Yes, it was something of a brawl, but a brawl with an old-time street-fighter sense of fairness -- no punches were pulled, but the action was limited to fisticuffs. Nobody was going to inflict any lethal injuries here. And in the process, a lot of issues got aired.
The biggest impression that came out of this debate is that this time the knobs were turned up on everything -- the volume, the passion, the excitement, and the crowd response. A lot of the same differences were aired, points covered, and accusations made ... but more forcefully. I'm not sure it changed a lot of minds, but it definitely fired people up, and that's good news for a Democratic race that had seen so much of the excitement centered on the GOP melee.
Overall, debate moderators Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash from CNN, and Errol Louis of NY1 asked sharp and provocative questions. They also did a commendable job of reining in the candidates when they went over, and of calling them out when they avoided questions.
Strategically, Bernie Sanders spent a lot of time playing pundit. He both opened and closed the debate talking about his recent victories and his success in polls,offering hypothetical matchups against Donald Trump. It was an odd choice, not least because it's a tactic that Trump himself favors. And it ignores the fact that Hillary Clinton has won 2.3 million more primary votes
than he has.
Clinton's main strategy was to stress that it's easy to diagnose problems but much harder to solve them. She repeatedly returned to the theme that her strength is in problem-solving and generating actual results. It's an approach well-tailored to her in that it also invokes the breadth of her experience, which is the greatest of any of the candidates in either party.
The attacks, though sharper, were mostly along lines that have already been explored. Sanders contrasted his refusal to use a super PAC and implied that Clinton's super PAC would make her beholden to big-money interests. But when asked to give an example of a vote she had taken that could be said to have been done to benefit wealthy donors, he couldn't name one.
Sanders again brought up Clinton's speeches to Goldman Sachs, calling on her to release the transcripts. Interestingly, the only reason anyone knows about the amounts Goldman Sachs paid Clinton for those appearances is because she has released her income tax records -- and Sanders has seemed reluctant to release his tax records.
The sparring over breaking up the banks (and Sanders' trouble articulating how that would be done in his New York Daily News interview) actually led to something of a consensus in light of the findings by the Fed and the FDIC about the lack of plans by many of those banks regarding how they will avoid becoming too big to fail.
One topic which hasn't come up in any Democratic debate so far is the erosion of abortion rights in many states. When Clinton brought it up unprompted she received one of the biggest bursts of applause of the evening.
Despite the raucous and divided crowd, it's clear that the vast majority of Democratic voters want civility in the race. The struggle for the nomination can be conducted vigorously but in the end both sides will have to come together. The exchanges in the Brooklyn debate were heated and passionate, but they were still exchanges. As long as we still have that back-and-forth, we can move forward despite our differences.