Not since August 1776 when General George Washington led his ragamuffin army into its first major battle against the British Redcoats in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene and Brooklyn Heights in the Battle of Brooklyn, has the Brooklyn Navy Yard seen such a bruising battle as took place last night; albeit this time only with words not muskets and bullets. Depending on which side of the debate you fell, your candidate did better or worse than the opponent. There was, however, an elevated nastiness to a campaign whose first round last summer sounded like a candidate lovefest.
In truth much of the rancor last night boarded on the ridiculous. The facial impressions were actually better than much of the substance which was interjected into the debate. In fact if listened to the words and not to their respective fans in the audience, you would have noticed that both Sanders and Clinton agreed on much more than they disagreed. With few exceptions, their differences were of style and politics and not on end goals. Their volleys and returns on minimum wage, social security, health insurance, etc. were really not far apart or consequential; however, their tones and rhetoric was aggressive and hostile.
(On the issue of audiences, in most instances they have debased the debate process throughout this electoral season for both parties. Last night as on numerous other occasions this year, the candidates have played to their fans in the galleries whose absence might have enabled the press to conduct more pointed and engaged exchanges.)
On support for Israel there was an interesting difference at least in terms of strategy. Clinton—regardless of what she might feel or do as President—clearly opted to appeal directly to the identified and affiliated large New York Jewish community, the preponderance of whom are registered Democratic voters. Her position was more directly supportive of Israel and of the policies of the Netanyahu Government. (This approach, undoubtedly also had in mind the Jewish voters throughout the country, who may well be a key voting bloc in the general election, especially in the swing states like Ohio, Florida, and perhaps Pennsylvania.)
Sanders position was much more nuanced and balanced. Coming on the day that he suspended his campaign staffer assigned to Jewish voter outreach for explosive and disrespectful attacks on Netanyahu on her Facebook page, Sanders used the debate question to underscore his call for greater sensitivity to both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His remarks underscored for many in the Jewish community a sense that Sanders personal dis-connect from his Jewishness and Jewish roots may represent a similar lack of genuine sensitivity to Israel’s needs to be safe and secure. This despite the fact that he has relatives in Israel and spent a year there as a young man.