One week out from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic Party allowed a “Town Hall” event broadcast nationally on CNN. Pictured, from left, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Hillary, Bernie & The Last Town Hall: Iowans Speak

Steve Russell

The establishment goes by that name because people are unlikely to go bust betting on it. In the 2016 elections, the establishment candidates are Hillary Clinton and Jeb! Bush. Joe Biden was lurking behind Clinton until his son Beau died and he had to focus attention on either politics or family to the exclusion of the other. He chose.

Jeb! did have the winner of the billionaire primary, Scott Walker, lurking behind him. Based on polling, Walker was done and so he bailed out. The polling of both parties appears to make wearing the establishment mantle hazardous to political health.

And just as the establishment usually wins, polls are seldom wrong.

Polling opinions is easy. Polling who will brave the snow in the Iowa winter for their candidate, endorse their candidate in full view of their neighbors, and be prepared to say why—that’s hard.

One week out from the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic Party allowed a “Town Hall” event broadcast nationally on CNN. Because the candidates did not share the stage at the same time, the event did not offend that Democratic National Committee rules limiting the number of debates.

Before the Town Hall, the two top polling contenders were up on TV with their closing argument ads, both ads very well done and setting out the choice Iowa will be the first to make.

Clinton is all about experience and preparation and her closing argument, called Stand Up, relies on that.

She aims for the head while Bernie Sanders aims for the heart with America. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel finally agreed about something.

The major criticism of the Bernie ad is that it’s “too white.” Hillary’s ad is pretty white as well, but the important thing is the people in the ads are New Hampshirites and Iowans—which is to say, mostly white. Both ads could have been filled with diversity emblems from central casting like Donald Trump’s announcement was filled with extras from a casting service.

Whatever you think of peopling an ad with citizens of the target states, both the Clinton and the Sanders ads are an honest reflection of their respective closing arguments. Those ad releases were backdrops to the CNN Town Hall on January 25.


Sen. Sanders of Vermont was the first candidate on the hot seat, and he was asked why, if he likes former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton so well, he was willing to run against her?

In light of the country’s problems, Sanders asserted, “Establishment politics is not good enough.”

One taxpayer after another asked Sanders how he would pay for various changes? Sanders was plain spoken in reply.

For single payer health insurance, would you raise taxes?

“Yes. However, you have to stack up the tax bill against the end of paying health insurance premiums.”

Free college education?

A tax on “speculation.” I take this to mean a transaction tax of pennies on regulated markets and it’s long overdue.

Repair and replacement of infrastructure?  End tax havens. The Cayman Islands would go broke. Where will Mitt Romney put his money?

Size of government? No answer to the question. Rather, Sanders offered a verbal tour around things people want. To the extent he answered, he said if you want the government to do things then it has to hire people for the purpose.

Sanders ended his turn with happy words: “I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I like and respect her.”

In his friendly glow, he still got the inevitable question about guns. His answer was no better than the last time. He came out for a “straw purchaser” law, which already exists, and he showed a misunderstanding of products liability law.

You take his word that he’ll come to Jesus on guns or you don’t. Here’s a guy with a D- rating from the NRA getting strung up over new gun regulations that are unlikely to pass without big changes in Congress. Go figure.


Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley seems like a nice guy, and in Iowa he may be holding the keys to the Emerald City for one of his opponents.

How does he differ from the others? He says he could bring the country together. Everybody agrees that’s a big deal

It seems to me that whoever wins is going to need O’Malley’s delegates, or most of O’Malley’s delegates.

When a candidate does not have enough bodies in the caucus to elect a delegate, the orphan delegates can caucus with another candidate. The polling says there will be a lot of orphan delegates standing up for O’Malley.

An Iowa voter asked him the obvious question. What does he have to say to his delegates if they are too few?

“Hold strong and move forward.”

Huh?  You have the numbers or you don’t.

Similarly, O’Malley was asked what he would do to contain health care costs in light of the private insurance hogs in the trough?

He would “push” the insurance companies. How do you “push” against professional actuaries? The numbers show what they show.

O’Malley’s toughest question came from the direction of Black Lives Matter, wanting him to account for “acquiescing with structural racism” in a crackdown on murdering drug dealers in Baltimore. He essentially said all he could say, that the killers were the color they were and so were the victims. He had to ask for points for having repealed the death penalty, to which he is entitled unless you think the courts are infallible.

O’Malley proved he understands sound-bite warfare when asked what he would do for gay rights at the federal level and he mentioned no specifics that could be used to hammer him.

O’Malley made an intriguing statement that may or may not be of political import. I can only report it word for word:

We are the only species on the planet without full employment.


The first question out of the chute demonstrated the peril and opportunity of the town hall format. She was asked to respond to, “Young people think you are dishonest.”

She pointed out that she has made a lot of enemies and young people have not been around to see the quality or lack of quality in those enemies over the years.

An older veteran took the microphone and said he started out as a lukewarm supporter but then watched all 11 hours of the Benghazi hearing “and came out a gung ho supporter.”

I believe the guy. Clinton has benefitted greatly from the overreaching of her critics. Thanks to their reliance on a bogus treason charge, she has not really had to answer for failing to heed Ambassador Chris Stevens’ requests for additional security.

Clinton was confident enough to spend time attacking “the Republican front-runner.” She said, “he started with Mexicans and now he’s on Muslims” and his remarks are “shameful and contrary to our values.”

If that’s so, why is he the front-runner?

She spent a good deal of time trying to demonstrate she is not the hawk she is reputed to be. She’s right if the comparison is the Republican field, all of whom except Rand Paul want more war quicker.

One question was a real sleeper and people got to see her thinking on her feet.

“Who is your favorite POTUS?”

Good grief!  What was she going to say? The POTUS she worked for or the POTUS she married?


Abraham Lincoln. While he fought the Civil War, he was authorizing the transcontinental railroad and the land grant college system.

Asked to comment on America, Clinton said, “I think that’s great!” She cheered “the feeling” and “the energy” and added, “We (the Democrats) need more poetry.”

There was not a lot of talk about representing corporate persons and how that might conflict with representing human persons. Such talk would have put Clinton on the defensive, but it is worth exploring.

In fact, somebody has to represent corporate persons and usually that falls to legislators representing the appropriate districts.

Wall Street must be heard and Silicon Valley must be heard, but the problem has been, with one dollar-one vote, the corporate persons drown out the human persons.

As New York Senator, part of Clinton’s job was to represent Goldman, Sachs.

As Vermont Senator, part of Sanders’ job was to represent Ben and Jerry’s.

Indians could wish for some vigorous representation of Tanka Bars. We will not see these candidates discussing Indian issues except when Republican candidates get off on what agencies of government they would abolish. Even then, the Bureau of Indian Affairs is small potatoes. In the healthcare debate, the Indian Health Service is small potatoes.

Our interests are at stake in federal elections but the only way we can vote our interests is pay more attention than non-Indians have to pay and figure out by implication who would be good for indigenous interests. It’s not fair but it’s a necessary price of tribal citizenship.

They may have “all come to look for America,” but we who met the boat are still looking for fair dealings.

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