"If you wanted to see three Democrats getting urgent about the economy and Iraq, this was your night," said an MSNBC host after tonight's Democratic debate in Law Vegas. Indeed, the debate evinced remarkable consensus and civility among the three Democratic candidates, and fighting words towards the current Administration and the American political status quo.
I doubt I'm alone in how awed I was by the debate's early focus on economic justice. The candidates made statements about tax reform, bankruptcy laws, regulations in the housing market, transparency, and energy independence and the development of "green-collar" jobs that would have been inconceivable eight, or even four, years ago. But I shouldn't be surprised – the candidates' awareness of economic issues is reflected in the statements each campaign made to RH Reality Check. Andrea Lynch asked campaigns to respond to questions on reproductive health and rights, but each candidate clearly demonstrated that he or she understood that rights are of little consequence unless those rights are accessible and affordable. (Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John Edwards all responded.) The exemplar in this was John Edwards, who stated, "Supporting reproductive health rights must include supporting the decision of women who decide to bear children – including children born to low-income women." But in their focus on locating reproductive health care services within basic universal health care systems, the Democratic candidates show that they understand that addressing women's health care needs must be part of a comprehensive health reform package.
While other issues – namely, Iraq and the economy – saw far more substantive and truly useful debate, I think it's worth noting that not only did all three candidates say they will aggressively pursue legislation to require colleges and universities allow U.S. military recruiters on campus, no candidate pointed out that the reason why the top ten colleges – all of which have banned military recruiters and ROTC – have done so because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. While other gay rights issues like hate crimes legislation and employment non-discrimination may be far more pressing for LGBT people, it's commendable that universities have taken a stand for their gay and lesbian students and faculty. Everyone onstage – moderators included – obviously got a free pass on this question, and it's unclear why it was asked in the first place. A gay rights question that all the candidates could safely dodge? A military question that all the Dems could sound pro-troops on? Since when are debates supposed to whitewash distinctions? If no one mentions the underlying reason for the universities' principled stand, the question becomes little more than an opportunity for empty rhetoric.
Meanwhile in the Michigan primary, Mitt Romney finally got himself a gold, winning 37% of the vote; John McCain followed with 30%. Mike Huckabee, winner of the Republican Iowa caucuses and favorite for some – though not all – religious conservatives – came a distant third. Apparently, voters in Michigan are willing to forgive their native son's flip-flopping on choice – or maybe they (unlike the heavily anti-choice Iowa Republican caucus-goers) just aren't that concerned about ensuring governmental interference into women's medical decision-making.