The Democratic Party Debate: 5 Reasons Why Sanders Won and Clinton Lost

by Benjamin Studebaker

I watched the first Democratic Party debate, hosted by CNN. CNN also hosted the second Republican Party debate, and in both debates it tried to get the candidates to fight each other on camera for the entertainment of the viewing public, repeatedly asking questions designed to get candidates to criticize or attack one another. In the republican debate, this tactic worked perhaps too well–the debate deteriorated into a series of personal attacks, with little relevant policy content. For that reason, I didn’t bother to write up an analysis of the second republican debate–there was little of substance to analyze. The democratic candidates did a better job of resisting their baser instincts, and we did manage to get some interesting exchanges on serious policy issues, particularly between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In these exchanges, it was quite clear that Sanders was the winner–his arguments were significantly stronger and more convincing than Clinton’s.

There are several different exchanges that really illustrate why Sanders is a much better potential president than Clinton. Here are the ones I’ll look at today:

  1. Capitalism and Democratic Socialism
  2. Gun Control
  3. Middle East Interventions (Syria, Libya, Iraq)
  4. Financial Regulation (Glass-Steagall, Shadow Banking)
  5. Entitlement Programs (Free College, Medicare-For-All, Social Security)

Here’s the full debate, if you’d like to take a look at it:

I’ll also be making use of the Washington Post’s transcript. This is a long post–each one of these five could potentially stand on its own as an individual post.

Capitalism and Democratic Socialism

Bernie Sanders often refers to himself as a “democratic socialist”. In political theory terms, this means that he wants the United States to emulate many of the social and economic policies of countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. These countries are democratic, with extensive civil liberties protections and working free markets. They also have governments that tightly regulate the economy to provide universal healthcare and education, tight social safety nets, and strong wage growth. They are not communist countries–these governments do not stifle free speech, they don’t have a one-party system, they don’t eliminate the free market. Republicans often ignore these distinctions and characterize democratic socialist policies as communist policies. They conflate this moderate socialist alternative with the fully planned economies of the Soviet era, and they have been very successful in the past at convincing large numbers of people that this is a legitimate move. Understandably, Anderson Cooper chose to ask Bernie Sanders about this:

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?

Sanders replied:

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.

What have Denmark, Sweden, and Norway accomplished for their working people? Sweden, Norway, and Denmark rank 9th, 11th, and 25th on life expectancy, with 82, 81.8, and 80.4 years a piece. The US ranks 26th with 78.8. They do this while spending much less per capita on healthcare:

They are also much more economically equal than the US and outperform the US on lots of other metrics. They win on drug use:

They win on obesity:

They win on UNICEF’s child well-being statistic:

They win on teenage pregnancy:

They have higher social mobility:

They have lower homicide rates:

And they have lower incarceration rates:

They achieve these superior figures by having high tax rates, especially on wealth brackets, and using that money to fund education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other social programs. Many republicans assume that this means that these high tax rates stifle the Nordic economies, but this is not true–Norway, Sweden, and Denmark actually have higher per capita household incomes than the United States does:

The point of all of these statistics is that Sanders has a good point–the Nordic countries are democratic socialist countries, and they are having a lot of success. We should be looking at their policies and seeing what we can learn. Naturally, Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton if she agreed with all of this:

Just let me just be clear. Is there anybody else on the stage who is not a capitalist?

Here’s what Clinton says:

Well, let me just follow-up on that, Anderson, because when I think about capitalism, I think about all the small businesses that were started because we have the opportunity and the freedom in our country for people to do that and to make a good living for themselves and their families.

And I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself. And I think what Senator Sanders is saying certainly makes sense in the terms of the inequality that we have.

But we are not Denmark. I love Denmark. We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system.

