Friday, November 06, 2015

Democrats debate in South Carolina tonight

More to say about Hustle Town's election in just a minute, but I'd like to shift back to the presidential contenders for a bit.

Voters in South Carolina will have their first chance to see the three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination together here on Friday, when Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley appear at a forum at Winthrop University.

The event, hosted by the state party and billed as the "First in the South Presidential Candidates Forum," will be broadcast live on MSNBC and focus on both regional and national issues. One issue, however, has become a flashpoint in the race this week as the candidates campaigned across the country: gun control.

The issues of gun control and criminal justice reform have revealed differences between the candidates on the Democratic side of the race and, as it has grown more competitive, the candidates have sought to take advantage.

It's not really a debate but more of an actual forum, with Rachel Maddow asking the three contenders questions separately, interview-style.  But It sure beats talking about Egyptian pyramids as granaries, or stabbing a close relative, or quarrels over teevee appearances, or whether the temperature in the hall is low enough to prevent Marco Rubio's flopsweat.

Clinton started her week in Chicago on Monday, when her campaign arranged a meeting with family members of victims of gun violence, including Sybrina Fulton and Lesley McSpadden, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

"They are determined to do what they can to try to prevent this from happening to any other family, and so am I," Clinton said the next day at a town hall in Coralville, Iowa. Her newest campaign ad, which started running on television in Iowa and New Hampshire that day, echoed her commitment.

It might be Martin O'Malley's last moment, so he'd better make it count.

Separately on Tuesday in Keene, New Hampshire, O'Malley laid out his plan to take seven separate executive actions as president to curb gun violence, including measures to effectively dismantle the law which shields gun sellers and manufacturers from liability if their firearms are used unlawfully.

O'Malley, who is trailing in national polls, has urged Clinton and Sanders to back certain parts of his plan to cut gun deaths in half by 2025. Clinton has also said she would work to repeal the shield law but stops short of suggesting she would use executive action to do so. Sanders, who voted for the law in 2005, said recently that he is willing to reconsider his position. And as the primary contests approach, O'Malley has started to go beyond calling for "consensus" into more personal, direct attacks.

"Secretary Clinton's been all over the place on this issue," O'Malley told NH1 News in an interview on Tuesday. "In the past when she was running against President Obama she was trying to portray herself as Annie Oakley. And in the past she has said she wasn't for universal background checks."

Sounds like sparks will fly.

He took his rhetoric up another notch on Wednesday, when his campaign released an online video comparing Clinton's past position on guns to Jeb Bush's stance. The clip, modeled after a video released by the Clinton campaign hitting Republicans for their views on gun control, showed Clinton in a debate in 2008 saying "blanket rules" imposed by the federal government on guns "doesn't make sense."

It's an argument that O'Malley will continue to use in South Carolina and elsewhere as he fights to gain traction as a progressive alternative to Clinton. 

Clinton has -- as Clintons can do effectively -- triangulated on gun safety, moving to the left of Bernie Sanders on the topic while twisting out a few sexism tropes as she did so.

On Oct. 23, Hillary Clinton opened a new front against Sen. Bernie Sanders: She framed him as a sexist. Clinton took a phrase Sanders had routinely used in talking about gun violence—that “shouting” wouldn’t solve the problem—and suggested that he had aimed it at her because “when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”

Several journalists called out Clinton for this smear. But she refuses to withdraw it. Instead, her campaign officials and supporters have escalated the attack.  [...]

The next day, Clinton sat down for an interview in New Hampshire. Josh McElveen of WMUR asked her about Sanders: “Do you believe that he’s attacking you based solely on your gender?” Clinton replied: “When I heard him say that people should stop shouting about guns, I didn’t think I was shouting. I thought I was making a very strong case. … And I’m not going to be silenced.” McElveen followed up: “But as far as the implication that Bernie Sanders is sexist—you wouldn’t go that far?” Clinton shrugged, smiled, and sidestepped the question. “I said what I had to say about it,” she concluded.

'Poor me, the boys are pickin' on me' is a whine we're going to hear a lot of for the next year.  Especially tonight.

Clinton used her initial sound bite—“when women talk, some people think we’re shouting”—in at least six places. She posted it on Twitter, Facebook, and her campaign website. She also delivered it in three speeches: in Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, Virginia, on Oct. 23, and in Des Moines, Iowa, on Oct. 24. After that, I didn’t hear it, except in her interview in New Hampshire. I thought she might be done with it. But then, on Friday, she raised a new issue.

Clinton was in Charleston, South Carolina, addressing the local NAACP. She spoke against a tragic background: the massacre of nine black people in a Charleston church by a white racist. Naturally, she talked about guns. But she added a new line: “There are some who say that this [gun violence] is an urban problem. Sometimes what they mean by that is: It’s a black problem. But it’s not. It’s not black, it’s not urban. It’s a deep, profound challenge to who we are.”

You might also look for the dogwhistling Clinton will be doing by using the word 'urban'.

