WASHINGTON -- At some point during Tuesday night's Democratic debate, many people in living rooms across the country undoubtedly turned to each other with the same basic thought about Hillary Clinton: Oh, so that's why she's the front-runner.
They also experienced something historic: For the first time in the modern political era, Americans got to watch leaders of a mainstream political party debate the relative merits of capitalism and democratic socialism. And for once, socialism was cast not as the ideology that produced a brutal dictatorship in the old Soviet Union, but as a benign and, yes, democratic outlook that has created rather attractive societies in places such as Denmark and Sweden.
Whatever happens to Bernie Sanders' candidacy, he will deserve credit for having widened our political horizons.
Anyone who compares this encounter with the Republican debates will learn a great deal. Democrats are far more united than Republicans, who are in a shambles. Democrats are the party of what the political consultants like to call kitchen-table issues -- family leave, higher wages, and kids being able to afford college -- while Republicans are the party of ideology and abstractions. And, if I may borrow from Politico's puckish writer Glenn Thrush: "A Trump-less debate is a smarter debate."
Clinton won several victories on Tuesday. She was in command throughout and seemed happy to be there. This has not always been her disposition in the long slog since the story broke about her email server. She maintained her good mood and big smile in the face of repeated challenges from CNN's questioners, deploying the classic Clinton strategy of insisting that the campaign is about what the voters need, not what the media and the GOP want to talk about.