LET US TURN OUR THOUGHTS TODAY

1. It’s Monday, January 18, 2016.

2. It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s a great day to celebrate this country’s best attribute – the ability to recognize shortcomings in the way we treat each other and make changes for the better. But we are a better country than we were before Martin Luther King led the Montgomery bus boycott and the march from Selma to Birmingham.

And not just for African-Americans, but for all ethnicities, for all genders, for all sexual orientations and for all religions. The changes triggered by Dr. King have made life better for everyone, and the only reason you might not see it is that the change has been subtle, but thorough.

No, we’re not perfect. Not close. The shooting of unarmed African-American boys and men by police is heartbreaking and infuriating. The attempted intimidation of immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and the bigotry against American Muslims are both unacceptable.

But if there’s anything we learn from Dr. King, it’s that, in America, change for the better is inevitable as long as people with a strong moral compass make themselves heard. We’ve come a long way in the half-century since Martin Luther King’s heyday.

Can we go further? You bet. That’s the promise of this national holiday. It’s a great day to be an American.

3. Unlike the most recent Republican debate, I was more than able to stay with the entire Democratic Presidential debate last night. As a Democrat, I felt really good after it was over, because I watched would-be leaders rather than people who want to win a pissing match.

Some of my observations:

Anyone who declared a winner between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton is off the mark. They both came off as thoughtful and issue-oriented, even when they disagreed sharply and made accusations about the other’s positions. I don’t think anyone who supported one switched to the other, and I think people undecided between the two could have come down on the side of either one depending on what issue moves them the most.

Anyone who did the Rip Van Winkle thing during the 2008 Democratic campaign and woke up last night would have been most shocked by Clinton’s embrace of the Barack Obama presidency. Part of the reason was the audience – the Congressional Black Caucus, which sponsored the debate, is one of the President’s loyalist support groups. But it still was jarring to hear her sing the praises of the guy she went against full boar eight years ago.

Sanders might have kicked away any chance he had of stunning Clinton with his new health care proposal. And it’s not because hard-core Democrats, deep in their soul, don’t agree with the idea of a single-payer system, a Medicare for all – we love that idea!

It’s just that Clinton is right – there’s no way we’re getting that anytime soon and it’s a waste of time and energy to try. The best thing to do is to work toward making Obamacare better. It’s a great start and great accomplishment. But the country isn’t ready for another big change until this one is absorbed. And that will take some time.

Plus this: you understand and I understand what Sanders means when he says that middle-class Americans would get a good bargain if they traded a modest tax hike for the end of private health insurance. But most middle-class Americans only heard that tax hike part. And you can bet good money that whoever would run against Sanders in the fall would not make a single speech without mentioning it.

It would be deadly and I think the one thing Democrats want more than either of the candidates is to make sure that Donald Trump and the Trumpettes on the Republican side don’t get close to winning.

— Generally speaking, the NBC debate was better than the others I’ve seen. There were still too many questions that were irrelevant – the way Sanders batted away the Bill Clinton comment question was brilliant and a real credit to him. And all these debates seem to let the one moderator dominate, leaving Andrea Mitchell sitting there for long stretches. But the real subject questions were good, Lester Holt seemed pretty fair minded, and the debate moved briskly.

— If there’s a moment when you see why anyone would want Hillary Clinton to be president, it was on that final question about the issue that didn’t come up during the debate.

Martin O’Malley got the question first and buried his best answer, the Puerto Rico debt crisis, in a laundry list of topics he felt he needed to get out.

Then Clinton launched a scathing tirade about the disgrace involving the drinking water in Flint, Mich. You could see her lift off as she ripped the officials who let the city’s supply become so contaminated and said how she reached out to people in the city to see if there was any way she could help.

That moment was the promise of Hillary Clinton. It was the moment when the ‘60s idealist broke through five decades of being so prominent a political figure. Her indignation reflected ours, on any number of levels, and it was encouraging to see.

It is little wonder why Republicans don’t want to run against her. She’s actually better at getting fired up than even Donald Trump, and the big difference is she doesn’t sound like an idiot when she does. If something like that Flint question comes up in a fall debate – the water disaster hopefully will be resolved by then – watch out.

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