Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off on gun control, the economy, and racial inequality.
Sunday evening’s CNN Democratic debate put last week’s Fox News GOP debate to shame in several ways. This had nothing to do with the hosting network (the recent CNN GOP debate was also a disaster) and everything to do with behavior. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders decided to do something brazen and discuss issues of policy. This seems shocking during a presidential race where debates see hosts taking things seriously while candidates base their insults on body parts rather than policy differences.
In contrast to their GOP brethren, the two Democrats rebelliously did the issues. Clinton even asked the audience to appreciate their “substance” over the GOP debate circus. Sanders added, “When you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to address the mental health.” The audience laughed, but the internet swiftly divided between those who found the joke funny and those who didn’t appreciate a stigma as a punchline. Later on, the candidates clashed in a yuuge argument over Clinton’s Wall Street ties, but first, they addressed policy in a townhall-like manner.
Setting was all-important. The debate happened in Flint, Michigan, and was attended by local residents, who are adversely affected by the continuing water crisis with no signs of resolution. Several questions were posed by not only Don Lemon and Anderson Cooper, but also those who suffer from decisions made by state and national politicians. We heard from a housing manager, a mother whose children endure lasting effects of lead poisoning, and a father of the teenage girl who was shot in nearby Kalamazoo during a seemingly random spree. Throughout the evening, the issues varied, but the most telling moments revolved around issues faced within Flint, a community that’s disproportionately filled with minority residents.
The Flint Water Crisis
Sanders and Clinton agreed to place blame squarely upon GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who failed to take action on Flint’s poisoned water despite realizing the situation for almost a year. Sanders ripped into Snyder for allowing people to drink the water. Clinton delivered an even more passionate statement: “It is raining lead in Flint.” Sanders further vowed that, as president, he would fire anyone who knew about the Flint water crisis, but did nothing. He also questioned why the government claims to not have enough money to replace Flint’s pipes and repair other crumbling infrastructure in many cities. “How do we have so much money to go to Iraq and spend trillions of dollars?” Sanders questions why tax cuts to billionaires are valued by the GOP over improving nationwide education.
Racial Inequality In America
Beyond the water crisis, much of the evening revolved around racial inequality. Sanders pointed how “it galls me” to see discrepancies between white collar and garden-variety criminals. He drew a comparison of how Michigan teens caught with marijuana gain a police record, but breaking the law on Wall Street generally results in only a fine. Lemon used a common, saying — “everyone is a little bit racist” — to kick off a key question to each candidate about their respective blindspots. Clinton answered first:
“I think being a white person in the United States of America, I know that I have never had the experience that so many people, the people in this audience have had. And I think it’s incumbent upon me and what I have been trying to talk about during this campaign is to urge white people to think about what it is like to have ‘the talk’ with your kids, scared that your sons or daughters, even, could get in trouble for no good reason whatsoever like Sandra Bland and end up dead in a jail in Texas.”
Clinton continued to address the need to destroy systemic racism, and Sanders joined in with a story of how his friend, an African-American congressman, couldn’t catch a D.C. cab in the 1990s. Sanders then discussed his recent interactions with Black Lives Matter activists and how they challenged him to provide more than mere rhetoric. During his travels, he learned this lesson:
“When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in the ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street, or when you get dragged out of a car. And I believe that as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear. We will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.”
Gun Control In America
Gun control was also a large topic of discussion and piggybacked off the Kalamazoo tragedy. Clinton brought up her closeness with parents of Sandy Hook victims, and she called out gun makers for “selling guns to make as much money as they can make.” Sanders countered Clinton a bit by saying, “We have got to do everything we can to end these mass killings.” He also recalled being on the Senate floor and having his heart broken while learning about the “almost unspeakable” Newtown shootings, but he thinks “ending gun manufacturing in America” isn’t the right approach: “I don’t agree with that.” While Clinton wants to limit the total number of guns in America, Sanders would like to lengthen the waiting period to purchase a gun and stop “selling military-style assault weapons which are designed to kill people.”
The Most Heated Exchange Involved Wall Street Ties
Also related to the Michigan setting, perhaps the most fiery exchange revolved around the auto industry bailout and Clinton’s Wall Street ties. This segment grew ugly after Clinton mentioned how Sanders voted against the 2009 bill that provided the bailout money. He countered, “If you’re talking about the Wall Street bailout where some of your friends destroyed this economy…” Clinton tried to interject, Sanders shut her down, and then she eventually called him a “one-issue candidate.” This right here was the closest moment to a GOP-esque brawl, and both candidates barely kept their cool. Still, they acted like grownups, unlike a certain group of men who’d also like to run the country.