Here’s roughly how the first hour of tonight’s debate went:
Bernie: Free health care for everyone!
Hillary: Let’s not overpromise. Maybe we can get partway there. You know, one percent at a time.
Bernie: When I’m president we’ll have free college for everyone!
Hillary: But we have to get the policy right. All the stakeholders need to buy in. It’s tricky.
Bernie: We need radical transformation of our criminal justice system!
Hillary: A commission had some good ideas recently and I endorse them.
Bernie: Let the children in!
Hillary: Yes, but first we need an appropriate process.
OK, I’m kidding. Sort of. But this is the bind Hillary Clinton is in. Bernie Sanders delivers all these big, stemwinding proposals and doesn’t really have to explain how he’s going to pass any of them or get them paid for. But he sure is visionary! Hillary, conversely, is just constitutionally incapable of talking like this. When a problem is raised, her mind instantly starts thinking about what works and who will vote for it and where the payfors are going to come from. And that means she sounds like an old fuddy duddy patiently explaining why your bright idea won’t work. No wonder young voters don’t care much for her.
This has been true the entire campaign, of course, but I thought tonight’s debate brought it into much sharper relief than usual. Did it hurt her? I’ve pretty much given up trying to divine the reactions of the studio audience to these debates, so I don’t know. I guess that if you think we need to dream big dreams and the fuddy duddies ought to stand aside, you’re more convinced than ever that Hillary is part of the problem, not part of the solution. If you have some respect for how hard the political process is, and how slowly progress is made, you’re more convinced than ever that Bernie is talking through his hat and Hillary is the only reasonable choice.
And for those who are undecided? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.