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The 5 Most Important Moments in Saturday’s Democratic Presidential Debate

We are officially only six weeks away from the first primary in Iowa and the pressure is mounting. Saturday’s Democratic Presidential Debate mirrored the tension between the Clinton and the Sanders campaigns as they both strive to make their policy differences clear to voters. Going into the debate, it’s clear that Clinton has the upper hand. Hillary Clinton was leading the national polls with a majority of Democrats saying that they would vote for her (59 percent). While 28 percent of Democrats said they would vote for Bernie Sanders on primary day, and only 5 percent would vote for Martin O’Malley.

This debate was the first opportunity for all three candidates to take off their gloves and step into the ring. ABC’s moderators focused on ISIS and foreign policy, issues that seem to keep most of Americans up at night. As listeners, Fembot took note of five important moments that clearly showed us the priorities of the candidates.  

1. Radio Silence on the Planned Parenthood Terrorist AttacksultraSpoiler alert: Planned Parenthood was only mentioned twice during the debate. More importantly, at no point in the debate did anyone, including neither the moderators nor candidates, mention the November terrorist attack on the Planned Parenthood Center in Colorado Springs. Why? Because a majority of America’s voters would rather view homegrown terrorism as the byproduct of Muslim extremism and ISIS, rather than anti-woman hate, and anti-choice hate.  Governor O’Malley made this connection the most clearly: “When ISIL does training videos that say the easiest way to get a combat assault weapon in the United States of America is at a gun show, then we should all be waking up.”

I was particularly disheartened by Secretary Clinton’s silence. As a supporter of Planned Parenthood for years and a staunch defender of a woman’s right to choose, I assumed Hillary Clinton would have shared my anger at the continued violence against women’s health centers. Instead, she was silent.

2. The Ghost of Thomas Hobbes 

Just in time for Christmas, a ghost from the distant past visited the Democratic Presidential Debate on Saturday. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes cemented his place in history by authoring the political treatise Leviathan. It was his ghost that snuck onto the debate stage when the candidates revived a core debate about the relationship between a government and it’s people. At the core of the Leviathan is the idea that people in society give up certain rights to their government in exchange for safety and security. But which rights do we give up in this bargain?

Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley offered their own answers to the questions addressed in Hobbes’ 1651 text.  

During her answer on how the US government can catch terrorists by cooperating with technology companies, Clinton advocated allowing authorities to have increased access into our private lives to ensure our safety: “So we always have to balance liberty and security, privacy and safety, but I know that law enforcement needs the tools to keep us safe.” O’Malley immediately went on the defense to advocate for the exact opposite response: “I believe that we should never give up our privacy; never should give up our freedoms in exchange for a promise of security.”

O’Malley’s minimal support within the party ensures that he will not survive the primary season. But his willingness to confront Clinton on her answers allows us to question why she would be so willing to tip the delicate balancing act in the favor of the government, over the privacy rights of the American people.

3. Are we the top dog?

Over an hour of Saturday’s debate was devoted to the future of America’s foreign policy, including the impending military actions required by the US’s commitment to confronting ISIS. Each candidate offered a different plan, grounded in their opposing understanding of what the United State’s role should be in the world. Clinton responded with the strong statement that in the fight against ISIS, “if the United States does not lead, there is not another leader. There is a vacuum.” She further elaborated that if the US does not lead, then ISIS will succeed in its goals. Clinton argues that the US must take ISIS firm in hand, rather than relying on our allies (or tentative allies) to fight ISIS in the Middle East. Sanders offered a different option, by arguing that the “United States is not the policeman of the world.” The Senator argued for a policy that included the United States as part of an international coalition, made up of Middle Eastern countries, committed to fighting ISIS. Sanders pointed out the untapped leadership from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The two Democratic frontrunners have a vastly different idea of what role America should play. Clinton’s viewpoint is reminiscent of late 20th century foreign policy decisions, while Sanders is advocating for an America that cheers from the sidelines. The debate between these two candidates, and their viewpoints, is one of the most important distinctions that emerged during Saturday’s debate.

4. The Bathroom Break 

Around 10:30pmET, after a short commercial break ABC returned to the debate stage and moderator David Muir began asking the next question. Most of America realized that the center podium was empty. Where was Hillary Clinton? Despite Hillary Clinton’s absence, ABC, the moderators, and the two other candidates felt it entirely appropriate to begin without her.

On Sunday evening, The New York Times finally offered curious America an answer for Clinton’s whereabouts during those moments. Yes, Hillary Clinton was in the bathroom. She was late returning to her podium because the walk to the women’s bathroom was significantly longer than the walk to the men’s bathroom. In fact, Clinton had only a minute and forty-five seconds to use the restroom and return.

In my opinion, ABC’s choice to begin the debate without Clinton exposes a major societal issue—a lack of respect shown to women’s bodies. It is ridiculous that ABC okayed the commercial break time despite the longer walk to the women’s bathroom. Clearly, an accommodation needed to be made here. Clinton is a person engaging in a fierce intellectual debate, arguing for a future where she might be the first woman President of the United States. She should not have to run to the bathroom like a middle school girl racing to change her tampon before fifth period. In fact, middle school girls should not have to rush to the bathroom either. If we treated men and women with equal dignity, we would allow women the extra time they need in the bathroom.

It was disrespectful to begin the debate without Clinton at her podium. What message does that empty podium send to America? That women are always late? When we are on the eve of possibly electing our first woman President it’s unacceptable that ABC choose to perpetuate harmful and antiquated stereotypes of women.

5. Hillary Clinton, stop lying. You did not choose the dishes for the White House.

The final question of Saturday’s debate addressed the role of the President’s spouse; should the future spouse of the President continue to “supervise the menus, the flowers, the holiday ornaments” of the White House? Clinton, as the only spouse of a President on Saturday’s stage, answered this ridiculously silly question first. She didn’t touch on how the role should change, but she did confess that she would continue to “pick the flowers and the china for state dinners and stuff like that.”

Without a doubt, Hillary Clinton did not spend her time as First Lady looking at china patterns. In fact, she was the first First Lady to have an office in the West Wing and she made sure that her office was on the same floor as the President’s. Of course Hillary was concerned with the societal role of First Lady (mockingly referred to by ABC news as picking flowers and china), but she was also a career politician with her own goals. She was her husband’s political equal.

Watching Hillary agree to pick flowers as the President made me cringe. Throughout her time as First Lady, Hillary Clinton managed the impossible gymnastic act of transforming the First Lady into a political figure AND managing the societal expectations of the role. She did far more than pick flowers. In fact, I’d be shocked if she didn’t assign the task to another member of her staff.  

Hillary Clinton’s comment may have softened her image among certain, less progressive, voting demographics. But, we know Hillary’s secret—she does not pick china patterns.


[Image via ABC]

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Written by Michelle Carroll

Michelle is a white-presenting Latina living in Brooklyn. She is passionate about intersectional feminism, reproductive justice, and ending collegiate sexual violence. When she doesn't have her head buried in a book, she is meticulously searching through racks of vintage clothes. Michelle is also a contributor for The Radical Notion and Guerrilla Feminism, and happily volunteers to moderate the thriving Guerrilla Feminism NYC community. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr where she rants under the moniker @growsinBK.


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