November 13, 2015

Students Hold Mock Democratic Presidential Debate

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Corrections appended 

Three Cornell students represented Democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Governor Martin O’Malley (D-M.D.) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-V.T.) in a mock Democratic primary debate Wednesday, arguing over issues that included gun violence, student debt, climate change and income inequality.

During the 60 minute debate, which featured opening remarks, general questions, audience questions and closing remarks, the three students spoke from the perspectives of the candidates they were standing in for.

Natalie Brown ’18, who represented Clinton, emphasized her comprehensive dedication and lifelong service to the country throughout the debate.

“My experience in serving this nation is what makes me a unique candidate,” Brown said. “I spent my entire professional life fighting for the American people, fighting for their interests in three different ways: as the Secretary of the State, the First Lady and the Senator of New York, and I have pursued progressive causes throughout my entire career.”

Danyoung Kim ’16, who spoke as Sanders, argued for the need to look at examples in socialist democratic nations such as Denmark and Sweden in addressing issues that included social security and keeping Wall Street in check.

“Now, at the end of our day, here is the truth that very few candidates will say,” Kim said. “Nobody up here, and certainly no Republican, can address the major crises facing our country unless millions of people begin to stand up to the billionaires that have so much power over our economy and our political life.”

Jake Meiseles ’16, speaking as O’Malley, claimed that his success as the governor of Maryland would predict a promising career as the president, were he to be elected.

“My campaign is built around actions, not words. Unlike the two other people up here, I have actually done the things that we are all advocating for,” Meiseles said. “I have made college more affordable. I have passed immigration reform. I have raised the minimum wage. I have done these things.”

Turning to more specific issues, the candidates presented conflicting views on social security, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and gun control.

Representing Clinton, Brown highlighted the essentiality of and the need to protect the social security system from a potential attack from Republicans. Although she said that the social security system called for reforms, she took a stance against reducing current benefits of the system.

Kim, speaking as Sanders, took a more extreme position, arguing that the social security system must be expanded through the taxation of Wall Street in order to satisfy the ultimate goal of helping the working and middle class families.

In response to Sanders’ argument, Meiseles, acting as O’Malley, stated that though he was for expanding social security, he did not agree with Sanders’ socialist point of view.

On the issue of immigration, all three candidates agreed on a more lenient approach. Meiseles emphasized that America is a country built on immigrants and argued that benefits such as health care and work authorization must be provided to immigrants. Brown agreed, stating that the pathway to citizenship for immigrants must be eased in order to help them achieve the American dream. Kim also expressed her support for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act and said that immigration policy should stop “separating families.”

The event, which was organized by the Cornell Democrats, the Cornell Republicans and the Cornell Speech and Debate Society, was originally conceptualized by William Bristow ’16, who is president of Cornell Democrats.

“There was a mock presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama during my freshman year of high school in 2008, and I was really interested in maybe doing that again,” Bristow said. “[The executive board] eventually decided that it would be a great way to increase [student] interest in the Democratic primary and in the overall election as a whole.”

The Mock Democratic Party Primary Debate is the first part of a bipartisan debate series, according to Bristow, with the Cornell Republicans holding a mock Republican primary debate early next spring.

“I hope the audience took away [from the debate] the differences between the different candidates and their particular personal characteristics,” Bristow said. “I would also like to think that the audience took away a newfound interest for the process [and that the debate] got [the audience] thinking about who they would like to vote for, come next spring.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that William Bristow ’16 is a columnist for The Sun when in fact, he is not. The story also stated that Jake Meiseles ’16, speaking as presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, was against expanding the Social Security system. In fact, Meiseles — as O’Malley — said he was in favor of expanding the system, but that he did not support Bernie Sanders’ specific plan.