Watching the classic debate between the fictional candidates in West Wing, Matt Santos (Jimmy Smitts) vs Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) I could only say, "If only." If only a real debate could be like that, where the moderators stay out of the way and the candidates get to speak as long as they want and then respond to what the other says. But no, I thought, that could never happen in real life.
Tonight, however, I was proved wrong.
Rachel Maddow and Mark Todd were masterful at serving up the questions and then getting quickly out of the way. And they asked all the questions I wanted to ask: Bernie, are you electable? Why would you not simply be the next Barry Goldwater or George Magovern, an extremist beloved by a cult following but defeated in 49 states? Hillary, how can you say you are not in the pocket of Goldman Sachs when you accept $675,000 in "speaker's fees" from them?
Hillary had the tougher job, in defending taking the money. Basically she said, well, I was cashing in, but that never affected my vote or my vigorous pursuit of Wall Street when it came to voting for regulation and legislation to rein in Wall Street's excesses. She scored points for saying you have insinuated I'm corrupt for accepting this money, an "artful smear" on my character. Bernie deftly side stepped that by saying, essentially, I'm not saying you are corrupt, but I am saying, as a system, it stands to reason Goldman Sachs and the others wouldn't be spending money on politicians if they thought this was not a good investment. When Wall Street Banks spend millions lobbying for regulation and Congress votes for deregulation, don't you think there might be a connection?
Bernie is pointing to our systems of legal bribery, where Congressmen can accept money as long as there is no specific deal for a specific vote. Hillary responds by saying, Bernie nobody can be pure enough for you: President Obama, Barney Frank, nobody is up to your standards; wake up and live in the real world.
Well, Bernie says, the truth is the business model of Wall Street is fraud. Anyone who saw "The Big Short" or read "Liar's Poker" will know what he is talking about.
We all have to swim in the same water, Hillary was saying, and she was basically admitting its a toxic system, but you have to swim in the polluted water if that's what you've got. Bernie is saying, no, I won't dive into that scummy pond. I'm going to decontaminate the pond.
The wonderful thing about the two of them was how they managed to recover from their own tempers, to get past their very apparent, very real anger, and move on. Bernie took pains to agree with Clinton, when he could and she with him.
He refused to take the bait about demanding a recount in Iowa. He shrugged it off. We are talking about two delegates out of 2500, he said. Get past it. And he reaffirmed his disinterest in her email problems, saying there was already a process in place and he would not politicize it, which was pretty crafty, actually, because he never said it was unimportant.
Even the final summary statements were worth watching. Hillary was all polished and prepared, saying she was aware some people in New Hampshire were saying they would vote for Bernie if they voted their hearts but for Hillary if they were voting with their heads and then she wrapped up her nicely shaped and well rehearsed summary by saying she hoped voters would bring both heart and head to the voting booths. It was professional and well crafted, but too clever by half and that's why people don't connect with her. She's too well coiffed.
Bernie, on the other hand, demonstrated why he has won hearts. He started off by saying his father came to America at age 17 and didn't speak English and would be amazed, had he lived to see his son running for President. This is the sort of thing Marco Rubio trots out all the time, but coming at that particular moment in the night, and put in the tone of wonderment Bernie struck, I found myself almost tearing up. It was like his wordless ad, "Looking for America." There is just something so decent and humble and likable about the man.
I'm just sorry I didn't record it. Maybe it's on youtube.