November 1, 2007

Cornell Democrats Recreate 2008 Presidential Debate

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Yesterday evening Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and former Sen. John Edwards debated key campaign issues in McGraw Hall — or, rather, members of the Cornell Democrats debated for them. These student leaders of candidate campaign groups on campus represented the views of the actual candidates that they support.
The Dems, a student activities organization that is involved with Democratic Party-related activism on campus, such as voter registration drives and campaigning for local elections, hosted the event.
Obama had two representatives on the debate panel, as did Edwards; Clinton and Kucinich each had one. The stand-in candidates were asked to answer questions posed by Nate Lowry ’08, a news editor of the Sun, and Ethan Felders ’08, editor of the Cornell Progressive, on topics including course of action upon entering office, appeal to the youth vote demographic, and distinguishing beliefs.
In addition to supporting traditional Democratic values such as improving education and health care, the candidates’ responses frequently highlighted issues relating to the personal and political character of themselves and their opponents.
Andy Ben ’09 portrayed Representative Kucinich as a ‘consistent and unyielding’ advocate for liberal policies, citing his refusal to sell Cleveland’s publicly-owned electric utility during his tenure as mayor of that city as an example of Kucinich’s willingness to make unpopular decisions based on principle.
“Kucinich is unyielding in his beliefs, but that doesn’t mean he’s stubborn. He won’t follow President Bush’s method of sticking to a policy that clearly isn’t working,” said Ben.
Dan Smith ’10 argued that Senator Clinton has a more pragmatic approach to the political process.
“She will reach across the aisle to make compromises necessary to effect change,” said Smith.
Smith also responded to criticisms from the student debaters that Senator Clinton’s vote to declare Iran’s revolutionary guard a terrorist organization was irreconcilable with her stance on Middle East policy and the war in Iraq, advocating involving regional players in negotiations for peace.
“The Iran revolutionary guard issue was blown out of proportion, she never voted to give President Bush authorization to go to war against Iran,” said Smith.
Matthews Grosshans ’11 characterized Senator Obama as a charismatic and inspirational speaker who could restore the American electorate’s faith in the country’s government.
“Obama appeals to the core values that unite all Americans instead of dividing the citizenry into blue and red states,” said Grosshans, referencing Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
William Rosenzweig ’08 stated that he was attracted to Edwards’ campaign because he believes Edwards is most capable of affecting large-scale changes.
“Edwards is third in the polls, but he has the support of the most labor unions. He fought corporations that were exploiting low-income workers and won in North Carolina without pretending to be conservative or backing down from his core beliefs,” said Rosenzweig.
The student representatives’ responses, initially limited to two minutes per question and later shortened to one minute, made use of research on the candidates’ voting records in Congress and solicited those in attendance, approximately 30 students, to ‘go check out’ their respective candidate.
Randy Lariar, president of the Dems and moderator of yesterday’s debate, said that he viewed this event as an opportunity to promote a political discourse that he believes is lacking on campus.
“We don’t endorse any specific candidate as a club, so this was a chance to get views on the 2008 candidates out there,” said Lariar. “With the Democrats in control of Congress and national opinion on our side, we stand a good chance of starting the recovery from damage inflicted by the Bush administration.”