But we would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history…

Here Clinton makes an argument that is indistinguishable from the sort of argument republicans routinely make against emulating aspects of the Nordic model. She implies that the Nordic model is bad for the economy and that it would damage small businesses. There is no evidence for this. Bloomberg‘s ranking of the best countries for business puts all the Nordic economies in the top 20. Forbes ranked all three Nordic countries ahead of the United States for business, and it even ranked Denmark first overall. Like the republicans, Clinton is ignoring the evidence. If democratic socialism means being more like Denmark, what could possibly be wrong with that? By implying that Sanders and the Nordic countries are anti-business, Clinton attacks a straw man and aligns herself with the worst elements of the right.

Gun Control

Sanders is perceived as vulnerable on gun control, but in the discussion that followed, Sanders showed remarkable honesty about his record. Cooper asked:

Senator Sanders, you voted against the Brady bill that mandated background checks and a waiting period. You also supported allowing riders to bring guns in checked bags on Amtrak trains. For a decade, you said that holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for mass shootings is a bad idea. Now, you say you’re reconsidering that. Which is it: shield the gun companies from lawsuits or not?

Sanders starts by pointing out that he has often opposed the gun lobby in the senate:

Let’s begin, Anderson, by understanding that Bernie Sanders has a D-minus voting rating (ph) from the NRA. Let’s also understand that back in 1988 when I first ran for the United States Congress, way back then, I told the gun owners of the state of Vermont and I told the people of the state of Vermont, a state which has virtually no gun control, that I supported a ban on assault weapons. And over the years, I have strongly avoided instant background checks, doing away with this terrible gun show loophole. And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.

This is true–Sanders does have a D- rating from the NRA. He has voted to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, to list all people prohibited from buying firearms in a federal background check system, to block the spread of conceal and carry beyond state lines, and to restrict gun show purchases. The two big complaints that are made against Sanders is that he also voted against the Brady Bill in 1993 and he has voted to prohibit lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers for crimes that are subsequently committed by their customers.

Cooper and Clinton pressed him to explain these votes. Here’s what he had to say. First, he talked about the gun manufacturer legislation:

This was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense. For example, do I think that a gun shop in the state of Vermont that sells legally a gun to somebody, and that somebody goes out and does something crazy, that that gun shop owner should be held responsible? I don’t.

On the other hand, where you have manufacturers and where you have gun shops knowingly giving guns to criminals or aiding and abetting that, of course we should take action.

The particular piece of legislation protected gun manufacturers from some other kinds of lawsuits that they ought not to be protected from (e.g. when a gun malfunctions due to a manufacturing error), but this is a legitimate point–if we are going to sell guns to people (I’d argue we shouldn’t, but let’s assume we are going to do so), it does not make sense to hold the manufacturer or the seller legally responsible for what customers do if those customers purchased legally. It’s the government’s job to impose appropriate regulations to ensure guns are not used to commit crimes. The government cannot be permitted to abdicate this responsibility and push it onto gun manufacturers or sellers.

Cooper gave Clinton a chance to hit Sanders on it, and the way she did it is quite telling:

COOPER: Secretary Clinton, is Bernie Sanders tough enough on guns?

CLINTON: No, not at all. I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA. The majority of our country supports background checks, and even the majority of gun owners do.

Senator Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill. Since it was passed, more than 2 million prohibited purchases have been prevented. He also did vote, as he said, for this immunity provision. I voted against it. I was in the Senate at the same time. It wasn’t that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America. Everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers. And we need to stand up and say: Enough of that. We’re not going to let it continue.

This is remarkably slippery argument. Clinton points out that most people support background checks, implying that Sanders doesn’t, when he literally just said that he does and his voting record reflects that. Instead of engaging with Sanders’ nuanced point about why it might make sense to give gun manufacturers some legal immunity in some circumstances, Clinton just ignores it and asserts her opposition. This is a manipulative piece of rhetoric designed to convince the listener that Sanders is much more hostile to gun control than his record shows.

