Tonight’s South Carolina Democratic Presidential Debate A Turning Point

It is clear that Tuesday night’s CBS South Carolina Democratic Presidential debate is a turning point, as Senator Bernie Sanders will have the tremendous advantage if he wins the South Carolina Primary this Saturday.

Sanders is self destructing, however, with his inability to stop praising Cuba under Fidel Castro, and the Chinese government of President Xi Jinping, ignoring their violations of human rights, while improving education and health care.

Sanders seems totally deaf to warnings that he must repudiate his past extreme leftist views on Nicaragua and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as that is a guarantee to cause the loss of Florida at the least, and likely cause the industrial Midwest and the Southwest to run away from his candidacy, if he is the Democratic nominee for President.

How Sanders could win states that Hillary Clinton lost by small margins, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, is impossible to conceive.

Also, any hope of winning Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina, and come within striking distance of Texas, would be totally gone with a Sanders Presidential candidacy.

And Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada could be in danger, as well as New Hampshire and Virginia, all won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

And this is without addressing the “democratic Socialism” label that Sanders embraces, and his unwillingness to fully explain how all of his ambitious programs, which sound great on paper, could possibly be achieved through Congressional action.

The importance of the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court is at stake, and the nation cannot afford more right wing judges and Justices if Donald Trump is reelected.

Hopefully, we will see moderates unite around one candidate to oppose Sanders after Super Tuesday next week, with the best bet now seeming to be Pete Buttigieg, unless Joe Biden has a major rehabilitation by voters in South Carolina and the 14 states of Super Tuesday.

26 comments on “Tonight’s South Carolina Democratic Presidential Debate A Turning Point

  1. D February 25, 2020 3:17 pm

    ‘Bernie Sanders Was Right About Cuba’

    By Ben Burgis (02.25.2020)

    Bernie Sanders was right to applaud Cuba’s literacy programs even as he criticized the country’s undemocratic political system. He has nothing to apologize for.

    * * * * *

    Over the weekend, in an interview with Anderson Cooper for [“60 Minutes”], Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders was asked about old video clips in which he praised the achievements of the Cuban Revolution without endorsing the island nation’s undemocratic political system. Sanders’s response to Cooper was a nuanced evaluation of the pros and cons of the Cuban model from a democratic socialist point of view.

    “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba,” he said, but “it’s unfair to simply say that everything is bad.” He then cited the enormously successful literacy program that Fidel Castro initiated immediately after the revolution, noting that it would be absurd to say the policy was “a bad thing” because “Castro did it.” Finally, answering Cooper’s follow-up question, Sanders unequivocally condemned the Cuban government’s jailing of political dissidents.

    These manifestly reasonable comments were immediately denounced not just by conservatives like Kevin D. Williamson, who wrote a piece on the controversy for the National Review entitled “Bernie Sanders is a Moral Monster,” but also by Democrats like Florida congresswomen Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, former Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and most of Sanders’s rivals in the race for the Democratic nomination.

    Generally speaking, the critics chose to focus on the middle part of the [“60 Minutes”] clip, simply pretending that the snippet didn’t begin with Sanders denouncing the “authoritarian nature” of the Cuban government and end with him deploring that government’s jailing of dissidents. Williamson, for example, vaguely noted that Sanders said “some criticisms” of Cuba’s leaders were unfair and then immediately launched into a rant about how Castro “lined up political dissidents and shot them.” Similarly, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted that Sanders “doesn’t recognize” that “we need a president who will be extremely clear” about human rights violations abroad.

    * * *

    The Narnia Standard

    Are these critics attacking Sanders based on a willful misrepresentation of his comments? In the cases I just quoted, that certainly seems to be the case. Still, there may be a (slightly) more charitable way to interpret at least some of their complaints.

    For example, in a CNN town hall on Monday, Pete Buttigieg responded to a quote in which Sanders said that “teaching people to read and write is a good thing” by faulting him for asking people to see the “bright side of the Castro regime.” Instead, Mayor Buttigieg insisted, we should “stand unequivocally against dictatorships everywhere in the world.”

    To Buttigieg, it’s not good enough that Sanders clearly and unambiguously condemned the authoritarian aspects of Cuba’s system because his comments weren’t “unequivocal” in the sense of being entirely critical rather than including a mix of criticism and praise. The principle Buttigieg is appealing to is that it’s wrong to praise any policy of a dictatorship. Apparently, the “unequivocally” anti-dictatorship stand is to talk about all undemocratic countries “everywhere in the world” as if they lacked any positive features whatsoever — like Narnia before Aslan, where it was “always winter and never Christmas.”

    This certainly seems to be the standard Sanders’s critics applied in a previous iteration of the same “praise for Communist dictatorships” attack, when clips were dredged up from the press conference that Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, gave when he and his entourage returned from a trip to the USSR in 1988. Even though Sanders took time in the press conference to criticize the Soviet Union for its lack of democracy and for the poor quality of its housing and hospitals, the fact that he praised the undeniable architectural impressiveness of Soviet subway stations was treated as evidence that Sanders might as well have been a Stalinist — never mind that the man has spent his entire political career, even in his fire-breathing radical youth in Vermont’s Liberty Union Party, calling himself a “democratic” socialist precisely to differentiate his vision of a good society from the Soviet model.

