A So-So Home Game for Clinton

In the duel between Bernie Sanders and the party favorite, both contestants scored points: one with his integrity, the other with her experience.

There was no decisive winner: Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were awarded points, but it was also acknowledged that both had made a few errors. For Sanders, that’s not great news in the fight for the Democratic nomination. In view of the imminent New York primaries, he needed to emerge from the debate as a clear winner in order to close the gap between himself and Clinton.

It was clear right from the start that the Brooklyn debate was a home game for Hillary. The audience was obviously in her corner, and every time she mentioned anything pertaining to her tenure as New York senator — and she did so quite often — the crowd cheered. That said, however, her strategy was characterized by the emphasis of the multi-faceted breadth of experience she gained through service in various posts. “Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel,” Clinton said.

On some subjects, this paid off: for example, in the climate change discussion. Bernie Sanders feels the conclusions reached at the United Nations climate conference in 2015 didn’t go far enough when compared to the threatening nature of the problem. As correct as he may be, that’s not as impressive as the role Hillary played in achieving the compromises she did.

So it was on the subject of Israel as well. Sanders called Israel’s actions in the Gaza war “inappropriate” — an unusually sharp U.S. criticism of a Middle East ally — and suggested the Palestinians be treated with more respect and dignity. Clinton coolly pointed out that she had negotiated several ceasefires between Israel and Hamas. That went over even better with the audience.

The Libyan Debacle

But it didn’t always run that smoothly for the former secretary of state. Bernie Sanders took Obama administration policies toward Libya to task, where the United States took an active part in the downfall of the dictator Gadhafi but had no plan in place for the aftermath — an assessment shared by Barack Obama as well when he recently called that the biggest foreign policy mistake of his tenure in the the Oval Office.

That obviously shook Clinton. At first, she tried the line that the U.S. had accomplished a great deal in democratizing Libya, something that in view of the chaotic conditions rampant there amounted to a bizarre argument. That apparently also occurred to her, and she then tried spreading the blame to the Libyans whom she said should not have permitted foreign troops on their soil, and to President Obama, who in the end had the final word on the political course of Libya’s government. This was not as convincing as her earlier arguments.

At another point, she got into hot water over a domestic political matter causing considerable controversy: Bernie Sanders has asked Clinton to release a transcript of a speech she gave to top managers of the Goldman Sachs investment firm, for which she received a six-figure honorarium. Leading media such as The New York Times have made similar requests to no avail. Naturally, everyone is now asking what she might have said or promised that could possibly be so damaging to her campaign.

The issue is also sensitive because the Clintons raked in more than $25 million from speeches to bank managers and industrial giants, and Hillary hasn’t hesitated to accept huge contributions to her campaign, the origins of which aren’t transparent.

Dangerous Suspicions

Sanders, on the other hand, is running in this election exclusively with contributions from individuals, and as he says, he has never given a speech behind closed doors on Wall Street. The question that looms over everything? Is it necessarily corrupt to take money from banks and large corporations and later repay such donations with political favors?

Sanders leaves no doubt that he suspects Clinton has maneuvered herself into precisely that sort of susceptibility to blackmail. He can’t give concrete examples that would prove there is any connection between speaking fees or political donations and the voting record of his rival. But the suspicion in itself can do significant harm to Hillary Clinton, even more so because of Sanders’ engagement on behalf of the poorer classes and his intention to raise taxes on the rich, all of which lends him a sublime air.

Broad experience vs. high integrity — that well sums up the Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders TV debate. Talk show participants have already rendered their verdict; now, it’s the pollsters’ turn. And on Tuesday, Democratic voters in New York will decide it.

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