Sanders hit back, reiterating that going forward, he supports all of the very same gun control measures that Clinton has claimed she supports. He also points out that because he represents a rural state where guns are popular, it’s been difficult for him to take a stronger stance:

As a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton, that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want, and that is keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have those guns and end this horrible violence that we are seeing.

I believe that there is a consensus in this country. A consensus has said we need to strengthen and expand instant background checks, do away with this gun show loophole, that we have to address the issue of mental health, that we have to deal with the strawman purchasing issue, and that when we develop that consensus, we can finally, finally do something to address this issue.

I’m quite a big proponent of gun control, but I found myself quite pleased with Sanders’ answer because it’s quite honest and revealing. Sanders is from a rural state where guns are popular, and it’s politically difficult for him to take a stronger stance as a result. It’s also true that to realistically get any kind of gun control legislation passed, these rural gun owners are going to have to be effectively engaged and brought into the process. Aside from the Brady bill more than 20 years ago, Sanders has voted for every major piece of gun control legislation proposed, and he’s supported the same gun policies Clinton now supports. The key difference between Sanders and Clinton is that Sanders is more able to understand the perspective of rural gun owners and negotiate with them. That would be very valuable in any subsequent congressional gun control battles. In the meantime, we see Clinton once again refusing to engage with Sanders’ substantive arguments and pandering to people’s biases and misconceptions. This may score her points with democratic primary voters, but it’s not going to make her effective in a negotiation with rural gun owners.


Anderson Cooper asked Hillary Clinton what her response to the Syrian crisis would be. Clinton’s answer was vague:

I think it’s important too that the United States make it very clear to Putin that it’s not acceptable for him to be in Syria creating more chaos, bombing people on behalf of Assad, and we can’t do that if we don’t take more of a leadership position, which is what I’m advocating.

“Take more of a leadership position”? “Make it very clear to Putin that it’s not acceptable”? How would Clinton actually do these things? What do they actually mean? It’s not clear. Cooper didn’t even bother to press Clinton to clarify what any of this means–the other candidates had to do it for him. When they did, Clinton came back with this:

We don’t want American troops on the ground in Syria. I never said that. What I said was we had to put together a coalition — in fact, something that I worked on before I left the State Department — to do, and yes, that it should include Arabs, people in the region.

This is again, too vague. Put together a coalition that includes Arabs? If we don’t supply the ground troops, we’re clearly not in a “leadership position” in this coalition, so who is going to lead it? Is it the Arabs? The Europeans? The Russians? Clinton doesn’t say. Clinton does point out that before she left the state department, that she was “working on” this. One of the things Clinton supported at the time was the arming and training of the Syrian fighters. That program has failed utterly–only 4 or 5 US-trained rebels are currently fighting ISIS at a cost of $500 million. But even now, Clinton is still expressing support for that program. Clinton was pressed further and gave us this additional tidbit:

Let me say — because there’s a lot of loose talk going on here — we are already flying in Syria just as we are flying in Iraq. The president has made a very tough decision. What I believe and why I have advocated that the no-fly zone — which of course would be in a coalition — be put on the table is because I’m trying to figure out what leverage we have to get Russia to the table. You know, diplomacy is not about getting to the perfect solution. It’s about how you balance the risks.

This is a messy and misleading statement. We are flying airstrike missions in Syria and Iraq, but we have not established a no-fly zone. A no-fly zone would prevent Assad and the Russians from flying missions in Syria. Attempting to impose a no-fly zone over the objection of the Russians could create a very dangerous scenario. In 2011, the US imposed a no-fly zone in Libya, but that was without Russian military involvement. When that Security Council resolution was put to a vote, Russia abstained. Russia has since expressed regret for having not vetoed that no-fly zone, and it is unlikely to agree to a new one in Syria, especially given that it is itself currently flying missions in the region. The Syrian rebels do not have aircraft–a no-fly zone can only target the Assad regime, which is a close ally of Russia. Russia believes that defeating ISIS requires consolidating Assad’s power. It has no reason whatsoever to agree to an arrangement that will weaken that regime and, in its view, thereby strengthen ISIS. Russia is a nuclear power and it cannot be strong-armed into agreeing to support a military operation that clearly violates its perceived regional interests. This needlessly escalates tensions between the US and Russia and achieves nothing of strategic value for the US. Indeed, by weakening Assad, it makes it more difficult for Assad to effectively oppose ISIS on the ground and makes it more likely that US ground forces will eventually be drawn into the conflict.

