The tenacious contenders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination congregated to debate for the second time in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, November 14.
This debate represented a momentous occasion for the Democratic Party. Yet, the Democrats continually, over the course of the proceedings, cited examples of Republicans to elucidate their policies on everything from progressive taxation to dismantling banking conglomerates. Whilst contemporary Republicans have gone to such right-wing extremes that they no longer find much to celebrate in their partisan predecessors, the Democrats were earnest in referencing Republican presidents of yore throughout the debate. In so doing, they provided something rather rare in what has been a volatile political season: historical perspective that challenges a false narrative.
The critical exchange in the proceedings occurred when CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes challenged Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on how he would pay for the popular incentives — free higher education, expansion of Social Security, investment in infrastructure — that he has proposed. “Let’s get specific,” she asked regarding tax rates. “How high would you go? You’ve said before you’d go above 50 percent. How high?” “We haven’t come up with an exact number yet,” replied Sanders. “But it will not be as high as the number under Dwight D. Eisenhower, which was 90 percent.”
Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton once again sought to move past the controversy over her use of a personal email server that has recurred throughout her campaign for months. This time, however, she found herself defended by a nationwide audience to make her case that the issue has become nothing more than a petty partisan attack.
Amongst the issues raised over the course of the past two debates, the issues of each candidate on the Pacific Trade Deal, financial reform, the Keystone Pipeline, immigration, and gun control have become abundantly clear. Hillary Clinton, confronted with her 2012 speech in Australia when she referred to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as “the gold standard in trade agreements,” has reversed her stance on the deal in a move of astute statesmanship in order to leverage the support of labor unions. It is true that when Mrs. Clinton delivered that speech in 2012, the Pacific accord, which ropes in approximately 40% of the world’s economy, was far from being comprehensive and complete. However, during the last two rounds of negotiations, the trade deal has fundamentally shifted toward leftist ideologies, not toward the right.
Mrs. Clinton and Sanders largely agree in the direction of financial reform, favoring policies to try and reduce risk, even if the implications of this are less profitable banks. Mrs. Clinton, however, is more focused on specific changes to address the causes of the last crisis and potential sources of the next. Mr. Sanders is more focused on reducing the size and political influence of the biggest banks.
On the issue of immigration, Bernie Sanders repudiated George W. Bush’s immigration overhaul last year because of the provisions it made regarding guest workers. Mr. Sanders has long voiced concerns about guest-worker programs, both because of working conditions and also because he asserts staunchly that allowing more temporary foreign workers brings down wages for American laborers and hinders efforts to mitigate unemployment.
Governor O’Malley seems the intermediate in his policies in comparison to the two extremes established by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders. O’Malley supports free trade agreements, but only those agreements that establish strong and enforceable rules for fair competition, creating opportunity for American workers while lifting standards in partner nations. He seeks to change the culture of regulatory and oversight agencies and departments by ensuring that financial regulators retain independence. O’Malley asserts that Senior Officials at the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission, Treasury and other key departments have been deeply entrenched in the industries they are supposed to regulate, and often return to them after they leave government. This practice undermines their independence and public trust in the federal government’s role of independent arbiter. O’Malley has also voiced strong concerns on strengthening Social Security’s long-term fiscal outlook, and supports lifting the cap on the payroll tax for workers earning more than $250,000 in addition to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
On immigration, O’Malley would direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide immediate relief from deportation, with work authorization, to all individuals covered by the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform proposal.
All in all, the debate appeared particularly successful for Martin O’Malley, who in invoking the terrible attacks in Paris, garnered tremendous applause and recognition in his assertions regarding the shaping of foreign policy and American intervention moving forward. “We must remember that this the new face of conflict and warfare … in the 21st century. And there is no nation on the planet better able to adapt to this change than our nation.”