In the days since last week’s debate between candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, some commentators have suggested that Americans have seen enough, that no additional Democrat debates are necessary. In one respect, those commentators are right. In just a few seconds during the debate, the two candidates who harbor the most extreme views on guns showed why they shouldn’t be entrusted with our country’s highest elected office.
It happened when the candidates were asked, “which enemy are you most proud of?”
Of the five candidates onstage, the only supporter of the right to arms, former U.S. senator and Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb—who had already answered a question about gun control by saying that people have the right to defend themselves—said that the enemy he was most proud to have had was the one who wounded him with a grenade during the Vietnam War. Webb didn’t elaborate, but he was referring to an occasion on which, as a Marine Corps 1st Lieutenant, he led an attack against a communist bunker system, an action for which he was awarded the Navy Cross “for extraordinary heroism.”
However, the other four candidates—gun control supporters one and all—reflexively associated the word “enemy” not with America’s overseas adversaries, but with other Americans.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee tempered their answers, at least, Sanders saying only that “Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry . . . do not like me,” Chafee saying that the “the coal lobby” is a group he’s “at odds with.”
By stark contrast, however, Hillary Clinton and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, far and away the most extreme gun control supporters running for president, showed no such restraint. O’Malley said his enemy is the five million member “National Rifle Association.” Clinton went further, naming not only “the NRA,” but also the health insurance companies, the drug companies, Republicans, and only one group of people who are not Americans, “the Iranians.”
How things have changed. In 2004, during the keynote speech at the Democratic Party National Convention, then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama said, albeit with questionable sincerity, “We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.” In 2007, presidential candidate Obama claimed that he wanted to unify the country and break it out of what he called “ideological gridlock.”
Today, tempted with the opportunity to indulge herself in the deadly sin of hate before a national TV audience, the leading candidate for the same party’s presidential nomination did so without hesitation or remorse. She gleefully said that she considers tens of millions of Americans to be the “enemy.” She equated the NRA, American business interests, and Republicans with those whose signature chant is “Death to America.” And the party faithful in the debate hall cheered her with the same enthusiasm Obama’s “one America” speech received 11 years ago.
It was an ugly moment, but it shouldn’t define the character of our political disputes going forward. In deciding to whom to entrust the presidency of the United States between now and Election Day 2016, all Americans, regardless of viewpoint, should hold candidates to a standard higher than what Hillary Clinton appears capable of delivering.