Bernie Sanders seems to get it:

Let me just respond to something the secretary said. First of all, she is talking about, as I understand it, a no-fly zone in Syria, which I think is a very dangerous situation. Could lead to real problems.

Second of all, I heard the same evidence from President Bush and Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld about why we should overthrow Saddam Hussein and get involved in the — I would urge people to go to, hear what I said in 2002. And I say, without any joy in my heart, that much of what I thought would happen about the destabilization, in fact, did happen.

Here Sanders brings Iraq into the discussion. Sanders notably voted against the Iraq War, while Clinton voted for it. Sanders is implying that by attempting to lead a military overthrow of Assad over the objections of the Russians, Clinton risks taking the same kind unilateral action the Bush administration took in Iraq. What the Bush administration failed to recognize is that by overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a power vacuum was created that was filled by an array of fractious, sectarian groups, all of which were ready and willing to fight each other. The same thing is true in Syria–there are some moderate Syrian rebels, but the most powerful groups are radical and are not going to sign up to a pro-American liberal democracy without a fight. This goes well beyond ISIS–the Al-Nusra front is probably the next most powerful group after ISIS, and if Assad is overthrown it will likely begin opposing the moderates. Iraq does not provide the only precedent for this. The same thing has happened in Libya since Gaddafi was overthrown. The Libyan operation was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton–she advocated for a no-fly zone and advocated for the US military to be used to defeat Gaddafi’s military forces and allow the Libyan rebels to take over the country. What happened next was appalling–Libya swiftly collapsed into a brutal civil war between moderate and radical groups, one that continues even now. A lot of attention has been paid to the Benghazi incident because American lives were lost, but the greatest indictment of Hillary Clinton as a foreign policy mind is surely the current condition in which Libya finds itself. Today Libya’s economy is roughly half the size it was before the 2011 intervention:

The country remains divided among warring factions, and ISIS has even set up shop along the coast:

Barack Obama was reluctant to do this–Hillary Clinton convinced him, even though many in the Pentagon believed she was acting on faulty intelligence. Clinton is fond of pointing out that Barack Obama trusted her judgment enough to make her Secretary of State:

Well, I recall very well being on a debate stage, I think, about 25 times with then Senator Obama, debating this very issue. After the election, he asked me to become Secretary of State. He valued my judgment, and I spent a lot of time with him in the Situation Room, going over some very difficult issues.

Barack Obama made a foolish mistake. He thought that Hillary Clinton had learned from the quagmire in Iraq. She learned nothing–she was and is every bit as anxious to topple Gaddafi and Assad as she was Saddam Hussein. She doesn’t recognize that doing so is likely to destabilize the region further and abet radical groups like ISIS and the Al-Nusra front. Despite her decades of public service, Hillary Clinton remains naive and incapable of learning. Even in this debate, she admits nothing. She continues to defend the decision to intervene in Libya even as the country tears itself to pieces and becomes a haven for radical groups:

I think President Obama made the right decision at the time.

And the Libyan people had a free election the first time since 1951. And you know what, they voted for moderates, they voted with the hope of democracy.

That “free election” produced nothing but chaos, as the radical groups quickly declared the vote illegitimate and took over the western half of the country. Nothing but blood and death has followed.

