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The Binary Choice of Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders

CNN’s Debate Night: Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and a house divided.

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Sanders Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty; Cruz photography by Jeff Swensen/getty

As a boy, I remember settling down in front of the television with my father to watch the Fight of the Week, a professional boxing match sponsored by Gillette. The program built boxing up as a physical art form, but it fell out of favor on national broadcast television after a boxer died after sustaining injuries in the ring.

My own son was about the same age when we sat down every week to watch radio-controlled mini-robots battle it out—mechanical pugilism, if you will. Hammers, whirling saw blades, flame throwers, bot flipping scoops. It was pretty fun at first, but after you’ve seen a couple of dozen robots on their backs, wheels whirling like a turtle trying to right itself, the concept loses some of its charm.

Those memories came back on Wednesday as I tuned into CNN’s Debate Night to watch U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz debating (sometimes) President Trump’s tax overhaul plan. By selecting senators from the far ideological extremes, CNN guaranteed conflict and gave partisan viewers an opportunity to pull for their favorite.

The show initially appealed to me as a possible preview to the 2020 presidential election. A New Hampshire poll of potential Democratic candidates released the day of the debate showed Sanders leading the field with 31 percent support, with former Vice President Joe Biden coming in second at 24 percent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren third at 13 percent. No one else broke into double digits. On the Republican side, just under half of the likely primary voters said they would vote for Trump if he runs again, 23 percent said they would not, and the rest were uncertain. As the second place finisher of the 2016 Republican nominating process, Cruz clearly has not given up on another run for president if opportunity presents itself.

So pitting Sanders against Cruz on a national issue like taxes, or their earlier debate on the Affordable Care Act, isn’t completely unreasonable. But ultimately, the debate gave the audience a binary choice between cradle-to-grave government and a libertarian world where government is the problem, not the solution.

The debate played out much like a game show, with the live audience cheering and clapping as it began. Sanders and Cruz are entertaining. They know their material and can support their positions with facts and figures, and they treat each other with civility and humor. Probably the harshest exchange of this week’s debate was when Cruz accused Sanders of wanting high taxes, like the ones Denmark has to pay, for national health care:

SANDERS: Did I say that, Ted?

CRUZ: You said if we had this conversation, the American people will be ready to do that. You know what….

SANDERS: No, you’re—stop putting words into my mouth.

CRUZ: That is a debate and quote.

SANDERS: No. What I said is…

CRUZ: Bernie, I didn’t interrupt you.

SANDERS: Yes, you did.


CRUZ: Well, I stopped when you pointed it out.

SANDERS: Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting you!

A debate on taxes had drifted off into the health care system of Denmark, and moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash allowed it to happen. Why? Because, well, it was entertaining. As Tapper said before one commercial break: “We have to make some money here. Thank you. CNN’s Debate Night returns right after this.”

With the debate format and its participants, CNN furthered the idea that there is no middle. Take the part where the senators faced off on how the tax bill will affect health care in America—Sanders claimed it would eliminate health insurance for 15 million Americans, while Cruz claimed the Affordable Care Act stifles job creation among small businesses, because they can avoid health care mandates if they limit an employee to working 29 hours a week.

What was missing from that exchange was any lengthy discussion of the health care compromise proposed by Senators Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, and Democrat Patty Murray, from Washington. Theirs is a short-term fix that would affect only those people who buy insurance in the health care exchanges. It would provide a two-year extension to insurance companies, payments that Trump halted. Democrats paint the compromise as a way to save health insurance for low-income people, while Republicans cast it as a bailout for insurance companies. The truth is that the ACA requires that insurance companies sell the policies to low-income people, so the offset would be increased rates for those persons not covered by direct subsidies. But the federal government would see an increase cost of $247 billion on the back end because of people taking tax credits. The Alexander-Murray plan quickly ran into political opposition. There were a lot of excuses, but the unspoken reason is that it removes pressure to do anything about the Affordable Care Act for two years.

There was a lot to unpack there. But instead, Sanders and Cruz debated about health care in Denmark, with CNN as the enabler.

Not to just bash CNN—trust in the news media has been in a steady decline, most likely caused by the 24-hour news cycle and exacerbated by the internet. The Pew Research Center for Journalism & Media found trust in national news organizations among Republicans fell from 15 percent in 2016 to 11 percent this year, while it grew among Democrats from 27 percent to 34 percent. As to the media watchdog role, Democrats said the media is doing a good job, but only four in ten Republicans thought so, creating a trust gap of 47 percentage points.

