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Dems Differ With Republicans, Not Much With Each Other

Dems Differ With Republicans, Not Much With Each Other

Dems at debate
AP Photo

Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate highlighted contrasts with the GOP more than anything else.

Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate highlighted the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans far more than differences among the Democratic contenders.

Unlike the Republican debates so far, the first Democratic debate had no bashing of LGBT people or talk about "persecution" of people of faith -- as a matter of fact, some candidates touted their support for LGBT causes. It had no demonization of immigrants. It had no denunciation of abortion or call to defund Planned Parenthood.

Indeed, some of the candidates pointed out those contrasts in their closing statements. "On this stage, you didn't hear anyone denigrate women, you didn't hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants, you didn't hear anyone speak ill of another American because of their religious belief," said former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. "What you heard instead on this stage tonight was an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also commented on this, saying, "In this debate, we tried to deal with some of the very tough issues facing our country. That's in stark contrast to the Republicans who are currently running for president."

There was little discussion of LGBT issues, but the few statements the candidates made had a positive tone. O'Malley praised the attitudes of young people. "Talk to our young people under 30, because you'll never find among them people that want to bash immigrants or people that want to deny rights to gay couples," he said, to much applause. "That tells me we are moving to a more connected, generous, and compassionate place, and we need to speak to the goodness within our country." That was in his closing statement; in his opening statement he had touted passing the state's marriage equality law as one of his accomplishments as governor.

Lincoln Chafee, who signed marriage equality into law when he was governor of Rhode Island, noted his support for that cause when answering moderator Anderson Cooper's question about whether he was vulnerable for criticism for his switches in party affiliation, from Republican to independent to Democrat.

"I have not changed on the issues," Chafee said. "I was a liberal Republican, then I was an independent, and now I'm a proud Democrat. But I have not changed on the issues. And I open my record to scrutiny. Whether it's on the environment, a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, fiscal responsibility, aversion to foreign entanglements, using the tools of government to help the less fortunate." He switched affiliations, he said, because there was no longer a place for him in the Republican Party: "The party left me."

Clinton, who in her opening statement said one of her goals as president would be addressing "the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community," faced a question from Cooper about the fact that she has changed positions on marriage equality and other issues.

"You were against same-sex marriage," the out CNN journalist said. "Now you're for it. You defended President Obama's immigration policies. Now you say they're too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the 'gold standard.' Now, suddenly, last week, you're against it."

Clinton replied that her principles had not changed, "but, like most human beings -- including those of us who run for office -- I do absorb new information."

LGBT issues didn't come up otherwise, and in general, the five participants largely were in consensus on major issues -- with former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb slightly more conservative than the rest, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont generally somewhat more liberal.

The candidates agreed on the need to further regulate financial markets, reduce economic inequality, provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reform the criminal justice system so fewer people go to jail for nonviolent crimes, address climate change, and limit military involvement around the world, with a few differences on just how to do this. For instance, Sanders and Clinton agree that making higher education more affordable would reduce the economic divide; Sanders wants free tuition at public colleges and universities, no strings attached, while Clinton would like to see students work in exchange for tuition waivers.

The candidates also highlighted some differences in their voting records. Sanders and Chafee, who is a former U.S. senator as well as a governor, both pointed out that they voted against U.S. military action in Iraq, which Clinton voted for as a senator from New York. Sanders called the Iraq war "the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country," and he warned against U.S. intervention in the conflict in Syria, which he dubbed "a quagmire in a quagmire." He suggested that Clinton would be more open to intervention than he would. Clinton, for her part, criticized Sanders's votes against gun control measures.

Sanders also touted the differences in funding between himself and other candidates, saying he's the only one without a super PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, and that most of his supporters are small donors. The senator identifies as a small-D "democratic socialist," and Cooper said a Republican attack ad on his positions would "write itself."

Sanders replied that there's a need to educate people about what democratic socialism is, that it embraces such policies as universal health care and paid family leave. As to whether Americans will vote for him, Sanders said, Republicans win when there is a low voter turnout. ... Sixty-three percent of the American people didn't vote, Anderson. Eighty percent of young people didn't vote. We are bringing out huge turnouts, and creating excitement all over this country."

All in all, there was little in the debate that appeared likely to change the status of Clinton and Sanders as the top contenders. Vice President Joe Biden could shake up the race if he decides to run, but he has not announced a decision.

The biggest applause of the night came in a discussion of the congressional inquiry into Clinton's use of a private email server when she headed the State Department. "Tonight I want to talk not about my emails, but about what the American people want from the next president of the United States," she said to much applause

Sanders interjected, "Let me say something that may not be great politics. But I think the secretary is right, and that is that the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails." The crowd erupted even further, and did so again shortly thereafter, when Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to comment on Chafee's remarks about the email matter raising questions of credibility. She said simply, "No."

If you missed the debate and want to see a full transcript, The Washington Post has one here, annotated with commentary.

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