Sanders should have given Clinton a harder time on Libya than he did. Indeed, none of the democratic candidates were really willing to go after Clinton on Libya, perhaps for fear of implicating Obama and thereby encouraging his republican foreign policy critics. But Jim Webb did toss a comment in, and I’ll close this section with it:

This is not about Benghazi per se. To me it is the inevitability of something like Benghazi occurring in the way that we intervened in Libya. We had no treaties at risk. We had no Americans at risk. There was no threat of attack or imminent attack.

There is plenty of time for a president to come to the Congress and request authority to use military force in that situation. I called for it on the Senate floor again and again. I called for it in Senate hearings.

It is not a wise thing to do. And if people think it was a wise thing to do, try to get to the Tripoli airport today. You can’t do it.

Financial Regulation

Sanders and Clinton have a key difference on financial regulation. Bernie Sanders wants to renew the Glass-Steagall Act, which was a big part of President Roosevelt’s effort to regulate the financial industry during the depression. Glass-Steagall used to separate commercial and investment banking, making it harder for large banks to emerge that are “too big to fail” and containing the failures of investment banks, making them less able to damage the rest of the economy. In 80’s and 90’s, the government gradually enforced Glass-Steagall less and less effectively, and the Clinton administration repealed the act completely in 1999. Some economists believe this deregulation was key to the economic crisis of 2008, while others believe that while this particular deregulation did not cause the crisis, it contributed to it and made it worse. Sanders wants to bring back a modern version of Glass-Steagall and break up the big banks into smaller units. This would reduce their political influence, make them easier to regulate, and reduce the risk they pose to the wider economy. Clinton is against all of this, but claims that she will support financial reforms that are “tougher”. Said Clinton:

Well, my plan is more comprehensive. And frankly, it’s tougher because of course we have to deal with the problem that the banks are still too big to fail. We can never let the American taxpayer and middle class families ever have to bail out the kind of speculative behavior that we saw.

But we also have to worry about some of the other players — AIG, a big insurance company; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. There’s this whole area called “shadow banking.” That’s where the experts tell me the next potential problem could come from.

So I’m with both Senator Sanders and Governor O’Malley in putting a lot of attention onto the banks. And the plan that I have put forward would actually empower regulators to break up big banks if we thought they posed a risk. But I want to make sure we’re going to cover everybody, not what caused the problem last time, but what could cause it next time.

Financial regulation doesn’t work like this–if the regulations in one area are weak, they can cause the same problems again and again. This is why we pass regulations both to prevent past problems from recurring and to prevent new and different problems from emerging. We attack the problem from both sides, not merely one or the other. Clinton is presenting us with a false choice. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that her largest donors are predominately big banks that don’t want to be broken up by a modern Glass-Steagall. Indeed, over the course of her political career, Lehman Brothers itself has been her 9th largest donor:

Sanders hit back against Clinton here very effectively:

Let us be clear that the greed and recklessness and illegal behavior of Wall Street, where fraud is a business model, helped to destroy this economy and the lives of millions of people.

Check the record. In the 1990s — and all due respect — in the 1990s, when I had the Republican leadership and Wall Street spending billions of dollars in lobbying, when the Clinton administration, when Alan Greenspan said, “what a great idea it would be to allow these huge banks to merge,” Bernie Sanders fought them, and helped lead the opposition to deregulation.

Today, it is my view that when you have the three largest banks in America — are much bigger than they were when we bailed them out for being too big to fail, we have got to break them up.

This is true–the top 5 banks are a combined 38% larger today than the top 5 were in 2008. The top 6 combine to have assets equivalent to over 60% of GDP, far larger than the 16% share they controlled in the mid-90’s. A new Glass-Steagall is not by itself sufficient, but it is absolutely necessary, and Clinton plays a reckless and dangerous game of Russian Roulette with our economy by gambling that these banks will never ever run into trouble. Her response to Sanders was feckless:

I represented Wall Street, as a senator from New York, and I went to Wall Street in December of 2007 — before the big crash that we had — and I basically said, “cut it out! Quit foreclosing on homes! Quit engaging in these kinds of speculative behaviors.”