    One obvious problem with the Narnia standard for “unequivocal” criticism of authoritarian regimes is that it requires you to deny easily verified facts. Cuba did make tremendous strides in literacy, infant mortality, racial desegregation, doctor-patient ratio, and many other areas after the revolution. When the subject comes up, is a properly “unequivocal” opponent of dictatorships supposed to pretend not to know that all of this happened? Is the rule that you always have to respond by changing the subject?

    Unsurprisingly, hardly anyone plays by this rule in practice. As commentator Eric Levitz points out in his excellent piece on the controversy, every president in the last several decades, Democrat or Republican, has “found positive things to say” about a regime in Saudi Arabia whose human rights record is far, far worse than Cuba’s.

    Take one of the most indefensible parts of the Cuban state’s record: gay rights. In the years immediately after the revolution, gay men were arrested and put in labor camps. Since then, the situation has dramatically improved — so much so that in recent years, state-sanctioned gay pride parades have been held in the streets of Havana. Compare this to contemporary Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality remains a beheading offense.

    And even in the specific case of Cuba, centrist Democrats haven’t generally held one another to the Narnia standard. For example, to the best of my knowledge, no major Democrat criticized Barack Obama for praising Cuba’s education system — in a speech he delivered in Cuba, no less — in 2016.

    * * *

    The Sanders Difference

    Is the difference between Sanders’s comments and Obama’s that some worry Sanders secretly longs to import the authoritarian aspects of Cuba’s system to the United States? If so, this isn’t a rational concern. As Levitz points out, Sanders is a fervent believer in democratic rights — so much so that he’s taken considerably heat for suggesting that those in prison should still have the right to vote. His rating from the American Civil Liberties Union is 100 percent, and his commitment to free speech has led him to criticize student activists for shouting down right-wing speakers on college campuses.

    Perhaps the worry isn’t that Sanders wants America to become an authoritarian one-party state, but that he thinks, in some sense, that it’s fine for Cuba to be such a state. This certainly seems to be what Kevin Williamson is suggesting when he writes that Sanders is “rather like the apologists for antebellum slavery who say, ‘Well, think of how much better-fed they were than they would have been in Africa.’”

    Is the Cuban Revolution supposed to be the equivalent of the transatlantic slave trade in this analogy? If so, an obvious difference is that Africans lost their freedom. Far from replacing a democracy with a dictatorship, the Cuban Revolution replaced a dictatorship that oversaw monumental economic inequality, poverty, misery, illiteracy, de jure racial segregation, and high infant mortality with a dictatorship that promoted racial equality and redistributed much of the wealth of the ruling oligarchs to promote social goods like health care and education. And, as indicated by his condemnation of the “authoritarian nature” of Cuba’s leadership and his call for political prisoners to be freed, Sanders thinks that it would be better if Cubans — without losing their social rights to health care, higher education, and the rest — also gained the democratic rights he defends so passionately in the United States.

    This is a fundamentally decent and principled position. Sanders should be commended for taking it. And if he becomes president despite his refusal to reduce complicated realities to the cartoonish slogans of two-dimensional anti-communism, he’ll have succeeded in showing future candidates that they don’t need to pander to the most extreme elements of the Cuban-American community in order to win.

  2. Princess Leia February 25, 2020 4:47 pm

    The rest of us side with what Buttigieg said in his town hall last night: “As a Democrat, I don’t want to be explaining why our nominee is encouraging people to look on the bright side of the Castro regime going into the most important election of our lives.”

  3. Princess Leia February 25, 2020 4:59 pm

    Every morning I check the news, hoping Trump died while I was asleep. And I don’t care how he dies either.

  4. Rustbelt Democrat February 25, 2020 5:06 pm

    Yes, Barack Obama praised certain aspects of Cuba’s society, but as I recall his administration was negotiating with Cuba at that time and it was perhaps a tactical move on Obama’s part.

    I will be perfectly frank: I really don’t want Sanders to be our nominee. I think he will lead us to defeat in an election we must win. And part of what’s wrong is that Sanders is too willing to see positives in left wing authoritarian regimes. Yes, Trump praises and sucks up to dictators, and it’s disgusting. But purely from a political strategy viewpoint, praising Castro in any way is a boneheaded move.

    Oh, and for the record, before I am accused:
    –No, I am not trying to help Trump.
    –No, I am not trying to divide the party.
    –Yes, I have seen the largely meaningless (at this point) national polls.
    –Yes, I do want universal health care, strong unions, and decisive action on the climate. But you see, you have to win to have those things.

  5. D February 25, 2020 5:18 pm

    “The Hill’s” “Rising” has news to report on important new polling.

  6. Former Republican February 25, 2020 5:29 pm

    Thumbs up to that, Rustbelt.

  7. D February 25, 2020 5:29 pm

    With Super Tuesday in one week [March 3, 2020], here are tweets by Nate Silver on that day’s scheduled contests:

    * * * * *

    Super Tuesday win probabilities (NOT vote share!).

