Ask not who won the debate. Ask how you might win the future.

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 11.51.31 PMTuesday night marked the most-watched Democratic Primary debate in history, with around 15.5 million viewers. This blew away expectations, and that’s not even counting those who accessed the feed online. But it’s not the most remarkable thing about this debate.

Right after the broadcast, as the pundits and spinners were telling us how to perceive what we’d just watched, nearly every talker gave the “win” to Hillary Clinton. And yet in those same post-debate moments, Bernie Sanders was running away with just about every metric of viewer interest and support.

Simply put, Clinton may have won the debate (according to Beltway pundits), but Sanders won the people. 

One measure of interest is Google Analytics, which shows Bernie Sanders stomped the competition. Howie Klein points out in Down With Tyranny that “Sanders actually overpowered the long-term king of Google, Donald Trump. During the debate, Sanders continually attracted more Google interest than Trump.” His biggest spikes came with his intro, and then on his focused attention on Wall Street.

Polling and focus group data (see above DWT article) also shows Sanders dominating audience approval, while the commentariat and many average Joe’s alike gave the debate performance to Hillary. Bernie won support without winning the debate. How is that?

One explanation for this is what Joan Walsh writing for The Nation calls “the clash of two theories of change.” Sanders is an insurrectionist and Clinton is a reformer. While Sanders’ grumpy moral denunciations of Wall Street and billionaires aren’t the most elegant debate moves, they’re winning the hearts and minds of the American audience. Americans apparently have the ability to appreciate Clinton’s debate performance, and still be more attracted to Sanders’ message.

Clearly, America is ready for authenticity. Sanders has been true to his moral center for his entire life. He’s honest to a fault. Hillary was successful in the debate to the extent that she was able to make herself appear more Bernie-like. This means that Bernie Sanders — the social democrat — essentially set the terms of the first Presidential Primary debate. That’s pretty remarkable.

It was a feature, not a bug, of 90s-era Clintonian politics that moral leadership played second fiddle to winning political wars. “New Democrats” in the 90s ran from traditional Democratic values such as the perception of being liberal. The old Clintonian game of triangulation was to take all our issues “off the table” to the point where you could hardly recognize a Democrat from a Republican. Perhaps, Democrats in 2016 are tired of those old games. We’re stuck with repeal of Glass-Steagall, NAFTA and the end of Welfare as we knew it. These policies have made us weaker and we need to fix them.

A lot has changed since the 90s. Now everyone wants to be a Progressive and it’s just embarrassing to see dyed in the wool Centrists — school privateers for instance — try to claim liberal cred. After years of running away from progressive policy and rhetoric, pollsters are saying there’s strategic advantage in locating oneself left of the dial. Unfortunately, you can’t just declare yourself a Progressive and have it be so.

Being a Progressive means having a history of doing the work. It means eschewing the PAC money. You have to actually hold the establishment’s feet to the fire on matters of importance to the electorate. Predictably, those who declare themselves Progressives without having spent the political capital in meaningful ways, can expect to see their “trust” numbers go down. Hillary did herself no favors by declaring that she’s a “progressive who gets stuff done.” We all know that she’s hurriedly been putting a fresh coats of paint on many of her outdated policy stances. She was against gay marriage before being for it. She was negotiating for TPP before being against it. She was in favor of Keystone before deigning to announce her new position to us. She told Wall Street to “cool it” — really? It’s exhausting. And we get it. It’s the old triangulation calculus where you take substantive issues “off the table” by siding with the Republicans, and it’s just stinky, weak sauce right now.

When we voted Obama into office under the motto of “hope and change,” many were voting for an insurrectionist style of politics that would take Washington by the collar and shake some sense into it. Granted, the genius of this branding was its one-size-fits-all accommodation of everyone’s aspirations. After eight years of W we were okay with the vagueness of the motto, but we did expect more out of the relationship.

Many folks have forgotten this, but we expected to part of ongoing change through his Organizing For America structure that was to be a “revolutionary” pivot of campaign organizing assets into long-term policy-making ground troops. That this never launched was tragic. Stimulus, cap-and-trade and healthcare negotiations might have all gone down differently with organized people supporting them at every level, but we were cut off. My sense is that Obama obliged lobbyists while we got corralled in the veal pen. These were not good times.

Bernie Sanders is saying right up front that he won’t do that. He also saying that he won’t achieve his policy objectives without our help. He’s literally gaining support by telling us he won’t be successful without us. It’s working because we know it’s true.

It’s going to take more than a reformer with great administrative skills like Clinton, to turn our ship in the right direction. It’s going require a moral leader and super-organized people power.

And what I find incredible at this moment is that the American people seem up to the challenge. Americans are being asked, for the first time since John F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We’re not distancing ourselves ironically, or saying “well, maybe.” We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and we seem to be saying “let’s do this.” We’ve just been waiting for the right person to ask us.




Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy in “words + pictures” for clients ranging from banking and financial services to radical nuns. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network, the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, Outreach Chair for the Orange County Democratic Party, and the 2015-2016 Co-Chair of New Leaders Council, Orlando Chapter.

 All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory and cultural criticism. Political and media analysis through a progressive lens; owned by no one, and bound to piss everyone off, eventually.

awesome dogs couchYou can easily find Brook Hines on Facebook and Flickr. Read all of Brook’s articles here. 

These are her Italian Greyhounds, Trouble and Daphne. Daphne has proven you can teach an old dog new tricks, by introducing Trouble to the wonders of the dishwasher. “You mean you can lick these? That never occurred to me.”

“Stick with me old man.”


  1. Great stuff Brook! When Bernie gave his opening it felt inclusive of all of us. It was genuine, authentic, real. I loved the debate. Finally, people talking about real issues. Love the email moment. An authentic genuine moment.


  2. The most qualified person as always is the female. Bernie is saying the right thing. He gets elected in a state half the size in population of Orange County Florida and small geographically. But will he come down on the banks and special interests like the hedge funds and the NRA? He hasn’t been a senator from New York where the bad guys actually live. And the NRA put him in office and gets support from say Pepsi Cola today. Why Pepsi? because they put Republicans in office. Republicans are totally honest they will put our hardearned tax dollars into the hands of agribusiness etc. And an independent makes sure that local and state are hamstrung from countering the massive funding against them. Our only hope is to use our numbers against the money. Which an independent gives no help for. And don’t get me started on foreign policy as Clinton was Secretary of State. I heard from someone who has lived recently in St. Petersburg how beloved Putin is. He asked US house Mica yesterday to please not bomb Russian migs in Syria. Over 60 will never vote for a Socialist so we will then have a Republican. We already know their foreign policy views.


  3. I always enjoy your posts, and this one was no exception! Hopefully your words will educate many about the Progressive stance.


  4. Fisher Fleming · ·

    Sanders won the debate. We know this, because all of the other candidates tailored their responses to his positions, which have never changed.

    Hillary Clinton ignored a fistful of references to her continued support for the repeal of Glass-Steagall. She voiced a softened version of her “shadow banking (and not Wall Street financial firms and giant banks) caused the mortgage crisis” schtick that is complete nonsense. She tried a “I’m a reformer; you’re a revolutionary” thesis to try to play on the idea that Sanders is too radical for Americans, but the fact is that Sanders is not too radical for Americans. He is an FDR-style Democrat who embodies the principles that made the party work best. Sanders spent the debate articulating views he has fought and argued for for 50 years; Clinton spent it trying to convince us she’s just like him, but more “practical.”

    I understand what the establishment press and pundits were reacting to. They worried that Clinton would keep to her center-center / center-right positions and be booed off the national stage. Instead, to her credit, she sprinted left like a greyhound and arrived, panting, right where Sanders has always been. To her supporters, this was a victory.To the public, she weather-vaned admirably in the prevailing winds of opinion, just as she has done with Iraq and gay marriage and the Keystone Pipeline and the TPP. But people would be fools to think she has magically leviated aaaaalll the way over to the “progressive” side as she tried a bit lamely to claim.

    None of this means Sanders will win the election. Hillary is smart and solid and smooth and well-funded, and she doesn’t frighten Wall Street or corporate America one whit, and yet she is not a blustering loon yarking about giant border walls guarded by Tyrannosauruses or zombie fetuses having their brains harvested,like the entire Republican field. If she’s the nominee, she can win.

    But so can Sanders. No one is buying the red-scare theory or whatever that concocted Black Lives matter controversy was supposed to be, and not only does the man have the right ideas for the right time, but we know they are his ideas, and that he means them.

    Like Hillary on the debate stage, America is sprinting toward Bernie Sanders.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. QOTD –> “she (Clinton) is not a blustering loon yarking about giant border walls guarded by Tyrannosauruses or zombie fetuses having their brains harvested, like the entire Republican field. If she’s the nominee, she can win.”


  5. salsagator · ·

    This past Sunday on Meet the Press Bernie Sanders was asked if he was a capitalist. He responded, “No, I’m a Democratic Socialist.” A Social Democrat believes in well regulated private sector and social benefits (health care, education) for their own sake and subsidies to guard against the shocks and excesses of capitalism (minimum income, unemployment, etc.,). A Democratic Socialist does not believe in capitalism.


  6. A Democratic Socialist believes in well regulated Capitalism.


  7. salsagator · ·

    Not really. “Democratic socialism rejects the social democratic view of reform through state intervention within capitalism, seeing capitalism as inherently incompatible with the democratic values of freedom, equality and solidarity. Democratic socialists believe that the issues inherent to capitalism can only be solved by transitioning from capitalism to socialism, by superseding private property with some form of social ownership, with any attempt to address the economic contradictions of capitalism through reforms only likely to generate more problems elsewhere in the capitalist economy.”


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