Hillary Clinton Wins Big In Las Vegas

In one of the best scenes of the night, Clinton leaned over, grabbed Sanders’ hand and said, “Thank you, Bernie, thank you.”

Female Frontrunner Defies Critics

For months a largely partisan and sexist mainstream media has been dissing former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a daily–yes, daily–basis. It would take one tough woman to battle that constant wave of often pointless and occasionally flat-out false criticism and still keep running on message to be the first female president of the United States.

At the first Democratic Debate in Las Vegas on Oct. 13, hosted by CNN, we hope you put your money on the self-described pantsuit aficionado, because she won the night–and won big.

On stage in the center, because she is the front runner–a point never mentioned by any pundits or even CNN itself, unlike the endless commentary about Donald Trump being in the center for the GOP debates–she led the opening questions and fielded them well.

She managed to tackle guns, one of her strongest platforms, with a direct hit to her closest rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has a regrettably bad record on gun control. When Anderson Cooper asked Clinton if Sanders had done enough on guns her answer was succinct: “No. Not at all.”

Then she proceeded to enumerate all the times Sanders had voted against gun control and what that had cost in actual lives. It was a strong and unassailable moment and left Sanders on the defensive–a place Clinton never was in the entire night.

One of the best applause lines of the night came over the issue that has most dogged Clinton. She had been asked about the email controversy that has been the sole topic of news outlets about Clinton over the past few months and had answered strongly and unequivocally, noting, that using a private email server was a “mistake.”

She said the House committee that exposed the issue was “a partisan vehicle, as admitted by the House Republican majority leader, Mr. McCarthy, to drive down my poll numbers.”

She paused, then noted, “I am still standing.”


The email issue has become a tiresome one to many Democrats, including President Obama, who noted in a “60 Minutes” interview on Oct. 11 that the controversy had been “ginned up” by the media and that there was “no threat to national security” in Clinton’s use of a private server.

When former Sen. Lincoln Chafee tried to make the email issue his one volley of the evening, Cooper asked Clinton if she wanted to respond. “No,” she said, continuing to look straight at the audience and not turning toward Chafee.

Boom. Mic drop. The crowd roared.

Then Sanders butted in and said, “Let me say something that may not be great politics. The Secretary is right.” He turned toward Clinton, on his left and added, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Sanders added that people wanted to discuss the real issues and used it as a pivot to discuss some of his own key platforms. Then he reiterated, “Enough of the emails!”

In one of the best scenes of the night, Clinton leaned over, grabbed Sanders’ hand and said, “Thank you, Bernie, thank you.”

The crowd went wild.

That moment at the debate actually signaled one of the clear distinctions between the two GOP debates and the Democratic debate: Civility.

Vastly under-rated in our clickbait vulture culture, the Democrats managed to debate without attacking each other. All five–Clinton, Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sens. Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee–all maintained a mostly civil discourse, even on policy differences. Chafee did make some personal attacks on Clinton, but those still referred to the emails, so theoretically were within bounds.

Disagreements were policy driven: Clinton’s direct challenge of Sanders on guns control, which O’Malley joined, was the biggest challenge of the night between candidates.

What Clinton kept returning to was the obstructionism of the Republican Congress and how it had damaged efforts to move the country forward. That theme–which she also applied when citing the Benghazi hearings which have now been largely discredited as a Republican witch hunt directed at her, since Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s statements to the press to that effect–is an important one for the Democrats overall, though it is definitely Clinton who is pushing that narrative, as has President Obama.

Important efforts at change have “been obstructed by Republicans at every single turn,” Clinton said, citing “Republican scare tactics” in relation to foreign and domestic policy issues.

One of the areas where Clinton invoked the Republicans was women’s health and reproductive rights. No one else addressed these issues. Clinton was the only candidate to mention embattled Planned Parenthood and did so unbidden as none of the moderators raised the issue of women’s rights or abortion.

This was singular and points to the importance of Hillary Clinton as a female candidate. Just as President Obama has been in a position to address issues of race in ways no white politicians have been able to do because race is always part of his life as a biracial man with a black wife and daughters, Clinton can’t “forget” about gender issues because she is a woman and because women’s rights have been a forefront of her politics for more than 30 years.

Clinton’s focus on issues of family leave and Social Security repeatedly drove home the circumstances of women versus men in American society. She said, “I want to enhance the benefits for the poorest recipients of Social Security.

We have a lot of women on Social Security, particularly widowed and single women who didn’t make a lot of money during their careers, and they are impoverished, and they need more help from the Social Security system.”

But in raising the topic of Planned Parenthood–which no one else was willing to do–she was taking a highly progressive stance. It’s a scary limb to step out onto at present and Clinton’s willingness to do so while her male counterparts–and male commentators–avoided the subject entirely was one of many bold moves she made over the course of the two and a half hour debate.

Again invoking the refusal of Republicans to support health care for women, she said the Republicans insist, “‘You can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care.’ They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it.”

Clinton also stated unequivocally, that women were being both undervalued and under cared for by the U.S. government. On family leave she said, “It has not had the ill effects that the Republicans are always saying it will have.