Even more disheartening, a Politico/Morning Consult survey that came out Wednesday found that 46 percent of voters believe the news media fabricates stories about President Trump. Thirty-seven percent said the media does not fabricate stories. Democrats overwhelmingly believe the media, but even one out of every five Democrats surveyed thought stories are created. Among Republicans, 76 percent believe the media invent stories about Trump, and 44 percent of the independents think so.

Perhaps the media is doing a bad job (I don’t think so), or perhaps it is because the image of the news media is created by the binary choice of Sean Hannity versus Rachel Maddow, and an overwhelming desire by those who follow politics to have their opinions affirmed rather than challenged.

Sharp choices are not new in America. U.S. Senator Sam Houston of Texas drew on the Book of Mark to support the Compromise of 1850 preserving slavery in the South by saying, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand.” Just eight years later, Abraham Lincoln evoked the same biblical idea to say the nation either must be all slave or all free: “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.” That binary fight resulted in the freeing of the slaves, but has continued to today with debates over social injustice that are playing out over Confederate monuments and NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. The issue of slavery was settled by the sword, but on issues of economic opportunity and equal justice for African Americans, we remain that house divided.

Often I hear politicians say there is more that unites us than divides us, but rarely does the debate circle those issues. In the meantime, you can look forward to that next CNN Debate Night between Sanders and Cruz. The topic likely will be campaign finance reform. Any guesses on how that will go?

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  • vietvet3

    We have to stop letting the extremists set the agenda. The big middle of the population would agree on many issues. These two men are extremists.

    • Too Sweet

      That’s exactly why they funnel money to the extremists. If they powers that be can keep everyone arguing about the cultural stuff, then we maybe we won’t notice how much we have in common on the vast majority of issues. Trump lives by that. If he can keep everybody focused on football players, we won’t notice that the Republicans haven’t had a good economic idea since about 1880 or so.

      • St. Anger

        The money goes to the middle. The parties are in the middle.

        The problem is the middle. Ask MLK.

        • SeeItMyWay

          A portion of the parties are in the middle with fringe groups on either side.

          As I have stated before here, moderates are listening, and are willing to support ideas that requires compromise, yet moves us forward. When the moderates get too close to each other on any given issue, the radical extremists on both sides start lobbing abortion, guns, welfare reform, civil rights, immigration and environmental grenades into the moderates’ conclave. All hell breaks loose, and both sides of moderates retreat back to their foxholes, cussing and screaming. The radicals crack a massive smile.

          Texas politics is a prime example…except the battle is between the factions of only one party. The Dem’s playball with the moderate Repub’s or they become just as insignificant as their party has.

          Instead of addressing property taxes, public school funding, special needs children, ethics reform, skyhigh tuition costs and the like, we get bathroom grenades, among others, tossed into the chambers. Voila! Instant conflict and impasse.

          • St. Anger

            If you were actually a moderate, your take on what moderates want might carry more weight …

            But unfortunately you’re just another cowardly selfish wingnut who votes for racists.

            Hint: any true moderate today would be voting democrat.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Hahaha. You make my point for me. You would never make a move toward the middle. You are an angry person. Spitting in people’s faces, if trying to win them over, never works.

          • St. Anger

            I am not a moderate, correct.

            I think so called moderates are just people too stupid to take a position.

            You are not a moderate either, but you are stupid.

            I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. But I think stupid people should be called on it when their actions endanger our nation and the planet.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Keep going…this keeps getting better. What grenade are you latched onto right now? How hard are you squeezing it? Are you shaking all over? Anxious to carry out your Jihad against the infidels? You, St. Anger, are a hoot. Civil war??? Are all of us going to have to be involved…or can we just sit up on a Gettysburg hill and watch you two cancers go after each other?

          • St. Anger

            US two cancers?

            Man you are really clueless.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Name those unfounded obscenities. Is fact obscene?

          • St. Anger

            shows me one of your “facts,” and I will show you your failure to understand it.

          • SeeItMyWay

            I’m not going to play that game. You made a statement. Back it up. Paraphrase me. Tell me about the racist obscenities.

          • St. Anger

            Again, I am not trying to convinec you of anything.

            Everyone here knows what I am talking about.

            You can’t talk about race without expressing your sense that blacks are inferior to whites. Your usual examples have to do with incarceration rates, employment levels, social program spending, etc.

            You don’t know what you don’t kmow, and I am way past telling you.

