There were fierce moments, to be sure, in Thursday's Democratic presidential debate, the first one-on-one matchup between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Clinton decried what she called Sanders' "very artful smear that you and your campaign have been carrying out" that she's not a progressive. Sanders raised his (let's be honest, already pretty damn loud) voice to shout that "billions of dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions" by Wall Street means an establishment politician like Clinton can't fix our problems.
They weren't just fighting over the meaning of the word "progressive" but over the fundamental approach to progress. Sanders says only big ideas backed by a political revolution can get us where we need to go. Clinton says we won't get things done without the hard work of politics she's so familiar with.
But even though they have philosophical and policy differences, Sanders and Clinton have the same ultimate goals: making college more affordable, getting health care coverage for all Americans, holding Wall Street accountable. They're both pro-choice; they both want to raise the minimum wage.
Watching the debate, it was clear these two good, smart people are running for president because they want to make the lives of average Americans more fair, more just, filled with more opportunity.
On Saturday night, we had another chance to watch the GOP candidates. And yet again, it was very clear that this is a straight-up race between the good guys and the villains.
Let me be clear: I'm not saying all Republicans are bad people. Most Republicans are perfectly decent, of course. (And believe me, I have met Democrats who are shitty human beings.) I'm saying the Democrats running for president are running to help people, while the Republicans keep proudly describing the ways they're going to hurt them.
They genuinely want an uglier America — they really do. And in the last debate before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, they gave plenty of examples.
In Ted Cruz's latest defense of his plan to carpet bomb ISIS — using magic bombs that only kill terrorists and avoid the people in the cities where terrorists rule — he suggests "we should use overwhelming force, kill the enemy and then get the heck out," leaving nothing but chaos in our wake.
That should fix terrorism forever, right?
The candidates promised to bring back the ugly days of torture, too. Cruz at least promised to use waterboarding only in case of emergencies; Donald Trump vowed to bring back not just waterboarding, but "a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding."
The feckless Jeb Bush said "closing Guantanamo is a complete disaster," which is true, in that it hasn't closed yet, but he promised to keep it open, which would be a boon to terrorist recruitment efforts. Marco Rubio joined in, suggesting "we should be putting people into Guantanamo, not emptying it out."
They don't just want to make it easier for terrorists to recruit new members; they also want to pursue their own retrograde agendas based on narrow religious ideologies. The issue of same-sex marriages was settled by the Supreme Court last year, but Rubio needs you to know, "I believe deeply that marriage should be between one man and one woman."
Every candidate on the stage believes in restricting abortion or even making it outright illegal, but Bush even bragged about sending taxpayer dollars to so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that lie to women about abortion, terrifying them into carrying pregnancies they may not want. Chris Christie bragged about defunding Planned Parenthood, the only health care provider some women can depend on for basic reproductive care, including abortion.
Speaking of health care, these guys want to take yours away. They want to rob the millions who gained coverage under Obamacare, immediately — just gone, with no plan to replace it.
Ted Cruz wants to "de-link insurance from employment," which would be fine if there were someone else to pay for it, but in reality he'd take insurance from an order of magnitude more people than he would by killing Obamacare. He wants to expand health savings accounts, which are fine as supplements, but do nothing if you don't have insurance and face any kind of catastrophe.
Trump sounded the closest note to compassion on health care, saying, "We're going to take care of people that are dying on the street." If you're a diabetic who needs insulin regularly, you're screwed, but once you're dying, just crawl out into the road to access Trumpcare.
There was plenty more. The Republicans want to cut taxes for millionaires because they can't imagine another way to stimulate the economy. They fought over how quickly they could break up families to throw people — mostly brown people, let's be honest — out of the country. Chris Christie bragged again about sticking it to teachers.
This is the country, the world, they envision — and it is one that makes us less safe, and consistently makes life worse for struggling families. The men on that stage mostly share the same backwards agenda: Turn back the clock on health care. Give terrorists exactly the existential battle they want. Make the rich richer and screw the little guy. Outright bigotry.
When you compare that to the changes both Democrats in the race want to make, you can't help but realize the choice in the general election — no matter who wins the primaries — is stark. And it isn't that hard a choice.