This is typical Republican scare tactics. I remember as a young mother, you know, having a baby wake up who was sick and I’m supposed to be in court, because I was practicing law. I know what it’s like. And I think we need to recognize the incredible challenges that so many parents face, particularly working moms. We need to join the rest of the advanced world in having it.”

Clinton was also the only candidate to mention LGBT people in her opening statement, noting that she would fight against “the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community.”

Post-debate, the guys were having a tough time walking back their previous anti-Clinton bias. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank tweeted what turned out to be positive commentary, but with this header:

Which even men on Twitter were stunned by, since Clinton obviously wasn’t a “man among boys,” but a woman among men.

Gay New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who has expressed his contempt for Clinton repeatedly over the past few months since she declared her candidacy, offered this headline: “Debate-night Hillary: part seamstress, part sorceress, all victorious.”

And then Rush Limbaugh, ever trying to stoke his own irrelevancy, declared, “Hillary Clinton’s only accomplishment is being a woman.” No. Just…no.

The reality of the night was simple and succinct: Clinton dominated in both message and calm. While Sanders, her only rival in the polls and on the stage, was good, Clinton was better.

While he got across some strong progressive points, so did she–and without THE SHOUTING. Sanders’ two best lines of the night were his emails nod to her and his non-shouted rejoinder to her discussing the work she’d done as a New York senator against Wall Street, when he turned directly to her and said, “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street.

Wall Street regulates Congress.” (Sanders raised a lot of donor money in the hours after the debate on the emails comment, which underscores the truth of his statement–even his own supporters don’t care about the emails and want discussion of issues, not servers.)

When the old issue of Clinton’s Iraq War vote in 2002 was raised–after John Kerry and John Edwards had also run for president and had also voted for the Iraq War–Clinton was unfaltering in her response. She noted that then-candidate Obama had challenged her on that vote.

“I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then–Sen. Obama debating this very issue,”

Clinton responded with the same calm she invoked all evening.

“After the election, he asked me to become secretary of state. He valued my judgement and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues.”

When O’Malley asserted that Clinton was too quick to use military force, she had a death-blow response, “I have to say, I was very pleased when Gov. O’Malley endorsed me for president in 2008, and I enjoyed his strong support in that campaign. And I consider him, obviously, a friend.”

Mic dropped. Again.

But this debate wasn’t just about good zingers and rejoinders. Clinton and Sanders were both strong, giving America what it most needs–declarative, substantive answers to critical, important questions without invective and without stoking hate against marginalized groups.

While no one debated that Clinton won the night and won it in part by making everything about her terms, no one else’s, Sanders did deliver a strong, if somewhat uncontrolled performance.

The man who wasn’t there, Vice President Joe Biden, was likely seeing his own chances for his third presidential bid go up in smoke. If he was looking for a faltering, unsure, undirected Clinton and an opening to step into, that never happened. Clinton was sure, never faltered and stayed on message. The live-tweeting among politics writers like myself garnered little substantive criticism and much praise.

Meghan McCain, Sen. John McCain’s daughter dismissed the debate as “uninspiring,” but it was anything but. And these conservatives could only note:

And this:

The man who is Clinton’s only rival right now in the poll numbers, Donald Trump, was live-tweeting the debate. Yet even he grudgingly gave her the night:

Earlier Trump had stated:

But she acquitted herself well on all those points. Were Trump to be the Republican nominee, no doubt his refusal to serve in Vietnam would be an issue if war topics were raised.

The bottom line in the debate came down to politics and what each candidate would offer America. Clinton seemed to offer the most promising leadership.

Where Sanders believes, like Trump, that America is in a terrible state and “revolution against the oligarchy” is needed (though Sanders has yet to explain how this will be achieved, but will be pressed on that in subsequent debates), Clinton presents the “hope” argument.

America is good, but can be better, especially for hard-working Americans who are barely making it and students who are drowning in debt, women who don’t have ownership over their own bodies and LGBT who don’t have full rights as citizens, black Americans who are under threat daily from racist violence and immigrants who are still living outside the American dream. Clinton said outright, “We need a new New Deal for communities of color.”

One of the most important points about Clinton’s performance at the debate that has been missed in the first rush of commentary about the debate is how strongly she invoked the work she did with President Obama and how strongly she clearly feels about some of the issues that have been so dismissed by the Republicans, like the Black Lives Matter movement.

She is also definitively partisan: “The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House”–which is historically true.

Cooper asked Clinton, “Are you a progressive or a moderate?”

She replied, “I’m a progressive—but I like to get things done.”

The crowd went wild. Clinton also stated, “I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment” and reminded the audience that her first job out of law school was at the Children’s Defense Fund.


“I know,” Clinton said, applause nearly drowning her out, “how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I’ve had, even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly.”

America is still looking for hope and change, as we were in 2008. But what we want most of all is to see the changes attained by the Obama Administration kept in place and built upon. Clinton has presented strong policies for doing just that. Not as a third Obama term, but as a first term of the first woman president.

It’s an awesome concept but one Clinton proved at the debate she was more than capable of. The next Democratic debate is Nov. 14. I think the stage will have fewer men on it. But Clinton will still be standing–at that center podium, still the frontrunner.