          • SeeItMyWay

            So quoting facts about blacks is racist? Was the researcher who got it published also racist? You are simply an angry radical, or a 20 year old blow-hard; I not sure which.

          • St. Anger

            quoting “facts” can be racist, yes, depending on the context in which those “facts” are deployed and the “argument” they are used to support. many of your “facts” do, indeed, come from racist sources, so yes that is a thing, too.

            i have been calling you out for racism and general idiocy since roughly 2006, so i think we can rule out the possibility than i am 20 years old.

          • SeeItMyWay

            You have a real problem. I’m sure that I’m not the first to tell you…and bring on the insults; water off a duck’s back.

            I quoted government collected statistics to point out a problem in the black commumity. If that is your definition of a racist, I guess I am one.

          • St. Anger

            check the log in your own eye, dude.

          • WUSRPH

            Speaking of “Moderates”, can you show me a SINGLE piece of legislation that your favorite legislator, The Great Listener, has introduced to do ANYTHING about the problems you cite? You do know, I presume, that he joined with the most extreme rightists in the House in OPPOSING the school finance bill that would have done at least something about rising school property taxes:

            Nays — Cain; Isaac; Keough; Krause; Lang; Meyer; Rinaldi; Schaefer;

            Shaheen; Stickland; Swanson; Tinderholt; Zedler.

            And that he has a 98% voting record with Empower Texans—whom you claim to be “the enemy”. You TALK about moderates but fawn all over one of the worst of the radicals.

          • SeeItMyWay

            “Fawn over”? I like him cause he listens and responds; and on several local and statewide issues shows he is not fully entrenched in the ET goals. It is a slow process. You are not involved with Twitter or Facebook or my Nextdoor network. You have no idea about how I pound on Krause and the ET group about their radical agenda…but if it makes you feel better, keep spouting off.

          • WUSRPH

            “He listens and responds”—-and then goes out and votes the straight EP/TV line. What will be your excuse for him when he votes against Straus? He did it once. And, if King or someone else has a chance, will likely do it again.

      • SeeItMyWay

        We need another Teddy R. to stick it the D.C. establishment’s ear, along with outlawing giving any form of gifts or money to elected officials as Singapore does. Those we elect do want money dictates. We are an afterthought.

        • St. Anger

          Did this occur to you before or after you voted for grifter in chief. Twice.

          You are a piece of work.

          • SeeItMyWay

            Which grifter are you referring to? The “twice” threw me. If Trump, it was simply the lessor of two evils.

          • St. Anger

            I don’t think any response I could offer would make that statement look any dumber than it already does.

          • Mr Mojo Risin

            Hey! Let’s all get back to jerking off the Corrupt-wing of democrats….the ones who are Bought & Owned and wage war against progressives behind the scenes.

      • Mr Mojo Risin

        Lol. The billionaires and corporations only funnel money to the corrupt-wing of democrats (Clintons, Obama, Pelosi, Schumer cronies) and the Republicans. Bernie is the only good thing about the American political system.

        • Tejasguitarman

          Bernie’s not the only one. However, his campaign did awaken the grassroots movement that I hope will be the sleeping giant of the American people in 2018 & ’20

    • St. Anger

      If Sanders is an extremist, so was FDR.

      One of these men is an insane, hateful , greedy narcissist. The other is just a rumpled guy who wants everyone to have healthcare.

      Not buying your equivalency.

      • SeeItMyWay

        Big insurance owns our federal government. So does Big everyone. The only difference in the two parties participation in the pay for vote game is that the Repub’s accept the checks and tickets and drinks and gifts and, and, and, with their right hands, and the Dem’s their left.

        • Mr Mojo Risin

          It’s always been Big Business vs small business & labor.

        • St. Anger



          Try it

          • SeeItMyWay

            Your moniker fits you so well. Believe it or not, I have friends like you…I have a daughter that thinks like you (who I love unconditionally), and just got off the phone with my best friend growing up, roomed with in college, and one year of med school, who is now a psychoanalysist, that, in many respects, does, too. I love them both. I don’t know that I “love” you, but don’t have any hate for you. I feel your unmitigated anger. Where is it coming from? Next time in Austin, I would like to sit and have a drink with you. I am opinionated, but so are you. Does it mean I would need to bring a weapon to the bar?

      • WUSRPH

        And so FDR was considered by many at the time…”traitor to his class” was one of the nicer things said about him….It is only when we look back from a world where social security, workers compensation and government providing a “safety net” have become accepted everyday activities (by most) that he appears to be less radical.

