Viva Las Vegas: On casino capitalism, democratic socialism and honeymooning on the Volga

Fusion Focus Group: Who do you think won the debate?

Fusion Focus Group: Who do you think won the debate?

Good morning Austin:

OK.

It’s not clear to me why the Democrats held their first presidential debate in Las Vegas.

Maybe if Bill, not Hillary, Clinton were on stage. But Elvis has left the building.

I mean shouldn’t Trump and the Republicans be debating in this shrine to free market opulence and  gaudy excess?

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Instead, here are the five Democratic contenders gathered for the first time on the stage of Wynn casino in Las Vegas debating whether they should go from the being the party of creeping socialism to being the party of leaping socialism.

ANDERSON COOPER: Senator Sanders. A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?

BERNIE SANDERS: Well, we’re gonna win because first, we’re gonna explain what democratic socialism is. And what democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent. That when you look around the world, you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right, except the United States. You see every other major country saying to moms that, when you have a baby, we’re not gonna separate you from your newborn baby, because we are going to have — we are gonna have medical and family paid leave, like every other country on Earth. Those are some of the principles that I believe in, and I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.

COOPER: Denmark is a country that has a population — Denmark is a country that has a population of 5.6 million people. The question is really about electability here, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. You — the — the Republican attack ad against you in a general election — it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t — doesn’t that ad write itself?

SANDERS: Well, first of all, let’s look at the facts. The facts that are very simple. Republicans win when there is a low voter turnout, and that is what happened last November. 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. Democrats at the White House on down will win, when there is excitement and a large voter turnout, and that is what this campaign is doing.

COOPER: You don’t consider yourself a capitalist, though?

SANDERS: Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy? No, I don’t. I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.

Very good.

But, as Anderson Cooper noted, the Republican attack ads really do write themselves.

It’s one thing to attack casino capitalism in a casino, but, here in the home of the 24-hour wedding chapel and the heart-shaped tub is a candidate who honeymooned in the Soviet Union.

Really? Can that be true?

Ninotchka in reverse?

Say it ain’t so, Bernie.

From The Guardian:

When Sanders was mayor, Burlington formed an alliance with another city – in the Soviet Union. When Sanders traveled to Yaroslavl, 160 miles north-east of Moscow, in 1988, the trip doubled as a honeymoon with his new wife, Jane. Not much survived in terms of paperwork from that trip, although the mayoral archives do contain a tape recording of Sanders interviewing Yaroslavl’s mayor on a boat somewhere on the Volga river.

After receiving a rundown of central planning, Soviet-style, from Yaroslavl’s mayor, Alexander Riabkov, Sanders notes how the quality of both housing and healthcare in America appeared to be “significantly better” than in the communist state. “However,” he added, “the cost of both services is much, much, higher in the United States.”

Sounds like the same comparison applies to honeymoon accommodations

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Rates From: USD$51.00 per night.

Looks nice. Very comfortable. Quite adequate.

Ah, but maybe the photos are misleading.

I checked the on-line reviews.

Viktor G. gave it a 6. Pretty good.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 7.18.58 AMIt seems the general tenor of the post-debate headlines and pundit reaction was that Hillary Clinton prevailed and strengthened her position.

But, not according to the Republican National Committee.

Here from an after-midnight email from the RNC’s Ruth Guerra:

Good evening – Lots of analysis tonight on the Democrat debate, but consider these takeaways:

· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by Frank Luntz.
· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by Fusion.
· Bernie Sanders won the focus group conducted by CNN.
· Bernie Sanders won on the issues according to Facebook users.
· Bernie Sanders was the most searched candidate following the debate according to Google Trends.

Hillary Clinton may be the strongest debater on the stage – she was in 2008 too – but it was Bernie Sanders that won the hearts and interest of Democrat voters.

Here, from Guerra’s links.

According to Luntz’s reaction meter, the best-received moment of the debate was when Sanders said he and the American people were tired of hearing about Clinton’s emails.

SANDERS: Let me say this. (APPLAUSE)

Let me say — 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 e-mails. (APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Thank you. Me, too. Me, too.

SANDERS: You know? The middle class — Anderson, and let me say something about the media, as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people. Middle class in this country is collapsing. We have 27 million people living in poverty. We have massive wealth and income inequality. Our trade policies have cost us millions of decent jobs. The American people want to know whether we’re going to have a democracy or an oligarchy as a result of Citizens Union. Enough of the e-mails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Thank you, Bernie. Thank you.

Luntz’s focus group loved that.

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But Trump, on Morning Joe, said Sanders let Clinton off the hook on an issue of her greatest vulnerability. “It was a great soundbite but I think it was a big mistake.”

Back to Guerra’s links.

From Fusion. (What is Fusion? From the Atlantic: Fusion began as a channel aimed at Hispanic millennials. Its executives soon found, however, that the demographic didn’t want their own network. So it chose to focus on millennials as a whole.)

