politicians recognise that one of the central reasons for America’s success has been its immigrant population. A new generation of immigrants grows up in this country, bringing fresh ideas and renewed energy. Meanwhile, in the Republican camp, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment know no bound. It is as if Republicans have forgotten that the vast majority of Americans come from immigrant families.
Another important issue that the Democrats are united on is climate change. Governor O’Malley’s position on making America’s electricity grid renewable by 2050 drew tremendous applause. Near unanimous consensus exists on the challenges posed by climate change and the fact that America must look to cleaner and more innovative technologies of the future while moving away from dirtier industries like coal. There is a recognition that if the US leads, other countries like China will follow, and that technological innovation through a concerted effort to invest in renewables will make American companies global leaders in this field.
In its bid to select the most ideologically pure candidate, the GOP is committing political suicide. It is important that the party comes to the centre, but thus far, the internal dynamics of the GOP are pulling it further to the right. This is a boon for the Democrats. A wide gulf separates the visions being offered by Democratic and GOP candidates. One is looking to the future, the other reminiscing the past.
With more than a year to go until voters go to elect a new president, there is plenty of time for things to change. Given the contrasting visions being offered by both parties, however, it seems like it might not be such a tough choice for voters after all.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2015.
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