        • St. Anger

          yesssss but … since we now consider FDR’s New Deal to have been practical responses to the problems created by rampant capitalism/the great depression … that is to say, better – and more moderate – outcomes for the wealthy and poor alike than actual class warfare would have been … why do some insist on calling sanders – who essentially just argues anew for the FDR program – a radical TODAY?

          to put a finer point on it, show me a thing that causes sanders to be called an extremist, and i will show you something that FDR also championed.

          (note, this comment was written in the 21st century, in response to other comments also written roughly 80 years after FDR’s program took effect.).

    • Mr Mojo Risin

      Sanders is extremist? My god, Americans are so stupid. The man is center-left outside of your corrupt little right-wing country.

  • John Bernard Books

    Another loser democrat…
    “State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, said Friday she had pleaded no contest to a June charge of driving while intoxicated.
    Neave was arrested June 6 in Dallas after she struck a tree in the Lakewood neighborhood, police said. Court documents say her blood-alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit.
    I accept full responsibility and will continue to work to demonstrate that I have learned from my past.”

    If she accepted responsibility for her actions she would resign….but then dems don’t resign.

    • vietvet3

      Way to stay on topic.

      • SpiritofPearl

        Too many Twinkies . . .

      • John Bernard Books

        The topic is dummies bashing conservatives….conservatives don’t surrender and let liberals use them.

      • Kozmo

        I do what TM does not.

    • SeeItMyWay

      BOOM!!! One more!

  • Kozmo

    Meanwhile: It’s Day 21 of the Democratic Weenie Watch of 2017. Will the party simply forfeit the gubernatorial race next year? Or will someone, anyone, step forward to file for the party’s nomination?

  • John Bernard Books

    Remember how democrats hated Prez Bush when he was prez?
    “I was sitting there and I’m watching this speech and I’m like, ‘What the hell has happened? I’m sitting here wistfully watching old George W. Bush speeches?’ Just sitting there like, ‘What a leader he was!’” Ansari continued. “Sixteen years ago, I was certain this dude was a dildo. Now, I’m sitting there like, ‘He guided us with his eloquence!’””

    All he had to do is sell out….and now dems love him

  • Dmmyles

    I’m going to try to explain this one more time in a way that even a republican can understand. I heard in the debate Ted Cruz talk about how companies are leaving this country, companies are not leaving this country. Their manufacturing plants are leaving this country.
    We have the largest economy in the world or one of the top three I don’t know exactly where we stand right now, that means our people will have more money to spend, spend more money and buy more things. That makes our nation the most attractive Nation to do business in, that is to say sell products to.
    We the American people own this economy, one of the ways in which we the people collect money for the common welfare to pay for things like Roads, food for poor, people medical care for our citizens, emergency services, and our military is to tax businesses that do business here. Since we (the people) own the economy and our markets taxes are the fee corporations and businesses pay in order to participate in the market.
    What Republicans seem to be saying and Ted Cruz in the debate is that corporations shouldn’t have to pay for access to our markets we should be just be grateful to them for selling us things while moving their manufacturing base out of our country to cut their costs. Those costs are paying American workers a living wage. The way I see it is corporations are looking to participate in our market and not paying for the privilege. In either wages to an American to produce the goods sold or the taxes due when they utilize our markets for profit.
    You think a republican can understand owning a market? Think of of America like a huge Mall. Malls take a percentage of the business that the stores within them do. Over and above rent every dollar a store within the mall takes in, some percentage of that dollar goes to the owners of the mall. America is owned by its people and we want our cut of everything you bring into our Mall


    Back in the late 1970s we lived in an apartment next door to a woman and child from Puerto Rico who was working on her PhD in nursing at UT. One day her child came home from school quite upset. It seems that somehow the teacher had told her that, since she was from Puerto Rico, she was NOT an American. Needless-to-say, Evelyn had a “talk” with that teacher and the principal of the school.

    It is sad to note that many people who are receiving aid for Hurricane Harvey and questioning whether we should be adding Puerto Ricans…Of course, it doesn’t help that Rick Perry referred to as a “country”, like it was a foreign country, and Trump called its governor it’s “president”. But we all know they were not paying attention at school.

    • SeeItMyWay

      BOOM!!! Another one!

    • Tejasguitarman

      And we shouldn’t be paying salaries to either Perry or Trump & I could go on with government nincompoops

      • Muoi

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  • BCinBCS

    Will miracles never cease to occur? Comrade Trump is finally doing something with which I completely agree.