From a CNN focus group.

From a CNN Facebook poll.

 

From Google Trends:

 

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I asked three experts on political discourse to offer some commentary on the debate.

From Jennifer Mercieca, professor of communication at Texas A & M University:

The low point for Hillary was her (I’m paraphrasing, but this is what it sounded like to me) “the emails thing is a vast right-wing conspiracy” answer. She was best on foreign policy, but that won’t matter because only Republicans care about that and they are not persuadable when it comes to her.

And yet, she did what she needed to do, which was to solidify her lead with those who’ve been wavering lately. No one else could match her and Chafee bombed. The worst moment of the debate was his “I just arrived” answer about Glass-Steagall. We want a president who is ready on day one, not making excuses years later for what he didn’t know on day one. Hillary came off, as she wanted to, as a pragmatic progressive. Bernie was true to form, character, and message, but he doesn’t seem presidential and he’s hardly a Democrat. His line about Hillary’s damn emails was pretty great though.

Chafee’s “worst moment” was pretty bad.

COOPER: Governor Chafee, you have attacked Secretary Clinton for being too close to Wall Street banks. In 1999 you voted for the very bill that made banks bigger.

CHAFEE: The Glass-Steagall was my very first vote, I’d just arrived, my dad had died in office, I was appointed to the office, it was my very first vote.

COOPER: Are you saying you didn’t know what you were voting for?

CHAFEE: I’d just arrived at the Senate. I think we’d get some takeovers, and that was one. It was my very first vote, and it was 92-5. It was the…

COOPER: Well, with all due respect, Governor…

CHAFEE: But let me just say…

COOPER: … what does that say about you that you’re casting a vote for something you weren’t really sure about?

CHAFEE: I think you’re being a little rough. I’d just arrived at the United States Senate. I’d been mayor of my city. My dad had died. I’d been appointed by the governor. It was the first vote and it was 90-5, because it was a conference report. But let me just say about income inequality. We’ve had a lot of talk over the last few minutes, hours, or tens of minutes, but no one is saying how we’re going to fix it. And it all started with the Bush tax cuts that favored the wealthy. So let’s go back to the tax code. And 0.6 percent of Americans are at the top echelon, over 464,000, 0.6 Americans. That’s less than 1 percent. But they generate 30 percent of the revenue. And they’re doing fine.

COOPER: Thank you, Governor

I think the dream of Chafee 2016 may have expired in that exchange.

But Chafee, who went from Republican to Independent to Democrat, is one very idiosyncratic duck.

Here from a Nov. 14, 2004 story in The Providence Journal by M. Charles Bakst, when Chafee was in the throes of deciding whether to remain a Republican.

His party affiliation sway-pole act was overshadowed only by vacillation over how he’d vote for president this year. Sometimes he signaled he was for Mr. Bush; at other times he backed off.

A spectacular low point came on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention. (He would make only a brief appearance on the New York scene.) Chafee said he supported Mr. Bush’s reelection but wouldn’t commit to voting for him. He looked ridiculous, and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, more conservative, more combative, and a possible challenger in a 2006 Senate primary, could barely contain himself, asking in an interview:

“What does that mean? Usually, the people you support you vote for. Would you vote for one you wouldn’t support? Or is he saying he supports two people?

Then Chafee, distancing himself further from the president but also wanting to stay away from Democrat John Kerry, hit upon the solution of writing in the name of the president’s father, an old family friend whose policies he like better.

But, in declining to choose between candidate Bush and candidate Kerry, Chafee didn’t make a decision, he avoided a decision. Citizens look to leaders to lead. Chafee is often accused of wanting to have things both ways. This time he outdid himself.

True, Rhode Island was going to be a walkover for Kerry no matter what Chafee did, but the symbolism of his move left him open to ridicule, and, one might say, retaliation. I was struck by a letter to the editor from Edward Smith of Providence:

“When Lincoln Chafee runs for re-election to the U.S. Senate, I will write in his father’s name.”

And then, in an Election Day interview geared to his actually going ahead with his write-in strategy, Chafee compounded his problem by saying he might leave the GOP if the president won a second term.

Forget the “honeymoon on the Volga” Republican attack ad on Sanders.

How about their Lincoln Chafee was for George W. Bush before he was against him before he was for him before he was against him ad.

Asked by Cooper whether his political metamorphosis suggested a flighty nature, Chafee said, “You’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues.”

That brought to mind another Yankee blue blood, Endicott Peabody, who in 1972 actually entered the New Hampshire primary as a candidate for vice president with the slogan, the number one man for the number two job

From the New England Historical Society entry on Peabody.

During his terms as governor, detractors told a joke at his expense: Massachusetts liked him so much they named four places after him: They are Endicott, Peabody, Marblehead and Athol.

OK. Here’s another take on the debate from Kirby Goidel, also an expert on political communication at A&M.

