Students react to first Democratic debate


Students watch the Democratic Debate in Laurel Forum (Photo by Becca Andrews - News Staff Writer)
Students watch the Democratic Debate in Laurel Forum (Photo by Becca Andrews – News Staff Writer)

By Becca Andrews, News Staff Writer – [email protected]
Five democratic candidates for the 2016 presidential election met to debate for the first time last Tuesday. UNC Asheville students gathered in the Laurel Forum to watch the televised debate.
Hillary Clinton, nicknamed “the front runner,” and Bernie Sanders, nicknamed “the surprise threat,” dominated the discussion. The other candidates—Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and Martin O’Malley—were relatively unknown.
Chafee, a former Rhode Island governor, opened the discussion. He stressed that he was the only candidate who had been a mayor, governor and senator, and that during his career, he has never had a scandal.
“I earned a reputation for courageous votes against the Bush-Cheney tax cuts that favored the wealthy, against the tragedy of the Iraq war, for environmental stewardship, for protection of our civil liberties,” Chafee said. “I served on the Foreign Relations Committee and I chaired the Middle East Subcommittee for four years.”
Anne Hamilton, an international and global studies student at UNCA, said she feels he would make a good vice president, possibly running with Bernie Sanders
“I would never see him as my leader, as my head leader, because he seems very passive and easily walked over. But his heart was in the right place,” said Hamilton. “When he was speaking he was on very important issues, like Iraq being the biggest blemish in American history. He was touching some subjects you don’t hear in the public arena.”
Jim Webb, a former Virginia senator who has since withdrawn from the Democratic presidential race, followed Chafee. Webb spoke about his experience as Vietnam Marine Corps veteran, his role as secretary of the Navy and writing the post-9/11 GI Bill for veterans’ education. He differs from the other candidates on his views about clean energy, as he is an “all-of-the-above energy voter,” supporting coal, offshore drilling and nuclear energy.
When candidates were asked which of their enemies they were the most proud of, most named political adversaries like the National Rifle Association and coal lobbyists. Webb gave a different answer.
“I’d have to say the enemy soldier that threw the grenade that wounded me,” Webb said. “But he’s not around right now.”
Megan Suggs, a UNCA sophomore from Belmont, said Webb seemed different because he had some Republican views.
“He’s not wild, he’s just moderate, which I think our political atmosphere can’t handle right now,” Suggs said. “I didn’t agree with him on much, but I always appreciate a moderate. He is just moderate in the wrong things.”
The third of the lesser-known candidates, O’Malley, is a former Maryland governor. He mentioned his work as mayor of Baltimore, and his efforts to deter gun violence earned an F voting record from the NRA.
“We did it by leading with principle,” O’Malley said. “Not by pandering to the NRA and backing down.”
Hamilton said she knew of O’Malley because of an episode of the HBO series The Wire on Baltimore’s police violence.
“I didn’t like the way that he was beyond scripted, he was a preacher at a podium,” Hamilton said. “He wasn’t ever addressing Anderson or the other candidates, he was always looking in the camera and I didn’t like that.”
Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator, took the floor. Sanders’ campaign is funded through grassroots organization and individual donations, rather than super PACs.
Gregory Scott, a member of the Western North Carolina for Bernie Sanders group and an organizer for the Bernie Bash last month in downtown Asheville, said he believes that Sanders’ lack of corporate funding is part of his appeal.
“Bernie is the one presidential candidate right now that is truly for the people. He’s not for sale, as the saying goes,” Scott said. “He’s been spreading the same message for decades and it’s gotten to a point where people are actually starting to listen to him.”
Sanders spoke about raising taxes for the upper class, enacting policies to decrease climate change, getting money out of politics and putting money into education. He is a self-described democratic socialist.
“What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent — almost — own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent,” Sanders said. “That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent.”
Scott said that he thinks democratic socialism is not something to be afraid of.
“It’s to have the government work for the people, by the people. It’s not being done in that manner right now,” Scott said. “It’s basically being run by corporations and big money interest groups. These corporations buy elections so lawmakers will do their bidding.”
However, Suggs said she thinks Sanders might be too radical to unite the government.
“I think what we really need right now in a president is someone who has the skills to bring two very polarized groups together. It’s not one party’s fault that the government keeps failing, it’s both of them not being able to agree on anything and unwilling to compromise,” Suggs said. “I think it’s a little naïve to think you can make all the change you say you want to make and then have half of Congress against you.”
Clinton, another leader in the polls and a former secretary of state, says she is tougher than Sanders on many issues.
“I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done,” Clinton said. “And I know how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I’ve had, even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly.”
Similar to Sanders, she discussed fighting income inequality by providing middle-class tax cuts and being tough on Wall Street. Clinton covered family leave and other women’s issues, as well as climate change and foreign policy.
“It’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say, ‘You can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care,’” Clinton said. “They don’t mind having big government to interfere with a woman’s right to choose and to try to take down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of it.”
Clinton was questioned on whether her views keep changing. Cooper asked her if she was willing to say anything to win.
Hamilton said Clinton lacks the consistency Sanders has shown over the years.
“Hillary could probably run as a Republican, minus her newly-found gay rights and some other minor social policies,” Hamilton said. “But her international policy, her domestic policy, her war policy, I feel like she would be right with them.”
Clinton differs from Sanders in that she is funded by PACs and businesses. Fifty-one percent of her funding comes from businesses’ PAC contributions, according to campaign data.
“I think she’s a corporate-funded establishment politician. If you check out who is funding her campaign you will see in effect, who she is working for,” Scott said. “I don’t think she represents real change at all. I think it will be great when we do have the first woman president. I would love to see a woman be president in my lifetime, I think it will happen, but I don’t think she is the right choice.”
Suggs said the role money plays in politics has gotten out of hand.
“The normal person, when they think about rich people, politicians are totally part of that category and there should be no tax cuts for them. I think someone in the government should say ‘Hey, before we do anything else we should fix politicians,’” Suggs said. “Because everything is wrong with how they get paid, and the fact that they get paid during a government shutdown and tax cuts they get.”
The Democratic and Republican debates both addressed foreign policy, war and the NRA. The Republican debate focused on abortion and Planned Parenthood, immigration and gay marriage, Suggs said, while Democrats focused on economic and racial inequality and climate change. The Democrats were less contentious, due to mostly agreeing with each other, Suggs said.
Scott said he sees similarities between the parties, because both are largely tied to corporations and the media. He said political corruption discourages the public, contributing to low voter turnout.
“I think a lot of us are tired of having to pick the lesser of two evils. We are tired of the two-headed snake that is the Democrats and the Republicans,” Scott said. “Because, aside from rhetoric, they aren’t much different, in my opinion.”