The Unfortunate Calm After the Democratic Debate

No ‘Winner’ found here, but Chafee seen standing in the rubble



Hillary By Marc NozellLincoln_Chafee_(14103606100_cc56e38ddd_h)

Hillary Clinton and Lincoln Chafee were among the six candidates at the first national democratic debate. (Photo courtesy of Flickr and Wikimedia Commons)

The fires have calmed; the ashes now are beginning to settle. The terrible struggle to decide who, in fact, won the first democratic debate has mostly ended — but the desolation is vast. A casual observer would find it difficult to distinguish between the comments scroll of most newspapers and left-leaning political blogs and the Argonne forest in 1918.

And lo! It was all for naught!

For whom among ye — all ye beltway plunderers an’ picnic pundits an’ weekend warriors — whom among ye could say it in true certainty who “won” that dreadful night?

Shame! All of you: Shame!

It was 96 degrees in Las Vegas. Five candidates wandered bravely into the Wynn casino. Three of them were aware, mostly, of what awaited them inside: The sentence deemed by the powers that be that they would make their grim case and be obliterated in the radioactive gaze of CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Only one, according to the old-time narrative, could emerge victorious.

The New York Times  would vouch for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Chicago Tribune, interestingly, because it’s a traditionally conservative paper, would go with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The Washington and Huffington Posts vary heavily depending on the article.

Me? I would go with Lincoln Chafee, the former Governor of Rhode Island.

Chafee had nothing to lose and everything to gain. While it’s true that he lost nothing and gained very little, it’s so unclear what either frontrunner truly gained that — in the absence of any kind of normal primary — I must hand this victory to that altar-boy from Rhode Island. I certainly can’t give it to Jim Webb of New Hampshire. No: He spent most of the night looking like a discarded leg of ham. His only smile in reference to the guerilla he killed in the Vietnam War.

What Chafee lacked in, everything else he made up for in heart. A liberal republican turned independent, turned democrat wearing a green tie — that’s a lot for your average voter to ingest. Chafee displayed a lot of heart, but not enough to be president of the United States of America.

As for Martin O’Malley? Well. Who cares? I certainly don’t. Not right now, anyway. You can be addressed with the next debate, Martin O’Malley, if you’re still there. Lord knows Webb and Chafee won’t be.

Most of the praise for Clinton centers on her polish. She was the most polished of the candidates, in any kind of sense, and that was a given. Anyone who expected Bernie Sanders or Jim Webb or Lincoln Chafee to be “polished” for the debate should probably be jailed. Her performance was, indeed, well done. But for a candidate whose greatest, and some would say only weakness is a lack of authenticity, a polished persona can only go so far. O’Malley was polished, to an extent, but I’ve already made my case about him, one that will hold for the duration of this article.

Meanwhile, her rhetoric only reinforced the idea that she will shell out for any idea she believes will get her elected. It’s hard to prove that “progressive who gets things done” is not a fake, regardless of whether her new-found stances on the trans-pacific trade pact or on Wall Street are true. Clinton has no way of proving these stances anymore, and a large part of the electorate is disinclined to believe that she holds them now.

Now, I’m firmly in the Sanders camp of things, I might as well come out here on that. But as far as he goes: Using words like “socialist” and “revolution” without a good deal of context are not great ways of addressing mainstream America — especially when a campaign hinges, as his does, on being about issues relating to all Americans. Nor does asking for money like some kind of television salesman at the end of the debate, when your whole message has to do with getting money out of politics.

The reason it’s hard to tell whom, if either “won” the Democratic debate is because they’re operating on very different levels. Clinton is running a typical post citizens united campaign. Sanders’ campaign is one of guerilla activism — thousands of independent cells acting by their own rules across the nation. The effects of the debate on both are going to be wildly, unimaginably, different.

And for the next month or so, while those effects are still gestating, calling either of them a “winner” seems premature and immature by design.

So until then: The “winner” of the first national democratic debate is former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.