Highlights of the Democratic Debate: On stage and on Twitter | The American Word

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Highlights of the Democratic Debate: On stage and on Twitter

Maeve Allsup | 10/16/15 11:47am
| Updated 10/16/15 11:48am

The Democratic candidates for president faced off Tuesday night in a much more reserved version of the two Republican debates that opened up campaign season. Hosted by CNN and moderated by Anderson Cooper, this first debate took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, and began with special guest Cheryl Crowe singing the national anthem.

Compared to the GOP debates, Tuesday’s debate seemed empty, with only five candidates gracing the stage: former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Virginia Senator Jim Webb. Despite his growing popularity in the polls, Joe Biden has not yet announced his candidacy and was not in attendance.

Lincoln Chafee started out strong, stating his firm belief in the importance of ethics. “I have high ethical standards” said Chafee, “I believe in prosperity and true peace. I want to end these wars.” Chafee also took the first jab at a fellow candidate, slamming Hillary Clinton for her past involvement in political scandals, both as First Lady and as Secretary of State. “I’ve never been in any scandals in three decades of public service” said Chafee. Unfortunately, the debate went downhill from there for Chafee, who spoke for just over nine minutes during the entire two-hour debate.

The issue of equal speaking time has long been controversial in the world of political debates, and the first Democratic face off was no different. Candidate Jim Webb spent most of his 15 minutes complaining about not getting enough speaking time, while Martin O’Malley scored the third spot with 17 minutes. Unsurprisingly, the two most prominent speakers of the night were Bernie Sanders, with nearly 28 minutes, and Hillary Clinton, who nailed down the top spot with over 30 minutes of speaking time.

By the end of the debate, Bernie Sanders supporters were declaring him the winner, but he showed his weakness early on when Anderson Cooper asked him if he wanted to shield gun companies from legal responsibility for mass shootings. Cooper followed the question by asking the other candidates if they thought Sanders was tough enough on guns. “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,” said Sanders, in response to the other candidates’ criticisms.

However, Sanders did take a much stronger stance when the candidates discussed American troops going into war, stating, “I am not a pacifist. I believe that war should be the last resort, but I am prepared to take this country into war if that is necessary.”

Jim Webb was the only candidate who brought up the issue of cyber warfare, but his insistence of its importance was overshadowed by the inevitable topic of the Clinton email scandal. Although Chafee used this as an opportunity to once again call out Hillary Clinton on her lack of ethics, calling it a “huge issue” and stating that “we need someone who has the best in ethical standards as our president,” other candidates didn’t seem to see it as such a problem. Bernie Sanders brought the crowd to its feet and earned himself a laugh and a handshake from the former Secretary of State by shouting, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails!”

One of the most poignant questions of the night was asked by Drake University Law Student Sterling Wilkins via video, who asked the candidates “do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” Sanders was given the opportunity to answer first, vehemently stating “Black lives matter… We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom.” Martin O’Malley agreed with the Senator and added, “As a nation we have undervalued the lives of people of color. Black lives matter and we have a lot of work to do to reform our criminal justice system.” Jim Webb was the only candidate to take an alternative stance, stating, “As president of the United States, every life in this country matters,” (after making yet another complaint about not being included in the conversation).

Both Clinton and Sanders presented forceful opinions regarding income inequality and affordable college. Sanders said he plans to raise the minimum wage to $15, and make every public college tuition free, while Clinton insisted that her five point economic plan was more comprehensive than Sanders’ plan, and proposed that while tuition should be free, students be required to work ten hours a week while in school.

When discussing big banks, Lincoln Chafee made one of the major blunders of the night, stating that he didn’t really know what he was voting for in 1999 when he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which established a separation between commercial and investment banking. “I think you’re being a little rough,” Chafee said in response to Anderson Coopers pointed questions about whether or not the former senator had really casted a vote about something he didn’t understand.

Other highlights included Clinton announcing that she (still) wasn’t ready to take a stance on legalizing recreational marijuana while Sanders said he would support a local Nevada law for legalization, and Martin O’Malley defending his position that Edward Snowden’s actions had put thousands of American lives at risk.

The action on stage in Las Vegas was mirrored around the country on social media, particularly on Twitter. Well-known politicians including Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee shared their words of wisdom on the debate.

With endorsements like that, how could anyone decide between democratic candidates?