Washington: Hillary Clinton has strongly defended her front-runner status in the US presidential race as she took to the the podium along with four other rivals for the first Democratic presidential debate which was focussed on issues like gun control laws and foreign policy.
Hillary Clinton. Pic/AFP
Clinton forcefully went after her main rival Bernie Sanders. The three other Democratic party candidates on the podium were Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee.
Eyeing to become the first woman president of the US, 67-year-old Clinton said her mission as president will be to raise incomes for hard-working middle-class families and to make sure that they get back to the basic bargain she was raised with: If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.
Clinton and Sanders, who has emerged as her toughest competition, have circled each other cautiously and avoided personal attacks.
Sanders came to Clinton's defence over the email controversy that has often buffeted her campaign. "This is a great country, but we have many, many serious problems. We should not be the country that has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country and more wealth and income inequality than any other country," Sanders said in his concluding remarks.
Clinton produced a more convincing rationale for why she should be President than she has done so far, dismissing the idea she was motivated mainly by restoring the Clinton political machine. She argued she has the vision and experience to enforce change.
She described herself as progressive. Sanders on the other hand called himself as a Democratic socialist.
"What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent - almost - own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 per cent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent," he argued.
While Sanders argued the case for a free college education for everybody, Clinton said her plans included to make sure that kids don't have to come out of college with debts on their head.
"But they need to work 10 hours a week," she noted. Sanders disapproved of it, saying that he would fund his free college education plan by taxing the rich.
On foreign policy, Sanders said he would everything to ensure that the US does not get involved in another quagmire like it did in Iraq, the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country.
Clinton, of course reflected on her four years' experience of being one of the most successful Secretary of State.
"We don't want American troops on the ground in Syria. I never said that. What I said was we had to put together a coalition -- in fact, something that I worked on before I left the State Department -- to do, and yes, that it should include Arabs, people in the region," she said.
"Because what I worry about is what will happen with ISIS gaining more territory, having more reach, and, frankly, posing a threat to our friends and neighbours in the region and far beyond. So I think while you're talking about the tough decision that President Obama had to make about Osama bin Laden, where I was one of his few advisers, or putting together that coalition to impose sanctions on Iran -- I think I have a lot of evidence...," Clinton said.
Continuing with his Democratic socialism, Sanders proposed to raise the minimum wage to USD 15 an hour; pay equity for women workers; and review the trade policies, which according to him has cost the US millions of jobs; and make every public college and university in this country tuition free.
Clinton said she wants to make sure every single person in this country has the same opportunities that he had, to make the most of their God-given potential and to have the chances that they should have in America for a good education, good job training, and then good jobs.
"I have a five point economic plan, because this inequality challenge we face, we have faced it at other points. It's absolutely right. It hasn't been this bad since the 1920s. But if you look at the Republicans versus the Democrats when it comes to economic policy, there is no comparison.
"The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House and that's why we need to have a Democrat in the White House in January 2017," Clinton said. While Sanders proposed to break the big banks, Clinton proposed to impose additional tax on big banks.
"Let us be clear that the greed and recklessness and illegal behaviour of Wall Street, where fraud is a business model, helped to destroy this economy and the lives of millions of people," Sanders argued.
"The first debate was the Hillary and Bernie Show, and Hillary received top billing," said Politico after the debate that went on for 150 minutes concluded.
"Clinton, Sanders dominate in first Democratic debate," headlined 'The Washington Post', while The New York Times wrote 'Hillary Clinton turns up heat on Bernie Sanders in a sharp debate'.
Noting that Clinton and Sanders reigned at the debate, The Wall Street Journal said Clinton seemed determined to use the debate to march methodically through her policy positions and to remind voters of her broad experience.
After the debate, former US President Bill Clinton came out in his wife's support.
"I'm proud of Hillary Clinton. Tonight, she showed why she should be President," Bill said in a tweet.
"I think she's doing great," Bill said.