Hillary Clinton went to Wall Street in 2007 and told them to knock it off. As we know now, this had no effect whatsoever on Wall Street’s behavior. Hillary Clinton naively believes that because she has a cozy relationship with Wall Street as their former representative in congress and as a recipient of their donations, she can persuade them to avoid risky behaviors without needing to impose strong regulatory oversight. This is a dangerous gamble we cannot take and cannot accept.

Clinton continued to imply that Sanders has no plan to do any further kinds of regulation aside from Glass-Steagall:

We have work to do. You’ve got no argument from me. But I know, if we don’t come in with a very tough and comprehensive approach, like the plan I’m recommending, we’re gonna be behind instead of ahead on what the next crisis could be.

This is a malicious lie. Sanders supports a wide array of other regulations, many of which Clinton does not support. For instance, Sanders supports a financial transaction tax to discourage speculative trading–Clinton’s version of this tax is much weaker because it only applies to high frequency trading. Sanders’ tax targets all transactions and could raise $50 billion in revenue. Sanders also continually proposes legislation that would require the government to break up large banks. This is not part of Clinton’s plan either. What Clinton promises to do is to enforce extant financial regulation more rigorously and to expand oversight in a number of places. Clinton’s proposals are significantly better than nothing, but she explicitly refuses to take direct actions that would reduce the size of the financial sector relative to the real economy. This implies that Clinton believes that the current level of investment relative to consumption is sustainable. It is not–our economy suffers from chronic lack of demand and excess investment. This means that our wages stagnate while more and more money moves into the financial sector. With wages stagnant, consumers cannot buy more without going into debt. The excess investment has nowhere to go but into bubbles. Sometimes these bubbles take the form of stocks or commodities, other times they take the form of consumer debt to help facilitate additional consumption. But without wage growth to support that borrowing, growing consumer debts are inevitably unsustainable. This is why we need more than oversight–we need transfers of wealth from investors to consumers to produce sustainable growth in consumption and demand. Sanders’ regulations do this. Clinton’s don’t. She’s not up to the task.

Entitlement Programs

Sanders wants to use his financial transaction tax to give every child in America a free ride to college:

This is the year 2015. A college degree today, Dana, is the equivalent of what a high school degree was 50 years ago.

And what we said 50 years ago and a hundred years ago is that every kid in this country should be able to get a high school education regardless of the income of their family. I think we have to say that is true for everybody going to college.

I think we don’t need a complicated system, which the secretary is talking about, the income goes down, the income goes down, if you’re poor you have to work, and so forth and so on.

I pay for my program, by the way, through a tax on Wall Street speculation, which will not only make public colleges and universities tuition-free, it will substantially lower interest rates on college debt, a major crisis in this country.

Clinton won’t pass this tax and she won’t make tuition free. Instead, she promises half-measures. Her plan would require families to pay tuition under the assumption that students will work 10 hours a week. Wealthy families can simply pay that figure on behalf of their children. Poor students will be the only ones forced to work. This gives affluent kids an advantage over their poorer counterparts–they get more time to study, socialize, and sleep. This would be a nightmare for poor pre-med or engineering students (students studying these majors are already unbelievably busy), and I can tell you from experience that it would create strain on students in the social sciences and humanities too. It also fails to recognize that the primary beneficiary of a college degree is not the student, it’s society as a whole–we need a highly skilled, productive workforce. Clinton’s “college compact” sees college as some kind of deal between individual students and the state. It does not recognize that every willing and capable person ought to be entitled to an education that will allow them to get a decent job that pays a decent living. A college education is a prerequisite for a decent paying job in today’s United States. Under this plan, poor students would have no choice but to work. This is a coercive and ugly form of indentured servitude. It’s philosophically reactionary and it doesn’t belong in this century–we should recognize that our students are an investment in our collective future and fund their studies accordingly.

