SATURDAY NIGHT’S NOT RIGHT FOR FIGHTING

1. It’s Monday, December 21, 2015.

2. It’s the first day of winter, just making it in under the bell at 11:48 p.m., according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. That means it’s 91 days until spring, and that’s what I start counting beginning today. Although the fact that it’s supposed to be in the 60s later this week in New York mitigates some of the gloom.

3. Can anyone explain why running down people on a Las Vegas sidewalk on purpose isn’t terrorism?

4. Steve Harvey’s mistake is karma. I’ll bet accidentally saying the runner-up is the winner happens a lot in livestock competitions at county fairs. Of which “beauty pageants” are the equivalent.

5. The Democrats might have clinched the presidential election if they had staged the debate they had Saturday night 72 hours earlier. The contrast between the discussion among the three Democrats and the gloom-and-doom fest of the Republicans on Tuesday night was beyond stark.

There were the occasional raised voice exchanges — I’m not sure Sen. Sanders can speak in any voice other than loud. But there was civility that was unimaginable at the Republican debate. Even the flap over the Sanders campaign tapping into Clinton campaign data was handled quietly and defused professionally – except by Martin O’Malley, who was determined to give that prepared spiel about what’s wrong with his opponents even though they had already resolved their problem.

To be sure, Clinton and Sanders have differences in approach. Sanders took pains to point them out — on Syria and ISIS, on dealing with Wall Street. But there was nothing approaching the degree of personal rancor that we saw Tuesday night. Trump vs. Bush. Rubio vs. Cruz. Christie vs. Paul. Trump vs. Paul. Hell, Trump vs. everyone except maybe Carson and Cruz, who seemed to be kissing Trump’s rear while trying to take him down.

There’s a part of me – call me a stubborn idealist – who believes that the ability to solve problems rationally and through consensus is a qualification for President. In the Republican Party of 2016, it seems like a disqualification.

A couple of other quick thoughts from the debate:

— Hillary Clinton tries really hard to conduct herself like a President. She’s gotten good at it. She’s smart and she’s quick – in some ways, she reminds me more of President Obama than her husband – and she never backs down. When ABC’s Martha Raddatz pursued an almost prosecutorial style of questioning on Libya, the former Secretary of State refused to buckle There’s a part of me that thinks that was planned – Clinton wanting a real-time test of her ability under pressure for when that happens with a Republican on the stage.

— Bernie Sanders staying in this race is the best thing that could happen to the Democrats. Hillary Clinton will win the nomination easily. But Sanders lets Democrats on the left vent about the issues they care about most. He’s a great voice for that – even if he does sound like Larry David sometimes. And if Democrats on the left feel they’ve been heard – and even see some of their ideas make it into the Clinton general election campaign – it will make it easier for them to be enthusiastic about her race against the Republican in the fall.

— There was a moment that should have cheered Democrats and given notice to the Republicans. It was when Martin O’Malley, who just seemed thrown off by the other two, went after them on gun control, saying Sanders wasn’t tough enough against the gun lobby and Clinton flip-flopped on the issue. At that point, Sanders and Clinton teamed up on the hapless O’Malley. Sanders began the process of ripping him, and then he let Clinton finish it off. O’Malley, so full of piss and vinegar a minute earlier, was left to hang there. It was pathetic for him, but glorious for Democrats who can imagine Sanders on the campaign trail with Clinton taking the case to the Republicans.

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