Like Republicans in their 2 debates, the Democrats mostly agreed with each other in their first debate

There can be no doubt that the best moment of the debate between the five Democratic candidates for president came early when ex-Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley verbally slapped around Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the issue of greater gun controls. O’Malley was right that the gun issue in America does not come down to rural versus urban attitudes as Sanders was stating.

This exchange between the handsome matinee idol and the old curmudgeon produced the best zinger of the campaign so far:

SANDERS: Well, as somebody who has a D-minus voting record…

O’MALLEY: And I have an F from the NRA, Senator.

SANDERS: I don’t think I am pandering. But you have not been in the United States Congress.

O’MALLEY: Well, maybe that’s a healthy thing.

But it was much ado about nothing, as all the candidates agreed that we need to tighten gun controls. Perhaps O’Malley and former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State Hillary Clinton want more controls than Sanders and ex-Senator Jim Webb do, but they all want more gun controls and none advocated outlawing private ownership of firearms. O’Malley and Clinton approach the issue from the standpoint of public safety, while Sanders and Webb approach it from the standpoint of ensuring the right to bear arms, but they all have essentially the same plan of action.

It was that way about virtually all the issues. The candidates differed only in minor quibbles that often turned out to be definitional. And sometimes, they just agreed. In fact on every issue, O’Malley said he agreed with either Sanders or Clinton, and sometimes both.

They all agree that the Clinton email snafu is a distraction from the real issues of the campaign.

They all agree they support paid family and medical leave and a woman’s right to control her body.

They all agree that human-induced climate change is a major problem and all want to address it with regulation on fossil fuels and the development of renewable energy sources.

They all agree that income inequality is one of the gravest problems facing the nation, despite the snipping over whose plan was harsher on banks and bankers. Again, while they agreed what to do—raise minimum wage, invest in infrastructure, reduce cost of a college education, regulate the banks, they came at the problem from slightly different angles, Clinton and O’Malley as reformers of capitalism and Sanders as a democratic socialist who accepts capitalism. Kind of like the difference between FDR and Henry Wallace.

On foreign affairs, they pretended that Sanders was more dovish, Clinton and Webb more hawkish and O’Malley splitting the difference, but they all agreed that President Obama was doing the right thing in the Middle East, and specifically Syria, and that it was wrong to invade Iraq but right to go after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The one real difference in policy was that Clinton would impose a no-fly zone as part of a coalition and Sanders would not.

On all these, and every other issue, all of these Democrats are far more progressive than any of the Republicans, who would like to loosen gun control laws, implement policies that will increase wealth and income inequality, outlaw abortion, ignore climate change warnings, make the Clinton emails a central campaign issue and (excepting Rand Paul) employ more troops and planes in various Middle East hotspots.

Rarely have the differences between the two parties been so stark.

Another difference between the two Republican and one Democratic debates was that every Republican told a major lie having to do with policy, whereas all the Democrats stuck to the truth when it came to statistics and factual assertions not related to their own pasts.

Thus, just as in the Republican Party, deciding which Democrat to support may come down to the style of the candidate. Here is what this observer saw last night:

Webb appeared testy and sweaty-palmed, always at the edge of losing it. He demanded more time several times during the debate, and came off looking like the kid who’s mad he isn’t playing shortstop.

Chafee: He looked like he took one too many happy pills before the debate and they made him disconnected in a goofy sort of way.

O’Malley: He was a little stiff, like Bill Clinton when he first hit the national scene, and definitely not as smooth as his Republican equivalent, Mario Rubio. But then again, he has the burden of remembering facts, something that no Republican candidate seems to need this election cycle. On the whole, however, I think O’Malley did well and would make a fine vice presidential candidate for whichever Democrat wins the nomination or as a future presidential candidate.

Sanders: I love Bernie, but people are eventually going to get tired of being lectured by a cranky old man. Remember how Americans reacted to Jimmy Carter’s constant chiding about frugality and lowered expectations. The sunny-faced liar Ronald Reagan defeated him by selling a false vision based of the future.

Clinton: As always, Hillary Clinton showed herself to be controlled smart, quick on her feet and competent, if not as warm and friendly as her husband, Reagan or Bush II. She answered the concerns about switching positions on certain issues by focusing on her flexibility—she learned more information and changed her mind. Some may accuse her of ideological impurity, but her experience and skill set position her to bring into reality a much larger part of the Democratic agenda than any other current candidate. If Clinton has a lead in the polls and delegate count at the time, I may consider voting for Sanders in my state’s primary, just to keep the pressure on all Democrats to look left. But unless O’Malley suddenly catches fire with the public, Hillary Clinton remains the best candidate for the Democrats.

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