A debate between two of five candidates

The first official democratic debate aired Tuesday night, in which two and a half presidential hopefuls faced off, with a political joke of a candidate on either side of them.

What resulted may have just barely shifted predictions, but clearly showed the limits of candidates when side by side.

Hillary Clinton made overtures throughout the debate to reframe the narrative whenever onstage divides made her look too moderate or too progressive.

However, Clinton did not shake her image as the hand of the hegemony when much of the democratic constituency is looking to a more progressive flag bearer, which need not have been rival Bernie Sanders.

This occasionally had telling effect, and the debate quickly became framed as a difference in degrees rather than substance – a sentiment which Sander’s attempted to shake, in true Sanders form.

Yet Hillary could not resist taking certain political jabs, which in execution were poised, but in broader context appeared hypocritical and facile. She criticized Sanders’ uncharacteristic lack of idealism with gun control, and then soon after criticized his copious idealism in regards to Wall Street.

Yet these jabs clearly seem to have played into Clinton’s poll numbers, however slightly. Sanders may well have benefited from similarly drawing more robust distinctions between himself and Clinton, but his refusal to attack her when she was politically weak amounted to the most notable moment of the night, in which Sanders said he was tired of hearing about Clinton’s “damn emails.”

The senator from Vermont did not hesitate, however, to call out Clinton’s slap-on-the-wrist relationship with Wall Street as naive.

“Congress does not regulate Wall Street,” Sanders said. “Wall Street regulates Congress.”

Sanders, however, showed his limits in a staged format which demands the kind of facile sound bites Clinton wields to perfection. His response to gun control was thus far weaker than Clinton’s, because he described the issue’s nuance and complexity.

“I was in the Senate at the same time,” Clinton said, referring to a particular gun safety bill Sanders voted against. “It wasn’t that complicated to me.”

Martin O’Malley, who had to sidestep accusations that his tenure as the mayor of Baltimore did little to assuage race relations in the embroiled city, was the only other candidate with any notable chance. However, his hopes to grab the progressive flag are ultimately dashed by a more confident, more liberal Sanders.

Lincoln Chaffee, if possible, made himself more of a joke now that he’s better known. The governor of Rhode Island simultaneously shifted responsibility away from himself and reminded the nation that his career began as a result of his father’s death. Even his closing statements rambled into an overly large amount of self-congratulation over never being caught in a political scandal.

Jim Webb, though he claimed almost twice the speaking time as Chaffee, claimed only half as much as Clinton or Sanders, and spent an overly large amount of that time uncomfortably unable to make a succinct point.

The final question of the night, regarding the enemies candidates were most proud of making, received Webb’s cripplingly awkward attempt to make a joke where the other candidates had recanted long political careers.

“I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me,” Webb said. “But he’s not around now to talk to.”

The Republican caucus would have exploded into raucous applause at such a joke. On Tuesday night, the moderators were the only ones laughing, and then only briefly.

The debate did not spur any hope of demographic upheaval, and the candidates are in positions largely unchanged. Unsurprisingly, fans of authenticity still found a champion in Sanders, and fans of pragmatism still found a champion in Clinton.

Emry Dinman is a junior communication major from Seattle. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of the Office of Student Media.