Let's face it: the criteria by which the media and most people judge winners and losers in the presidential candidate debates are superficial and misleading. The conventional criteria for winners are: who talks more; who speaks most forcefully; who exhibits poise and confidence; who launches zippy one-liners; and who effectively puts down their opponents.
Now let's consider what reasonable and valid criteria would look like. Does the candidate actually answer the questions asked? Are the answers given cogent and comprehensible? And, above all, are the answers good answers: reasonable, appropriate, insightful?
By the former, superficial criteria, Hillary Clinton probably won the second debate. She certainly spoke the most. She has a highly polished style of debating, full of poise and confidence. She is knowledgeable and well-prepared.
But who gave the best answers? On these grounds the winning debater was clearly Senator Sanders. On issue after issue, he gave the most direct, cogent, reasonable, and insightful replies to the questions posed.
How do we meet the challenge of ISIS? We insist that the Muslim nations get directly involved in the fight; and we re-design our military to address the modern world, not the Cold War. Only Sanders made these two fundamental points.
What is the right level for the minimum wage? In all fairness, who can seriously argue against a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, unless they are Republicans? Only Senator Sanders got this right.
In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, which is the greater threat today: terrorism or climate change? Who but Senator Sanders would meet this issue head-on and state firmly and forthrightly that climate change is the greater threat? Any informed and objective observer of the scientific facts would agree; most politicians lag far behind in this understanding. But Sanders went further in his answer: he pointed out that climate change is destined to greatly exacerbate terrorism itself, among many other things, as a result of the famine, drought, and conflict it will engender. To back this up, he cited a good (and unexpected) source: the CIA.
Needless to say, when the conversation turned to Wall Street, Sanders won the debate hands down. His whole campaign highlights the gross inequities in income and campaign contributions. This one was an easy call on behalf of Senator Sanders. "Why has Wall Street been the greatest contributor to Secretary Clinton's campaigns over the course of years?" "The business model of Wall Street is greed and fraud." Governor O'Malley got in a good point on this issue too: Clinton's financial recommendations were rightly labelled "weak tea." Case closed.
Eventually we came to the issue of guns. This is one on which Clinton scored points against Sanders in the first debate. How did it turn out this time? Clinton said we have to go after the gun lobby. Sanders agreed and expanded the point to include a ban on assault weapons, and he emphasized the need for consensus to get results. Let's call this one a draw.
Finally, let's look at the big picture. What was Senator Sanders' take-away line? He said we need a "political revolution." He explained what he meant: we have to break up the stranglehold of Wall Street and billionaires on the economy and the political process. This is his number one point. What is Hillary's number one point? Who knows? She doesn't have a number one point. At the end of the day, Secretary Clinton simply does not have Senator Sanders' penetrating acumen and focus.
And this is why, notwithstanding whatever the media and the majority may say, Senator Sanders won the second debate.