    From the Washington Post:
    President Trump announced Saturday morning that he planned to release the tens of thousands of never-before-seen documents left in the files related to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination held by the National Archives and Records Administration.


    • Kozmo

      Let’s wait and see — he’s still hedging his bets and allowing for his mind to change. My guess is the CIA and FBI boys will have a little private meeting and then the mood will shift.

    • SeeItMyWay

      BOOM!!! Another off topic comment.

      • BCinBCS

        BOOM!!! Another useless comment by JJ (SeeItMyWay).

        • SpiritofPearl

          He thinks he speaks for moderates.

          • BCinBCS

            He speaks for all of those who constantly yell “Get off of my lawn!”

          • SpiritofPearl

            Clint Eastwood wanna be . . .

    • BCinBCS

      BC wrote: “I have to admit, this is a brilliant distraction by Comrade Trump.

      I don’t normally listen to conspiracy theories but I read one that is somewhat interesting concerning this distraction.

      This conspiracy states that Comrade Trump is ginning up the interest in and controversy about the JFK assassination to cover for an attack against a country (N.Korea and Syria are mentioned). This belief is because on Friday Comrade Trump signed an order recalling 1,000 reserve pilots. What does the U.S. need with an extra thousand pilots except to bolster a war.

      Of course, the question is “Why would Comrade Trump do something this crazy?” The answer being to shore up the faltering support that Republicans have for the 2018 elections, along with his Roman conquerer complex (what’s better than a Soviet-style military parade down Pennsylvania Ave. than a real, live, bang-bang shoot-um up war?) and to distract from the Russia investigation.

      I’ve not researched this conspiracy theory nor do I intend to so take it with a grain of salt.

      • Jeronimo Dan

        It’s time a true and impartial investigation was completed on the Kennedy assignation, I would guess LB (box 13) J is doing flip-flops down in the dirt of the Perdernalas.

    • José

      Since the records were due to be released anyway it must be pointed out that what Trump is “doing” is nothing. Which he does better than any President in history.

  • James Park

    I didn’t see the topic of universal health care as off topic as that. The debate was centered on the tax legislation. Ted Cruz was for this bill, and had asked Sanders what he was for if we was so opposed to it. Denmark’s health care system came up as an example of what higher taxes may be able to accomplish in the United States (health care that costs less with better outcomes). Taxation, as the primary source of federal revenue, is justified by the role of the federal government. The perception of what that role is, then, is well within the realm of discourse for this tax legislation.

  • Mr Mojo Risin

    This author is an idiot. Bernie is a basic FDR Social Democrat. Why do we have so many idiots living in Texas? Ted Cruz is a Bought & Owned far right-winger and Bernie is a moderate left-wing honest politician. Only an idiot calls Bernie far left or extreme. Author really is an idiot.

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  • John Bernard Books

    Are democrats unhinged……
    “It’s been only four months since Rep. Steve Scalise was shot by a Bernie Sanders fan, but did one of his colleagues advocate violence against the president of the United States?

    The one-note impeachment minstrel Maxine Waters promised a group that benefits “homeless LGBTQ youth” that she will “take out” the president — and the liberal audience wildly applauded.”


  • John Bernard Books

    the unhinged lefties just don’t get it…..
    “Most Texas voters don’t want to remove Confederate memorials or put them in museums, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Most Republicans don’t want to do anything at all.”

    The unhinged left hasn’t won a statewide race in about 30 years…..


    The Myth Lives On:

    On Oct. 23, 1983, a suicide truck-bombing at Beirut International Airport in Lebanon killed 220 U.S. Marines, 18 sailors and 3 Army soldiers; a near-simultaneous attack on French forces killed 58paratroopers.

    To distract attention two days later Ronald Reagan invaded Granada……


    Be frightened for the future”


    • SpiritofPearl

      They also want a constitutional convention.

  • John Bernard Books

    This reminds me of the democrat party…..

    WASSUP is driving of course…..


    Because the Texas House did not enforce its own rules, Dukes does not have to face a jury after all. But I’m still not going to vote for her.

  • donuthin2

    I feel some more optimistic that the three republican senators and President Bush have risen to the occasion and spoken with clarity and dignity about our problem with the game show host. I realize they are not running for office, but maybe, just maybe it is the start of something bigger. I have no expectation that either Cruz or Cornyn will speak out, but it may moderate their behavior.