When asked about Social Security, Clinton promised to defend the program, but she declined to promise to remove the cap on payroll taxes. Sanders pointed this out:

My view is that when you have millions of seniors in this country trying to get by — and I don’t know how they do on $11,000, $12,000, $13,000 a year — you don’t cut Social Security, you expand it. And the way you expand it is by lifting the cap on taxable incomes so that you do away with the absurdity of a millionaire paying the same amount into the system as somebody making $118,000. You do that, Social Security is solvent until 2061 and you can expand benefits.

Clinton had no response to this. The claim is entirely true–eliminating the payroll tax cap would raise an estimated $100 billion a year and allow for significant benefit increases.

When Clinton was asked if she would support Sanders’ Medicare-for-all single payer program, she simply declined to address the issue:

BASH: Secretary Clinton, the question was not just about tuition, though. It was about Senator Sanders’ plan to expand Social Security, to make Medicare available to all Americans. Is that something that you would support? And if not, why not?

CLINTON: Well, I fully support Social Security. And the most important fight we’re going to have is defending it against continuing Republican efforts to privatize it.

She never gets back to the issue of Medicare expansion. The proposal from Sanders would give every American access to healthcare and save at least $5 trillion in healthcare costs nationwide. This is one of the key differences between Sanders and Clinton–Clinton is willing to defend extant entitlement programs, but she’s not willing to even try to make the case for expansion, and it’s a very good case supported by an awful lot of evidence and research. When Sanders brings up eliminating the payroll cap or Medicare-for-all, Clinton just ignores these policies completely. She’s not willing to fight for a genuinely progressive alternative to what the republicans are proposing.


On the fundamental economic system, Sanders uses comparative political science research to learn from the experiences of other countries and adopt the political and economic reforms that are proven to have been effective in other parts of the world. Clinton propagates falsehoods about what life is like in European countries to defend an anachronistic status quo in which millions of people suffer needlessly.

On guns, Clinton and Sanders have essentially the same policies, but Sanders expresses a level of empathy for rural gun owners that make him a more effective negotiator on the common sense gun control policies that do enjoy widespread popular support. Clinton prefers to pander to the base, even though this will make future deals less likely.

On foreign policy, Clinton has learned nothing from Iraq. She continues to advocate for reckless interventions to remove authoritarian rulers, giving little thought as to what the long-term effects might be. She does not acknowledge mistakes and she silences and minimizes the immense suffering of the Libyan people as a direct result of policies for which she was leading advocate. Sanders voted against the Iraq War and continues to express a healthy skepticism about the efficacy of US military interventions.

On financial reform, Clinton wants to tighten enforcement of the existing regulatory framework, but she’s unwilling to tackle the fundamental imbalance between investment and consumption that produces endemic bubbles and economic crises. Sanders is willing to try to break up the big banks and introduce a financial transaction tax that would fundamentally change the distribution of wealth in this country in a way that would make our economy both more equitable and more sustainable.

On entitlements, Clinton wants to go to the White House and play defense for another eight years. She has no vision and no gumption. Sanders would try to give us free tuition, Medicare-for-all, and expand Social Security. These are the sorts of policies people living in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway already enjoy.

It could not possibly be any clearer. Bernie Sanders is the undisputed winner of this debate, and Hillary Clinton is the loser. But many pundits won’t tell you this–they’ll claim that Clinton won. Why? Because pundits don’t bother to research policy. They don’t read the transcripts of the debates, they don’t look closely at the arguments. They don’t even know about what’s going in Libya, and many wouldn’t care about it if they did. They operate on gut feelings based on their prejudices about electability and little else. It is for this reason that for months and months, these TV personas continually tell us that Bernie Sanders’ positions are radical and unreasonable when there is clear social science research that demonstrably establishes that they save money and improve living standards without damaging economic performance. It falls to those of us on the internet to spread the word and make the case as best we can for the policies and politicians that will help us to build a society we can be proud to live in.