By JESS FORTE
The UT College Democrats, armed with pizza, gathered in Plant Hall 227 to watch Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, among others, dissect the major issues facing the United States. In brief, the cost of college education is at the forefront, candidates generally agree that more gun control is needed, and Sanders is tired of hearing about Hillary’s e-mails.
The debate started with a video of president Obama sharing his successes during his presidency, such as gay marriage and health care reform. Commentators referred to Hillary Clinton as a “party superstar” and a “surprise threat.” And right after this exciting intro, the screen began to buffer. One student suggested that “banging the computer might help.” After a few minutes, the computer began cooperating, and the debate started up again, only to buffer again a few seconds later. Anxious students leaned forward in their seats, as Suira debated on relocating.
After switching computers, Anderson Cooper explained the rules to the candidates, and they begin their opening speeches. These started with Chaffee, who “had no scandals” and “high ethical standards. Next was Webb, who appeared to struggle when remembering the name of his third daughter, which brought a few laughs from the room and the audience at the venue. O’Malley, “a lifelong democrat” was third. O’Malley mentioned that “we need action” for the shrinking middle class. Senator Sanders was next. Leaning forward on the podium, he forcefully spoke about the one percent billionaires, climate change, minority unemployment. “Maybe, just maybe, instead of building more jails, we should be putting more money into education,” Sanders said. There were large cheers from the audience. Last was Clinton, who believes that the US should be “taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.” The audience clapped and cheered when she brought up paid family leave.
Next, Clinton was asked about her changing viewpoints on aspects such as gay marriage. Anderson asked Clinton, “will you say anything to get elected?” Clinton responded by saying she had “a range of views” that are grounded in her values.
Sanders was asked about his stance on socialism, in which he defined what someone who is a democratic socialist stands for. He talked about the “rigged economy,” in which most of the US income goes to the one percent. Clinton defended capitalism by praising small businesses.
Cooper asked Chaffee about his many changing political parties, to which Chaffee responded by calling himself a “block of granite when it comes to the issues.” Cooper responded with, “it must be pretty soft granite.”
O’Malley defended his work in Baltimore, where he “saved a lot of lives.”
Webb was questioned on his criticism of affirmative action, which he says he has always supported for African-Americans.
The next topic was gun control. Sanders defended gun control and how people with mental health should get the care they need. Clinton claimed that Sanders wasn’t tough enough on guns, and that the country should “stand up to the NRA.” Sanders had his turn for rebuttal, where he said he hoped to “end this horrible violence that we are seeing.”
O’Malley went back and forth with Sanders over the banning of guns. O’Malley claimed that it was possible to do so, and respect hunting traditions. Sanders finished off the scene by telling O’Malley, “You haven’t been in the United states Congress, and when you are, check it out.” Webb and Chaffee hoped for gun safety legislation.
Next was Russia and their involvement with Syria.
Clinton said of Vladimir Putin, “We have to stand up to his bullying” and be sure that “our friends and neighbors in the region” are not harmed. Sanders, who called Syria “a quagmire in a quagmire” wants to make sure that the U.S. doesn’t get involved with Syria. O’Malley claimed that “no commander in chief should take the military option off the table.” No Fly Zones came up next in the conversation. Clinton and O’Malley believed that No Fly Zones should be enacted in Syria, while disagreeing with Sanders, who thought the opposite. Webb fought for his time to speak as he went over time, saying, “well, you’ve let a lot of people over their time.”
The energy in the room started to decrease when the candidates began talking about Libya. About half of the students took a break from the front screen to check their phones. Sanders continued to defend his position on using military force. “I believe from the bottom of my heart, war should be the last resort,” Sanders said.
Alex Medvedev, a senior communications major, enjoyed Sanders’ answers, but thinks he could change just a few things.
“I think Bernie has a lot of passion for foreign policy, but he needs to cater a little a bit towards people who want physical action,” he said. “Even if it’s not true, say ‘in this case I’ll do it.’”
Following the break, Clinton answered questions about her email scandal. She encouraged that the debate should “not about my emails, but what the American people want in the next president of the United States. Sanders interrupted, shouting that “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” Sanders and Clinton shook hands, and applause rang out from the students in the room.
The candidates also spoke about their stance between #Black Lives Matter and #All Lives Matter. O’Malley and Sanders agree with the movement’s message. Clinton hopes for reform in race relations. Webb said something slightly different, that “every life in this country matters.”
The discussion then moved to the middle class. Sanders defended the $15 an hour minimum wage. Clinton again mentioned that Americans should have the ability to achieve “their God-given potential.”
Sanders and Clinton moved on to Wall Street, where Clinton has struggled in the past. Sanders believes that Wall Street, “where fraud is a business model” is severely corrupt. Back in 2007, Clinton visited Wall Street and told bankers to “cut it out,” when it came to issues like foreclosing on houses.
“Clinton is very pro-establishment,” Medvedev said. “Bernie Sanders can see that, and he’s using that to get at Clinton.”
Everyone in the room sat up straight when the topic of free college education came into play. Sanders advocates free public colleges and universities for all, while Clinton wants students to at least partially contribute. “I would like students to work ten hours a week” in order to contribute to their education,” Clinton said.
Amber Scott, a sophomore nursing major, believes that Sanders is helping not only millennials to vote, but women.
“There’s a lot of us that aren’t voting, we need to take charge and have a voice, and empower each other,” Scott said. And even though with Clinton running, she thinks Sanders will be the best bet for women. “He’s thinking more of the common women. He wants to make sure we’re taken care of, not the one percent.”
The College Republicans President Lucas Alvarez, a junior sports management major, was also in attendance in order to support bipartisanship and listen to the other side.
“The debate was actually well organized,” Alvarez said. “They asked important questions and they gave answers. [However] when they answer questions they’re not usually true facts.
Alvarez explained that his number one concern when it comes to the Democratic presidential opposition is Bernie Sanders.
“[Sanders’] economic policy doesn’t make sense,” Alvarez said. “He wants to tax the wealthy, but that’s only going to be an incentive for people to not become rich. Even if you do tax them, it’s still not enough money. He will bankrupt this country.”
Jess Forte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org