It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton who won the Democratic debate

At a time when the parties are polarized, the first Democratic debate gave them and and pundits something on which to agree.

Screenshot 2015-08-26 17.22.35Hillary Clinton was the clear winner of the debate.

Clinton was poised, showed policy chops and humor, while being warm and passionate.

Bernie Sanders also did a good job, while the other candidates were far less compelling. It’s clear now why Clinton and Sanders have dominated the field.

For my wonky policy heart, one of my favorite lines of the night came from Clinton, when she said she was “a progressive who likes to get things done.”

But this line appealed far beyond wonks, for it set a pointed contrast to the Republicans who refuse to govern, like the GOP in the U.S. House of Representatives and Maine’s Gov. LePage.

As moderate Republican David Brooks wrote the other day:

The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. . .

Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.

But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal. [source]

In this context, talking about liking to “get things done” appeals to large chunks of the electorate. Clinton’s pragmatism marks a contrast to the chaos in the Republican House and the personal attacks of the Republican nomination fight in which inexperienced individuals dominate in the polls.

Talking about competence can be boring, but the Democratic debate wasn’t, while avoiding the wildness of Republican debates.

Americans like government to work and believe in pragmatic, principled compromise, and Hillary Clinton put herself and the Democratic party on their side.

“A progressive who likes to get things done” could be the slogan for the whole party and so it was the party itself that won the Democratic debate.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.