I thought this was an interesting debate where the front-runners did most of what they needed to do. Hillary Clinton is better in a debate format that in a lot of venues. The interaction helps her and she appears smart, well-informed, and engaging. Toward the end of the debate when she got the question on maternity leave she even showed a flash of Bernie Sanders style outrage. Overall, I thought she did well. 

Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders, consistent, forthright, and genuine. I was unsure how he might come across in the debate setting but the fact that is unapologetic about who he is is endearing. He might have “won the debate” with his sound bite on being tired of hearing about those damn emails. 

I am not sure how some of his answers will play in the long run – embracing democratic socialism, for example, where he seems outside of the mainstream. The fact that he embraces these differences and uses them as an opportunity to explain his views works for him. The question though is does it expand his base? 

Martin O’Malley did OK but I don’t think we’ll enough. He had an important misstatement on Assad and Syria, though I think he just misspoke. The problem is – he needed to have a home run and he didn’t hit it out of the park. I thought he was at his best when he responded to Sanders saying “we already did that in Maryland.” 

Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee were not helped. 

I have no idea what Joe Biden will do, but I don’t think the debate opened the door any wider. If he was waiting for a sign, I don’t think he got it. 

O’Malley has the extraordinary burden of explaining how this year’s Baltimore riots don’t reflect on his tenure as the city’s mayor and the state’s governor.

COOPER:Governor O’Malley, the concern of voters about you is that you tout our record as Baltimore’s mayor. As we all know, we all saw it. That city exploded in riots and violence in April. The current top prosecutor in Baltimore, also a Democrat, blames your zero tolerance policies for sowing the seeds of unrest. Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?

 O’Malley answered at length, including this:

O’MALLEY: Well, let’s talk about this a little bit. One of the things that was not reported during that heartbreaking night of unrest in Baltimore was that arrests had actually fallen to a 38-year low in the year prior to the Freddie Gray’s tragic death. Anderson, when I ran for mayor of Baltimore back in 1999, it was not because our city was doing well. It was because we allowed ourselves to become the most violent, addicted, and abandoned city in America. And I ran and promised people that together we could turn that around. And we put our city on a path to reduce violent crime, or Part 1 crime by more than any other major city in America over the next 10 years. I did not make our city immune to setbacks. But I attended a lot of funerals, including one for a family of seven who were firebombed in their sleep for picking up the phone in a poor African-American neighborhood and calling the police because of drug dealers on their corner. We’ve saved over a thousand lives in Baltimore in the last 15 years of people working together. And the vast majority of them were young and poor and black. It wasn’t easy on any day. But we saved lives and we gave our city a better future, improving police and community relations every single day that I was in office.

The one line that stood out to me was I attended a lot of funerals.

Not good.

And here is a first take on the debate from University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus:

Bernie Sanders’s first national debate exposure came off as strident and angry. The message resonates with Democratic voters but the tone needs to be drawn back from angry old man to idealistic critic.

Senator Webb came off as turgid and slightly arrogant but knowledgeable. The only moment where he seemed warm was when Bernie Sanders praised his military service. Otherwise he was forgettable.

Martin O’Malley had the greatest opportunity but fell most short of the mark of anyone on the stage. He struck a timid tone and, other than a little passion on gun control issues, didn’t break through on a single issue.

These debates are a lose-lose for Clinton, like death by 1,000 paper cuts. The subtle jabs and obvious comparisons to the other candidates, either modest or favorable, make her look less viable in comparison. Even so, she presented a poised balance and rational approach to Bernie Sanders’s disagreeable rail against capitalism. Sanders absolved her on the email scandal, at least among Democrats, putting this debate in the positive column for her. Clinton was personal and persuasive on the family leave issue which humanized her and made her more approachable.

In one of the best moments of the night, Clinton was firm and strident on gun control, addressing the general electorate rather than the Democratic Party electorate. She took some hits over Syria but showed both her strong connection to the positives of the Obama Administration but also her deep knowledge. Some of the more damaging hits she took were on voting for the Iraq War, a similar trope from 2008. Foreign policy is not where Secretary Clinton’s opponents are going to quell her in any case but the Iraq issue hurts her with core Democrats, Hispanics and African-Americans. The other damage she sustained was on the war on Wall Street where her admonition of the big banks as Senator fell flat in comparison to Sanders’s populist message.

The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton, while challenged, can’t lose any debate to a group of candidates who are almost a Republican, almost a socialist and almost an independent. The Party wants to be inclusive of a range of ideas but Clinton is the only candidate that hits all the strings on the Party chord.

All in all, I thought the debate was OK, though not nearly as entertaining as the Republicans.

And frankly, I would have much rather been watching my Mets battling the Dodgers, even with its unfortunate outcome.

Even President Obama said he was going to be channel surfing between the two, and when Trump, on Morning Joe, was asked about his decision to solely watch the Democratic debate, he replied:

I can’t believe it either. I thought I had an obligation to sit through the entire thing.

Me too.

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