The idea that urban is code for black has been around a long time. It’s often true. And it’s not necessarily derogatory: In 1920, the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes shortened its name to the National Urban League. But why would Clinton suddenly bring up, in a damning tone, people who call guns an urban problem? Who was she talking about? It can’t be the Republican presidential candidates: They haven’t disagreed enough to debate the issue at that level of granularity. The only recent forum in which guns have been discussed as an urban concern is the forum that inspired Clinton’s initial accusation of sexism: the Oct. 13 Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Pull up the transcript of that debate, search for “urban,” and you’ll see whom Clinton is talking about: Sanders.

In fact, it’s from the same moments of the debate that Clinton had already seized on. In the debate, Sanders began by saying, “As a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton [is] that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want.” A couple of minutes later, Sanders told former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley: “We can raise our voices, but I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states, whether we like it or not.” O’Malley insisted that the issue was “not about rural and urban.” Sanders replied: “It’s exactly about rural.” [...] So when Clinton, on Friday, spoke scathingly of people who call guns an “urban problem” but mean it’s a “black problem,” it’s obvious to whom she was referring.

This is pretty powerful stuff, because in the wake of our local elections where black and white Democrats split not just on their preferred candidates but also on Prop 1, we're about to see some more of that cleaving between our presidential candidates.

This line of attack is rich in irony. When Clinton ran for president in 2008, she explicitly used race against Obama. She told USA Today that she should be the Democratic nominee because “I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.” Clinton cited an article that, in her words, showed “how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in [Indiana and Pennsylvania] who had not completed college were supporting me.” A reporter asked Clinton whether this argument was racially divisive. “These are the people you have to win if you’re a Democrat,” Clinton replied dismissively. “Everybody knows that.”
Now Clinton accuses others of playing the race card. In Charleston, she told the NAACP, “Some candidates talk in coded racial language about ‘free stuff,’ about ‘takers’ and ‘losers.’ And boy, are they quick to demonize President Obama. This kind of talk has no place in our politics.”

A digression back to last Tuesday here in H-Town:  Sylvester Turner said all the right things in his victory speech about diversity and inclusiveness.  I'll be proud to vote for him in December.  It's going to a lot tougher to hold my nose and vote for Sharon Moses and Georgia Provost in their At Large runoffs because of their under-the-radar opposition to HERO.  ConservaDems have been a personal scourge of mine for a long time now, and as long as they hold sway locally, statewide, and nationally, there will be very little I will feel like doing for the Democratic Party.  But like I wrote, that's a digression.

Clinton, too, speaks in code. But in this election, her coded phrases—“some people think we’re shouting,” “some who say that this is an urban problem”—aren’t designed to veil racism. They’re designed to veil her meritless insinuations that her Democratic opponent is sexist and racist. You can argue, based on power or privilege, that playing the race card or sex card from the left isn’t as bad as playing it from the right. But even if you believe that, Clinton’s smears bring discredit on the whole idea of bigotry. If accusations of misogyny and racism are casually thrown at Sanders, voters will conclude that these terms are just rhetoric.

Seven years ago, when Clinton’s own campaign was accused of prejudice, her husband was outraged. “She did not play the race card, but they did,” Bill Clinton said of the Obama campaign. The former president went on: “This is almost like, once you accuse somebody of racism or bigotry or something, the facts become irrelevant.” Three months later, Mr. Clinton was still fuming. “They played the race card on me, and we now know from memos from the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along,” he protested. “This was used out of context and twisted for political purposes by the Obama campaign to try to breed resentment elsewhere. … You really got to go some to try to portray me as a racist.”

They're always running the next campaign like the last one.

Now Hillary Clinton is doing to Sanders what her husband said was done to her. She’s taking Sanders’ remarks out of context and twisting them to breed resentment. You’ve got to twist the facts pretty hard to portray Sanders as a racist or sexist. But politically, it’s easy, because once you start throwing around charges of bigotry, the facts become irrelevant. You’re just another beautiful baiter. And you won’t be silenced.

Let's finish with the topic for tonight: guns.

"There's strong support among Democrats here to try to come up with new initiatives that keep the guns away from criminals and come up with some sensible policies that can make our country safer," added former Gov. Jim Hodges, who has endorsed Clinton. He continued: "In a Republican primary, talking about gun issues is a third rail. That's not so true in the Democratic primary here."

More than 3,400 people will be in the audience at the Byrnes Auditorium with hundreds more expected to turn out for other party events scheduled around the main event.

"People are engaged," said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Columbia. "Every time I go to the barber shop, there's always a discussion about national politics and talking about what's next."

Seawright, who worked on Clinton's first presidential campaign but is not involved with her second bid, added that bread and butter issues like jobs, infrastructure and education are also important to voters watching the forum, especially those from low-income, rural communities.

"When you come to South Carolina, it's important that voters feel as if you are going to talk about South Carolina issues," he said, "that you will remember the people in South Carolina."

Both Sanders and O'Malley have to make up some ground here in the Palmetto State, so in many ways it will be a turning point of sorts.  Either the Clinton steamroller picks up momentum, or one of her two challengers slows her roll.

1 comment:

Gadfly said...

Right on O'Malley needing to swing big. And, he seems to have swung at least halfway big with explicitly mentioning the use of executive orders. Surprise that Hillary wouldn't.

Bernie rethinking his mind?

Why, I guess the man is a politician, even though South Carolina, like Vermont, has plenty of rural voters.

As for Clinton? "Some," like "they," is almost invariably a weasel word in politics.