As anticipated, the Democratic debate began with a heavy focus on the horrific terrorist attack in Paris on Friday.
After the candidates, positioned in front of a patriotic Microsoft Paint graphic, stood in a moment of silence for the lives lost in the violence Friday, each was given the opportunity to speak for one minute about the atrocity.
Bernie Sanders, who often fumbles the ball when not discussing domestic economic issues, was first up to bat. In a miscalculated move, arriving just hours after reports surfaced that Sanders' aides were upset that the debate would now focus heavily on foreign policy, the senator from Vermont shifted from discussing the bloodbath in France to delivering his token economic stump speech.
“Well, John, let me concur with you and with all Americans who are shocked and disgusted by what we saw in Paris yesterday,” Sanders began, addressing moderator John Dickerson. “Together, leading the world, this country will rid our planet of this barbaric organization called ISIS.”
This was a mere few seconds of his allotted minute. What followed was not exactly on target.
“I’m running for president because as I go around this nation, I talk to a lot of people, and what I hear is people's concern that the economy we have is a rigged economy,” Sanders said, seemingly from rote memory.
“People are working longer hours for lower wages and almost all of the new income and wealth goes to the top one percent. And then on top of that, we've got a corrupt campaign finance system in which millionaires and billionaires are pouring huge sums of money into Super-PACs heavily influencing the political process. What my campaign is about is a political revolution. Millions of people standing up and saying, 'Enough is enough. Our government belongs to all of us and not just the hand full of billionaires.'"
The problem is that everyone was aware of what Sanders’s campaign was about. And this simply wasn’t the moment for a rehash.
When asked later about what he deemed to be the greatest threat to national security, the zany Larry David inspiration named global warming.
“In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism,” Sanders said. “And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you're going to see countries all over the world—this is this is what the C.I.A. says—they're going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops.”
“You're going to see all kinds of international conflict. But, of course, international terrorism is a major issue that we have got to address today," he added. "And I agree with much of what the Secretary and the Governor have said."
Even as he had the opportunity to go negative against his opponents, Sanders, for better or worse, took the high road again.
“But let me have one area of disagreement with the Secretary. I think she said something like the bulk of the responsibility is not ours. Well, in fact, I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and to ISIS. Now, in fact, what we have got to do—and I think there is widespread agreement here—is the United States cannot do it alone. What we need to do is lead an international coalition which includes very significantly the Muslim nations in that region who are going to have to fight and defend their way of life.”
Now it makes sense why Sanders’ camp didn’t want him riffing on foreign policy.