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As I strained to hear the candidates of the first Democratic debate on my laptop in the living room while I made dinner in the kitchen last Tuesday night, I had my first panic attack since buying the new MacBook several months ago. Why can’t I hear anything? Did my speakers blow out?

It wasn’t until I tried plugging the computer into my roommate’s more-advanced audio system that I realized what was amiss. My laptop was perfectly fine — these Democratic candidates were simply using “inside voices.” Here I was accustomed to Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina battering down my eardrums with anecdotes about China and abortion snuff films of dubious existence, respectively. Instead, to borrow from Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley, “what [I] heard was an honest debate.”

Led by an impressively well-informed Anderson Cooper, the debate featured five candidates. The cast: tarnished frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyone’s favorite unapologetic socialist Bernie Sanders, the hunky-yet-humdrum O’Malley, poor, blundering Lincoln Chafee, and lastly Jim Webb, who I still believe mistakenly thought he was at the Republican debate.

Around roughly the hour mark, however, it became clear that this debate was really going to be Clinton versus Sanders, with the other three supporting actors delegated to the role of the Greek chorus. According to NPR, Clinton and Sanders led the debate in airtime, totaling in at nearly a half hour apiece — more than double the time of the other three combined.

This first debate is being hailed as a success for Clinton because the other candidates looked weak enough to help her shine. Much of her half hour was not about introducing herself and her qualifications to the public, but instead spent defending her troubled career while presenting herself to be “true blue.” As Clinton declared, “[she’s] a progressive, but a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Sure, I found her thoughts on refinancing student debt interesting, as well as her plan for tuition-free college education. As someone who works and goes to school full-time, I see no fault with her “[wanting] students to work 10 hours a week” in return for tuition aid.

But overall I heard nothing groundbreaking from the Madame Secretary.

In this game of deflection and vague promises from every candidate — even outspoken Sanders was not immune to question dodging when listening to his gun control fumbling — the debates become more a matter of presentation. We should know to take any politician’s words with several grains of salt. But while the other candidates babbled, lashed out and generally looked incapable, Clinton established her presence by demonstrating exactly the opposite. She was confident, in command and, well, presidential. Clinton, more than any of the others, gave clear, well-thought-out answers. She coherently broke down plans to achieve her goals, simultaneously highlighting her opponents’ inability to do the same on the spot. In short, she “won” because no one else understood the rules of the game.

As much as I supported Sanders in the beginning, he has yet to give me concrete plans of how to do anything he promises. He came into the competition full of fire and brimstone, but when it came time for the debates, all I heard were the same horses he’s been beating for months, without change or elaboration. The world is listening now, Bernie, so stop pounding the pulpit and give me something tangible. In the meantime, I just may start pitching my tent back up in the Clinton campgrounds.

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Chris Muscardin is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.

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