The marked difference in the tone and tenor of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates has to be well, the democratic candidates were in a word … presidential. The tone at the debate which took place in Flint on Sunday, March 6, was an exercise in decorum and diplomacy, none of the bullying, bluster and lewdness of the republican brawls which have been passing for debates.
“This has been an energetic and uplifting debate, with real focus on the issues,” said NAACP president Ben Jealous. “Just look around people here are happy and they feel good about what they’re hearing.”
From the onset of the debate at Hill Auditorium moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders dove in the deep end of the water feet first and addressed critical issues facing Flint, Detroit and the state of Michigan. Sanders, the first of the presidential candidates to call for Gov. Rick Snyder’s resignation months ago when the depth of the water contamination problem surfaced.” Over the last several weeks I had the opportunity to meet with a number of residents of Flint at a town meeting in Flint, and I have to tell you what I heard, and what I saw literally shattered me. And, it was beyond belief that children in Flint, Michigan in the United States of America in the year 2016 are being poisoned.”
Not to be over shadowed by Sander’s impassioned plea, Clinton took the opportunity to remind audience members that her campaign brought the debate to Flint. “I’m very grateful that my request that we hold this debate be held here so we can continue to shine a very bright spotlight on what has happened in this city,” said Clinton adding, “I agree, the Governor should resign, or be recalled.”
Don Lemon asked the contenders about the possibility of criminal charges being brought to those involved in the Flint water crisis. Both Clinton and Sanders responded that if criminal charges were appropriate they wouldn’t shy away from supporting prison time for those involved from local officials to EPA officials in Washington.
While the first 20 minutes of the historic debate focused solely on the Flint water crisis, Sanders flexed his muscle, quickly moving to the Detroit public Schools crisis. “Not only is there this tragedy in Flint, in Detroit the public school system is collapsing.”
Several Flint residents asked both candidates how they would restore citizen trust in government if they were elected. Leann Walters one of the first to report the water problem in Flint after one of her twins stopped growing and her daughter lost her hair, implored candidates to address water contamination around the country.
Sanders said he would make sue the EPA test every public water system in the country. 10 million lead service pipes deliver water daily to Americans across the country.
Clinton responded that she would commit to removing lead from water, soil and homes within five years of her taking office.
And then the love fest ended.
Cooper’s statement about other ills facing Flint and the rest of the state, particularly the lack of jobs changed the tide of the conversation. “This city is also facing a jobs crisis, 75 percent of Flint’s manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last 25 years and about the same amount of time, Michigan lost 230,000 manufacturing jobs,” Cooper stated. And that’s when the gloves came off as Clinton sharply criticized Sanders for voting against the auto industry bail that President Obama urged approval of.
“Senator Sanders was against the auto bailout. In January of 2009, President-Elect Obama asked everybody in the Congress to vote for the bailout to keep the industry from collapsing and taking 4 million jobs with it,” Clinton said gesturing toward Sanders.
“You mean the Wall Street bail out, Sanders shot back adding, “And some of your friends were part of that Wall Street Bail out. I will be damned if it’s the working people of this country who should have to pay for Wall Street greed.”
Co-moderator Don Lemon changed the conversation as he asked the candidates about their racial blind spots. Sanders pointed to his long and storied involvement in the Civil Right Movement, while Clinton pointed to her record of creating working to improve quality of life for minorities and the poor.
“I think being a white person in the United States of America, I know that I have never had the experience that so many people … have had. And I think it’s incumbent upon me to urge white people to think about what it is like to have ‘the talk’ with your kids, scared that your sons or daughters, even, could get in trouble for no good reason whatsoever like Sandra Bland and end up dead in a jail in Texas,” Clinton said.
Sanders, who is popular among young African American voters for gave an equally poignant and frank response. “When you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car,” he said adamantly. “I believe that as a nation in the year 2016, we must be firm in making it clear. We will end institutional racism and reform a broken criminal justice system.”
When a mother young mother from Detroit Shaniqua Kemp shared the story of her 8-year-daughter attending substandard schools and receiving an inadequate education both Clinton and Sanders were eager to address the issue of education in Detroit and other distressed communities.
“A great nation is judged not by how many millionaires and billionaires it has, but how it treats the least among them, which are children and the elderly. And we should be ashamed that we cannot come up with the money to fix Detroit’s broken educational system. We have to change the priorities and invest in our children to have the best public school system in the world,” Sanders said.
“I would use every legal weapon in my arsenal which to return the schools to the people and remove these emergency managers who are only making things worse,” said Clinton who has been endorsed by the country’s largest teachers’ unions AFT and the NEA. “People keep scapegoating teachers who are working under the most difficult circumstances.”
Near the conclusion of the debate Clinton, landed a one-two punch, much to the delight of the crowd, when she demanded that President Obama be allowed to appoint a Supreme Court justice before leaving office to replace Judge Antonin Scalia.