Democratic Debate Sees Sanders and Clinton Snippy in South Carolina

Last night’s Democratic Debate came at an interesting time in the race: frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out as more contentious with each other than at any point previously, with Hillary criticizing Sanders’ healthcare plan and Sanders biting back while consistently unpopular Martin O’Malley continues to surprise pundits and disrupt campaign conventions by staying in the race at all.

The debate was set the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day, the day upon which America memorializes (and, on the institutional level, largely waters down) civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King; it was also hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute and set in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine black people were murdered by a white supremacist only a few months ago. The stage was set for a comprehensive and committed conversation on racial justice in the US, one which… mostly did not happen.


But first, let’s talk about what did happen. Sanders and Clinton have also been in the news about their stances on gun control, and specifically on whether the government should allow the survivors of those killed by gun violence to pursue lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Both Clinton and Sanders called each other inconsistent on the issue, and O’Malley chimed in to agree that yes, they were both inconsistent. All three candidates mentioned a $15 federal minimum wage — or at least raising the minimum wage — in their opening statements. The rising rates of addiction to opioids were also discussed, even if Bernie Sanders did at one point conflate them with mental health care for reasons that remain mysterious. Healthcare in general was a major point of contention, with Clinton claiming that Sanders’ health plan wants to “tear up Obamacare and replace it,” and Sanders reminding everybody that he was on the committee that wrote the Affordable Care Act and that all he wants to do is give everyone healthcare. You get healthcare! And you get healthcare! And so it goes.

Early in the debate, YouTuber and racial justice advocate Franchesca Ramsey was given the (video) floor to ask the candidates this question: “I believe there’s a huge conflict of interest when local prosecutors investigate cases of police violence within their own communities. For example, last month, the officers involved in the case of 12- year-old Tamir Rice weren’t indicted. How would your presidency ensure that incidents of police violence are investigated and prosecuted fairly?”

Unfortunately, only Sanders was asked to answer by moderators; when he did, he argued that any death in police custody should automatically trigger a Department of Justice investigation; he argued for de-militarization of police, and making police departments more diverse. Somewhat frustratingly, he also said “if a police officer breaks the law, like any public official, that officer must be held accountable” — but didn’t go so far as to answer Ms. Ramsey’s question about how that would actually be accomplished. He also at one point bizarrely claimed that his lack of a voter base among Black Americans was because they… aren’t aware of his campaign or his platforms? “When the African American community becomes familiar with my Congressional record and with our agenda, and with our views on the economy, and criminal justice — just as the general population has become more supportive, so will the African American community, so will the Latino community.” Okay then.



Clinton, for her part, had clearly come prepared to talk about police violence and racial justice, perhaps hoping to combat perception that she shies away from these topics or only discusses them in generalities. When asked if black men’s fears that “their lives are cheap” was “perception or reality,” Clinton agreed it was a reality; she named Walter Scott, the black man whose shooting at the hands of Officer Michael Slager was caught on video in South Carolina, and asked “what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men” who were being incarcerated, pointing to the disparity in convictions of white and black offenders for the same crimes. Unfortunately, her response still didn’t include any explication of how these inequities will be addressed!

MLK Day has the unfortunate mark of white people’s aggressively misunderstanding the leader’s legacy, repeating all of the vaguest, most general parts of his writing about ideals of equality while conveniently ignoring all of his incisive, concrete and urgent calls for specific political action to end poverty, state violence, and institutional oppression. It doesn’t seem like anyone in this debate chose to deviate from that pattern in a significant way. It’s still quite a ways until the DNC nominations, and if these candidates are hoping that showcasing their knowledge that social problems exist is going to carry them into the White House, they may be in for a surprise.

You can read a full transcript of the debate here!

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. If you’re not convinced by the debates, do the research for yourself. Bernie has listed his policy positions on racial justice in great detail. Hillary doesn’t even list it as an issue on her website.

    • Agreed. Reading the details on their websites (if they provide it) is the way to go if you wanna flesh out the details and see specifics on their proposed plans. Candidates at debates aren’t going to provide super detailed plans (if the they are smart) because most people in our social media society won’t consume it. Or at least won’t consume it in ways that will benefit the candidates. Those running who stick to a few powerful talking points that back up their detailed plans during debates and speaking engagements get it. They are speaking to the Facebook status writing, tweet posts, Instagram pic people who only consume info in quick soundbites. I get wanting to know more details and exactly HOW candidates are going to go about things. And maybe not hearing specifics during debates seems shady, but I really do think it’s a strategy to not bore and talk over the heads of most Americans. It’s a strategy to provide just enough info to be consumable. Candidates know the people who really want to learn about details will research it and find answers. Most of Americans just don’t do that. That’s what I think is going on anyway. Or at least a piece of what’s going on.