    Note: These may change significantly based on SC and other stuff. I’m listing everyone who’s >=5%.

    CA—Sanders 79%, Biden 9%, Bloomberg 6%
    TX—Sanders 59%, Biden 26%, Bloomberg 11%
    NC—Sanders 52%, Biden 24%, Bloomberg 20%

    * * * * *

    VA—Sanders 49%, Biden 24%, Bloomberg 24%
    MA—Sanders 57%, Warren 26%, Biden 8%, Bloomberg 5%
    MN—Klobuchar 49%, Sanders 45%
    CO—Sanders 83%, Warren 6%, Biden 6%
    TN—Sanders 45%, Biden 33%, Bloomberg 17%
    AL—Biden 55%, Sanders 25%, Bloomberg 18%

    * * * * *

    OK—Sanders 36%, Bloomberg 31%, Biden 26%
    AR—Sanders 40%, Bloomberg 28%, Biden 22%, Buttigieg 7%
    UT—Sanders 87%, Warren 5%
    ME—Sanders 67%, Bloomberg 10%, Warren 9%, Buttigieg 7%, Biden 7%
    VT—Sanders >99%
    AS—Sanders 38%, Biden 26%, Bloomberg 23%, Warren 8%

  8. Rational Lefty February 25, 2020 5:42 pm

    I’m getting the sense that Bernie is rather naïve.

  9. Princess Leia February 25, 2020 5:43 pm

    I’ve made up my mind. If Bernie is the nominee, I’m not voting in the general.

  10. Pragmatic Progressive February 25, 2020 5:48 pm

    Thanks for that, Southern Liberal.

  11. Pragmatic Progressive February 25, 2020 7:09 pm

    Leia – You can always write in someone on the ballot.

  12. Ronald February 25, 2020 7:57 pm

    Princess Leia, of course, you have a right NOT to vote on Election Day.

    But I will vote for Sanders if he is the nominee, as getting Trump out is the primary goal above all, as I see it.

    I may be a critic of Sanders, but Trump is a threat to the Constitution and rule of law, and must lose a second term in the White House for our safe future!

  13. Rustbelt Democrat February 25, 2020 8:39 pm

    Tonight’s debate is another circular firing squad. Moderates going after Bernie, Liz going after Bloomberg, Steyer going after Biden, etc.

  14. Rational Lefty February 25, 2020 9:14 pm

    I’ve been flipping back and forth between The Voice and the debate. What little I’ve seen of the debate, I’m not impressed with these moderators.

  15. Former Republican February 25, 2020 9:50 pm

    Sanders defended his comments, which included saying that the Castro government did some good things (like literacy programs), by saying that Obama said the same thing. The other candidates — and the audience! — were not having it.

  16. Princess Leia February 25, 2020 9:52 pm

    Buttigieg did a good job of making his case as the change candidate, saying the 2020 election shouldn’t be about Trump wanting the social order of the 1950s or the revolution politics of the 1960s that Sanders supposedly embraces.

  17. Ronald February 25, 2020 9:55 pm

    Pete Buttigieg is the clear cut winner of this debate, as I see it, and I will comment more tomorrow!

  18. Princess Leia February 25, 2020 9:58 pm

    Earlier in the debate, it was kind of striking to hear Warren drawing such a clear contrast with Sanders. She hasn’t really done that in past debates. But obviously she is under a lot of pressure to show why she’s a better progressive candidate than Sanders is now.

  19. Pragmatic Progressive February 25, 2020 10:00 pm

    Warren brought up one of the big criticisms of Sanders, that he hasn’t explained how much his plans will cost, or how he will pay for it. It’s something he’s been trying to counter in the last few days.

  20. Former Republican February 25, 2020 10:13 pm

    Klobuchar had a good debate. She gave a number of lengthy, detail-filled answers on issues ranging from health care to the coronavirus to how to best approach North Korea in that last segment. She made some early attempts to broaden her appeal by trying to make the case for her candidacy to black voters, perhaps pandering by quoting MLK in her opening answer but also highlighting the need to protect voting rights and live up to the promises that the Democratic Party makes to black voters. Thing is, I’m not sure there’s any way she’s going to truly break through in South Carolina even with this debate. She’s at like 5 percent in our polling average there.

  21. Former Republican February 25, 2020 10:19 pm

    I thought Biden had a good night tonight.

  22. Former Republican February 25, 2020 10:28 pm

    Bernie got booed by the audience tonight. Seemed to throw his performance off.

  23. D February 26, 2020 2:50 am

    CBS has the following tweet (02.25.2020 @ 11:22 p.m. ET):

    Poll of Democratic Debate Watchers nationwide:

    Sanders was seen as the candidate who made the best case he could beat Donald Trump.


    • Bernie Sanders 26%
    • Joe Biden 21%
    • Elizabeth Warren 12%
    • Michael Bloomberg 11%
    • Pete Buttigieg 8%
    • Amy Klobuchar 6%
    • Tom Steyer 2%

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