Sanders' Debate Rage Rewarded By Brooklyn Millennials
Presidential debates are generally contentious affairs. But prior to Thursday’s Brooklyn showdown between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State and New York Senator, Hillary Clinton, the debates were cordial and focused on the issues affecting U.S. citizens. After Brooklyn’s debate it was clear to everyone watching, the measured tones and civility were a thing of the past, and the remainder of the race would be no holds bar.
Clinton remained stoic and attempted to take the high road when attacked, but Sanders came out swinging for the fences, apathetic to conventional Democratic wisdom of building upon one’s own campaign instead of tearing down opponents. The theory assumes that candidates who share common interests for the party’s success avoid self-destruction. Yet nothing in Sanders’ demeanor or devolving rhetoric indicated that he was remotely concerned with the future of the Democratic Party. *Note: Sanders is a career Independent who recently joined the Democratic Party in order to win their nomination, and has recently come under fire for refusing to fundraise for Democratic Congressional candidates. In response, rather than assist the entire party (a necessity for success in the White House) Sanders handpicked three Congressional candidates who previously endorsed him, to donate to. Listing individual candidates by name may help those particular candidates, but it is assumed the party, as a whole will suffer great losses if this tactic continues. *
The Brooklyn Democratic debate was an odd aesthetic reversal from the political wonderland audiences grew accustomed to. Previous encounters were respectful and headlined with important discourse. While Thursday’s snippy “debate” heavily featured an insurgent candidate reduced to amateur comedy, as he scoffed endlessly, repeatedly exaggerating eye rolls for dramatic effect, and worse, he refused to stifle his adolescent giggling, and petulant huffing whenever his Democratic rival disagreed with him.
But this new aggressive, angry tone of Sanders was no accident. Campaign officials surely coached Sanders to take advantage of the nuanced political and media double standard that disallows Clinton from rivaling his vindictiveness. Her only option is to remain the composed visionary her supporters grew to admire.
Sanders and Clinton are both fully aware of the media scrutiny that Clinton would face, should she allow her emotions to supersede her message. Sanders on the other hand, is unburdened by such restrictions. Thus, he yelled, shouted, and hollered louder and louder to get his point across for the entire debate. From first question to closing statement, Sanders spoke in one tone: angry. He spoke in one volume: maximum. But most importantly, he spoke to a particular demographic with an affinity for “entertaining” exchanges: millennials.
Brooklyn millennials in the audience for Thursday’s debate were a microcosm of Sanders’ largest following nationwide — enchanted youth. Sanders’ message of ‘Free Everything’ at the expense of millionaires and billionaires resonates with young people. Throughout the campaign Sanders has demonstrated an adept skill of drawing larger-than-life crowds of mostly young undergraduate students who are spellbound by the promise of receiving a free college education at the expense of mysterious Wall Street barons.
As the campaign nears its final stages, Sanders’ audience grows larger, and his rhetoric devolves into sophomoric finger pointing and baseless personal attacks. Most memorable of the Brooklyn debate lines was not a positive accounting of either candidate’s platform. No, it was Sanders sarcastic sneering about Wall Street, “Secretary Clinton called them out, Oh My Goodness, they must have been pretty crushed by this.” As mentioned, Clinton understands her role in this campaign is to escape unscathed by political mudslinging. She can only accomplish this by continuing to walk on eggshells and presenting her best case, without following Sanders or anyone else into the rhetoric gutter.
During the debate, Clinton responded to Sanders’ charge that she was unqualified and exercised poor judgment by informing the audience, “I’ve been called a lot things in my life, that was a first…and President Obama trusted my judgment enough to ask me to be Secretary of State.”
The Sanders campaign has very efficiently utilized social media and celebrity surrogates to publically impugn the integrity of Clinton. Sanders has mastered the art of sowing seeds of doubt and distrust into the minds of massive, youthful crowds by associating Clinton and President Obama with D.C. corruption, due to their acceptance of campaign donations from Super PACs. *Note: PACs are Political Action Committees, permitted by law (U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision) to donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns.* Whenever Sanders mesmerizes hoards of enchanted youth by attacking Clinton for accepting PAC money, he indirectly accuses President Obama of impropriety. Whether that is his intention remains to be seen.
It is unclear whether Sanders has much faith in our current president or whether he truly believes President Obama is worthy of celebration. One aspect of the campaign is evident — Sanders has benefitted from the heightened scrutiny of perceived Clinton transgressions. Name recognition was previously her strength, but as she is called to answer for her husband’s policies in the 90s, name recognition has proven to be her downfall.
If future Democratic debates devolve into one-sided personal attack fests, it would not be in the best interest for Clinton to participate. The goal of a debate is to articulate differences in policy and approach. However, in order to be productive, these discussions must be entered into in good faith.
Example of bad faith: When Sanders was asked about his poor gun safety record at the debate, he responded by deflecting and acknowledging that Clinton received campaign donations from the NRA, as if her campaign financing somehow exempts his gun voting record. Nonetheless, since that elementary straw man makes a more quality sound bite than admitting his gun voting record was politically calculating, he wins the argument. In the eyes of many young Sanders supporters, Clinton is incapable of good. For this reason, by agreeing to “debate,” she unnecessarily exposes herself to personal attacks that she can’t properly defend because of the double standard. So as Sanders’ momentum increases, his motivation to exploit the political and media double standard also increases.
His willingness to yell and shout in pursuit of affection from young voters may just be getting started. And if the Brooklyn debate was any indicator, his verbal haymakers are devastating and resonate with millennials.