    • Agreed, Sanders’ policy wonk did indeed craft a position on racial justice and Clinton’s has not. But it’s a problem when they can’t talk about the issues at all. Sen Sanders excluding POC from the “general population” is a problem for obvious reasons. I still do not know who I will vote for, and as a social worker and human I am all for single-payer (though Clinton’s call to end Hyde may be the deciding factor in the end).

  2. It be interesting to see how foreign relations(specially with European countries) will work if Bernie Sanders is elected president. In Europe more so, Jews have conditional white privilege, i.e. if you don’t look Jewish, or act Jewish you maybe safe from racism. I am still surprised Obama isn’t getting much shit from Europeans(just watch a Polish soccer match, against a team who have players who are poc, it’s not pretty).

  3. I hate the debate format so so so much. It’s stupid – if you only have a minute to answer, well… it’s not exactly leaving room for complicated answers. ‘Say, how do you feel about the Middle East? 60 seconds or less, please.’ Ugh.

    ALSO WHY ARE THE TV PEOPLE SO RUDE TO MARTIN O’MALLEY???? Is your goal to inform – because then surely giving everyone equal time to present their platform would be advantageous – or to fan some sort of fire of your own excitement that you’ll have soundbytes for later? It’s so gross. And insulting to watch.

    I just want to scream every time they interrupt a candidate for daring to actually have something to say about an issue.

    • Totally agree…the debate format isn’t built for people to learn things about the candidates, it’s built to advance the soundbite culture.

      And what’s particularly grating about the treatment of O’Malley is that he very well may decide who wins Iowa. In a lot of Democratic districts in Iowa, he won’t reach the viability threshold (that is, 15% of caucus attendees) and his supporters are then free to caucus with another candidate. In 2008, Dennis Kucinich outright asked supporters to caucus for Obama if he wasn’t viable and Joe Biden and Bill Richardson were rumored to have similar agreements (though not explicitly).

      If O’Malley’s garnering the 5-7% in Iowa that polls suggest, that could be decisive in a race as close as this one. It was stupid for Sanders and Clinton not to be more deferential.

    • The format is a joke. Even within competitive debate, speeches are either 5 or 8 minutes long, and in some categories of debate that’s still not nearly long enough to get through arguments!

      I think it would be interesting to see a blog roundtable text-only debate, where participants are given at least an hour for prep and fact-checking between posts. Let it take place over a week, 1-3 posts a day per candidate. Even if the candidates defer it to a ghost-writer, then we still know that they have someone advising their positions that know what they’re talking about!

      But there’s no concentrated broadcast/advertising opportunities for such a format, so there’s no incentive. Maybe put a paywall around commenting on the posts or something.

  4. Haha. this is the stuff my – and every other evil machine’s – dreams are made of. A choice between faith and future, forced on every gay woman. Faith leading to irrelevance and future to apostasy. Even Tzeentch couldn’t plan this better.

  5. The attack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign (first by Chelsea Clinton, then by herself and several campaign aides) against Bernie Sanders’ healthcare platform was a classic GoP attack, you know, that kind of attack that AS usually criticizes because it’s full of fear-mongering crap?

    Yes, you have Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP, but still millions of Americans live without healthcare coverage. I guess “Realpolitik” can live with that…

    • The issue isn’t that one candidate wants millions to live without healthcare coverage and the other doesn’t…and

      It’s that governing happens in what you aptly call “realpolitik.”

      • It took realpolitik 45 years to develop Affordable Care Act and you still have 11% of adults uninsured. So, how much time do you need?

        And is not like Sanders is proposing some kind of “socialist healthcare” like the Canadians or the British have, because I can’t really imagine that debate.

        • How much time do you need? More than 45 years, apparently.

          This isn’t a question of preference, it’s about process…which seems a boring thing to concern yourself with, admittedly, but it’s a necessary one. How does Bernie Sanders’ healthcare plan pass Congress? How does a Congress that couldn’t pass a public option with a Democratic majority pass universal Medicare with Republican majorities? It’s not clear that the Sanders campaign has an answer to those questions.

          If we were further removed from the ACA debate, perhaps this question wouldn’t be an issue, but political imaginations are often tempered by political memories.

          • But Democrats controlled both houses in the first two years of Obama’s administration. And the same happened with Clinton’s administration. In both cases, what changed?

            I do remember one little moment in history where the American people remembered that the people has the power: in 2008 the United States House of Representatives rejected the bank’s bailout because of the public outrage. Of course, the people forgot to come back for the second round and we all know what happened next.

            It was a little and beautiful example of what happens when the people knows that exercising power in a Representative Democracy doesn’t mean that you only get to vote every now and then.

  6. “The rising rates of addiction to opioids were also discussed, even if Bernie Sanders did at one point conflate them with mental health care for reasons that remain mysterious.”
    Addiction is a mental health issue. Narcan treats overdoses, not addiction. Treatment of addiction is not always covered by insurance. Mystery solved.

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