Why Bernie Sanders dominated the Democratic debate

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDems leery of Planned Parenthood cuts spark Senate scuffle Senate passes Puerto Rico debt relief bill The Trail 2016: When a pivot isn’t always a pivot MORE (I-Vt.) dominated Tuesday's Democratic debate by simply sticking to the issues, without bringing up the FBI investigation of Clinton's emails. The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune both agreed that Sanders won the debate. The CNN Facebook poll late Tuesday evening at one point showed 80 percent of voters picking Sanders as the winner. TIME magazine had a Democratic debate poll of 106,788 when I voted, and 64 percent of respondents felt that Sanders had won the Democratic debate. At the MSNBC poll, 84 percent felt Sanders was victorious at the time I cast my vote. Over at Slate, 75 percent of respondents felt Sanders had won the debate. True, they're not scientific, but they do measure the opinions of viewers.

To get a glimpse of why Sanders won, compare his response on a tough foreign policy question with Clinton's ties to neoconservatives or Donald Trump's bravado:

Well, let's understand that when we talk about Syria, you're talking about a quagmire in a quagmire. You're talking about groups of people trying to overthrow [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, other groups of people fighting ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria]. You're talking about people who are fighting ISIS using their guns to overthrow Assad, and vice versa. ...

I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.

Is there any major candidate in either party willing to put veterans before hysteria over ISIS and other national security threats? Unlike a hawkish Democrat in Clinton or most of the Republican Party, only Sanders aims to ensure "that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire."

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In contrast, Clinton seemed comfortable attacking Sanders on the National Rifle Association and guns, but forgot that guns were also used in the quagmires of Iraq and other American conflicts. Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) was strong on foreign policy, and former Govs. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) and Lincoln Chafee (D-R.I.) at times made compelling arguments, but everyone knew the show was about Sanders and Clinton. At the end of the debate, only Sanders was able to leave the podium with progressives in awe of his performance.

Currently, Clinton still has strong support among nonwhite Democrats, but in the debate, Sanders did far more to earn the vote of this key demographic. On the issue of racial justice, Sanders was the only candidate to speak with a clear and moral tone in answering the question, "Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?"

Black lives matter. And the reason — the reason those words matter is the African-American community knows that on any given day, some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and then three days later she's going to end up dead in jail, or their kids are going to get shot. We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system.

Clinton won't ever speak in such terms because as a moderate, she can't alienate the more conservative Democrats on matters of race. However, this centrist viewpoint on the most contentious issue of our age is exactly why Clinton will lose to Sanders. Only Sanders mentioned the Sandra Bland tragedy, and this speaks volumes about why he'll earn more of the vote among nonwhite Democrats.

In terms of class, Sanders outshined Clinton, who was eager to pounce upon his record on guns. For those who feel that the former secretary of State won the debate, remember that Clinton received an early Christmas present from Sanders: She had no need to explain Russian-linked hackers trying to access her emails, or why the FBI probe has now expanded to a second tech firm. If Clinton were catching up to Sanders in the polls, and Sanders had a private server and emails investigated by five intelligence agencies, it's doubtful she wouldn't find some way to gain votes by addressing the scandal. The proof is that Clinton wasted no time differentiating herself from Sanders on gun violence, so just imagine if he had a scandal of similar proportions to the email issue.

Finally, nobody came close to Bernie Sanders on the issues of wealth inequality, climate change, perpetual wars and the impact of these challenges upon our nation. Sanders set the agenda for the evening and his progressive value system overshadowed the more centrist Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump warns against Syrian refugees: 'A lot of those people are ISIS' Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans Bush World goes for Clinton, but will a former president? MORE. He explained what a "democratic socialist" means and he also explained why the term doesn't mean the next Joseph Stalin, or anything else Fox News might conjure up. From marijuana legalization to ending perpetual wars, Sanders separated himself from Clinton, Trump and every other candidate on Tuesday. He was able to win not only with class and dignity, but also with a genuine emphasis on policy objectives and vision.

Goodman is an author and a journalist.

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