5th Democratic Debate: Bernie finally flashes some steel, things start to heat up

5th Democratic Debate

If you’re anything like me — and I sincerely hope you’re not because people like me collect strains of HPV from European tourists in Tokyo’s red-light district about as frequently as Holly Holm collects title belts and trophies — but if you are anything like me then the idea of a heated, substantive, and fast-paced political debate really gets your motor running, and in that case you’ll probably agree that the 5th democratic debate, broadcast on MSNBC, was easily the most gripping debate of either party so far.  It was everything I wanted: with Martin O’Malley forced to admit his irrelevancy and stepping out of the race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were free to engage in some mano a mano grappling.  I found myself shouting at my computer several times and before the debate was half over I had already scribbled two pages of notes, barely giving me time to finish my canned Suntory highballs, which resulted in me being mostly sober for the majority of the event.  My notes do eventually trail off into gibberish, which means I probably did end up finishing those highballs and a half dozen more, but nevertheless the debate proved to be so exciting that moderators Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd didn’t have to try very hard to spark some action.  Both candidates were more than ready to start trading blows.


“Tonight, for your amusement: a fight between two septuagenarians!”

But first: how about that Iowa caucus, huh?


Even though Sanders called for a release of the raw vote count after his extremely narrow loss to Hillary Clinton, nobody thought he had a strong chance of winning in Iowa, including Bernie Sanders.  Still, it came right down to the wire and according to numerous news sites was eventually decided with a series of coin tosses. 

If you listen to people like my favorite dumbshit hack H.A. Goodman, then you may have heard how Hillary Clinton won a statistically-unlikely six coin tosses in a row, prompting many to cry foul and posit theories of malfeasance.  If you’ve read any of my previous articles on the Democratic debates you know I don’t have a very high opinion of H.A. Goodman, because he does things like call a debate in favor of Bernie Sanders a full day before the debate even happens and claims that Sanders did wonderful, marvelous things that he plainly and objectively did not do.  Goodman is very obviously unable to look at things with anything resembling objectivity or perspective, which is why his next article is titled “Bernie Sanders Slam-Dunked a Basketball, Triangle-Choked Hillary Clinton, And Kissed Me Passionately On The Mouth”.  As much as I like Sanders, I feel like there may be some hyperbole there, you know?  So if Goodman claimed that there was something fishy about the coin tosses, I naturally assumed that there wasn’t because Goodman is a fool.  And, of course, I was later proven right when it was revealed that the “Miracle Six” coin toss narrative was a load of horseshit.  From NPR: 

It’s been reported that there were as many as six sites where ties were decided by the flip of a coin — and Clinton won every single one. The odds of that happening are 1 in 64, or less than 2 percent. What’s more, that gave her just slightly more than her margin of victory over Sanders — four delegates.

Things that make you go hmm. Indeed…

…Except that doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, there were at least a dozen tiebreakers — and “Sen. Sanders won at least a handful,” an Iowa Democratic Party official told NPR.

Gone unmentioned so far is that even if Clinton won that Miracle Six — and there were no other coin tosses — it would make little difference in the outcome. That is, in part, because of the complicated way Iowa Democrats allocate their delegates — and what was being reported on election night and what wasn’t.

I definitely recommend reading that NPR article; it lays out exactly what happened and how it happened, and even though the story is certainly strange, it isn’t fishy

Still, even though Sanders didn’t come out ahead in the Iowa caucus, Clinton’s extremely narrow margin of victory (the Associated Press even called it a “tie” rather than call it for either candidate) has proven that the 2016 Sanders surge wasn’t a fluke in polling data.  The guy is absolutely cleaning up when it comes to young voters, and it’s not hard to imagine why this should be the case.  In an article titled “First Corbyn, Now Sanders: how young voters’ despair is fuelling movements on the left”, Guardian contributor Owen Jones paints a clear picture:

The generations seem to live on different political planets. American youth are far more likely to support immigration than their elders, and to have a positive view of Muslims; and while the over-35s are slightly more likely to believe government does too much, the under-35s are decisively more likely to believe it does too little. Here is a generation that has grown up in a world defined by market failure rather than one shaped by cold war rivalries. As a self-described socialist, Sanders is an exceptionally rare breed of American politician. But it is notable that, while just 15% of Americans over 65 have a positive view of socialism, that rises to 36% among the 18- to 29-year-olds, just three points fewer than those who opt for capitalism.

Yet it is surely economic insecurity that drives today’s young radicalism. A poll last year found that nearly half of so-called “millennial” Americans – those aged 18 to 35 – believed that they faced a “dimmer future than their parents”. Forty million Americans are now saddled with student debt, helping to suppress their living standards and leaving them with less disposable income for, say, a mortgage or a car. Home ownership across the Atlantic – the linchpin of the “American dream” – is now at its lowest level for nearly half a century. The economic recovery is an abstraction for many young Americans, all too often driven into insecure and low-paid occupations with little prospect of rising wages or a standard of living they believe they deserve.

One could quibble with a few points (Sanders isn’t really as radical as the article would suggest), but I think most would agree with Jones’ assessment.  I mean, I’m not a millennial myself, but I know enough of them to absorb their opinions through low-level telepathy and this seems pretty accurate. 

After all the caucus votes were more-or-less counted, I did a brief dance to celebrate Sanders’ tie before heading over to fivethirtyeight.com to have a look at what bigger brains than mine made of the events.  What I saw initially made me stop dancing mid-step.  Nate Silver is a smart guy and he’s got other smart people working with him, so when Harry Enten says that Bernie Sanders needs more than a tie in Iowa to have a chance at the Democratic nomination, I believe him.  Remember, while young democrats favor Sanders by a huge margin, Hillary still leads him on minority voters and older dems.  Even after the Iowa caucus “victory” and predictions from all over that she will lose New Hampshire, most pundits still thought her to be leading nationally by a comfortable distance.  Well, for all of two days, anyway — a recent Quinnipiac poll now has them tied nationally. 

As I’ve noted time and time again, I’m extremely suspicious of polls this early in the race and you should be too.  Remember, recent polls had Trump winning in Iowa, and even though Trump refuses to accept it that victory never materialized.  Still, it’s plain to me that the Sanders campaign is busting their asses and making big gains, which put a confident Bernie Sanders against a (now) very serious and, it must be mentioned, battle-hardened Hillary Clinton.



Tuna Ghost lives in Tokyo and has been a contributor to Japan Times and Kansai Scene.Follow him on twitter (@Tuna_Ghost) to read about US politics, the underground Tokyo metal scene, and which brands of 7-11 wine will make you fight like a homeless werewolf prostitute.