Campus political leaders discuss Dem. debate

For The News-Letter

The Democratic Party held its second primary debate of this election cycle on Saturday, Nov. 14 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley participated in the debate.

In light of the recent Paris attacks, the debate, originally intended to center around domestic issue and the economy, took a wider focus wherein the candidates discussed foreign policy and national security. The debate was primarily moderated by “Face The Nation” host John Dickerson of CBS News.

In contrast to the first debate, Sanders showed more competence in foreign policy and took the offensive against Clinton, who cited 9/11 to support her big Wall Street donations. O’Malley primarily focused on his own message, attacking Donald Trump on his immigration policies.

President of the Hopkins College Democrats and senior Sam Gottuso felt that the debate served Democratic primary voters well, helping to highlight the differences between the candidates.

“I thought that there were distinct differences between [the candidates] and it was nice to see that,” Gottuso said. “There are differences between the candidates, and I felt that they articulated those differences well and that’s important for [Democrats] to make a decision.”

Gottuso elaborated on the productiveness of such an exchange, especially in the opening segments of the debate featuring foreign policy.

“Bernie and Hillary have big differences in foreign policy, so it was nice to see them exchange plans and ideas rather than just pandering,” he said.

The first topic of the debate was foreign policy. Hillary Clinton began by portraying this election as one for our next Commander-in-Chief.

“This election is not only about electing a president. It’s also about choosing our next Commander-in-Chief. And I will be laying out in detail what I think we need to do with our friends and allies in Europe and elsewhere [in order] to do a better job of coordinating efforts against the scourge of terrorism,” Clinton said.

In contrast, Sanders focused on U.S. leadership in the region, his opposition to direct involvement and portraying the current conflict as a war for the soul of Islam itself.

“But here’s something that I believe we have to do as we put together an international coalition and that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region — Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan — all of these nations, they’re going to have to get their hands dirty,” he said. “They are going to have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam.”
Graduate student Jacob Kravetz, an organizer of JHU for Bernie Sanders, acknowledged that Sanders is often seen as weak on foreign policy, but his performance assuaged some of those fears.

“This originally was going to be a talk on wealth and income inequality, but obviously because of the Paris attacks, the debate got shifted to some extent to national security and that is often considered his weakest point,” Kravetz said. “I think that [Sanders] is correct in saying that the soul of Islam is at stake here and that without engaging the Middle East and getting them to fight. If you make this East vs. West, Christian vs. Muslim then that is a battle we cannot win.”

Later in the debate Sanders attacked Clinton on contributions she has received from big Wall Street donors. Sanders claims that they make these contributions for a reason.

“They expect to get something, everybody knows that,” Sanders said.
Sanders went on to affirm his own campaign’s independence from such donors. In response to Sanders’ attack, Clinton defended herself by referencing the events of 9/11.

“I represented New York on 9/11,” Clinton said. “I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York.”
Senior Nitin Nainani, President of JHU College Republicans, felt that her answer was irresponsible.

“Her answer on Wall Street invoking 9/11 was tacky. I thought that when she got called out on it, doubling down was ridiculous,” Nainani said. “It is something she has gotten called out on from both left and right.”
O’Malley’s most applauded moment of the night was his attack on Trump’s immigration policy.

“The fact of the matter is — and let’s say it in our debate, because you’ll never hear this from that immigration-bashing carnival barker, Donald Trump — yes, we must protect our borders,” he said. “Our symbol is the Statue of Liberty. It is not a barbed wire fence.”

Nainani felt that O’Malley’s performance was, objectively, the most prominent of the night.

“I actually thought that if you look at it objectively, O’Malley had the best performance of the night. He held his own on foreign policy, which is an area that is supposed to benefit Hillary,” he said. “I thought that O’Malley outperformed the other two on guns, and I also think his answer on immigration was great. Evoking Donald Trump was a great strategy for him too.”

Gottuso had similar thoughts.

“Even Martin O’Malley got a lot of big applauses tonight and I was very impressed,” he said. “He has to pick his moments and I thought that he did that very well.”

Conversely, Kravetz believes that O’Malley comes off as another establishment candidate.

“I think he basically comes off, unfortunately, very much as a politician but one who is not quite as good as Hillary Clinton; Whereas Bernie Sanders comes across as a completely different animal of a man who has said the same thing for 40 years,” he said.

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