A panel of representatives from six democratic presidential campaigns addressed over 75 students in a campus forum yesterday, fielding questions related to student interests and responding to criticisms on the candidates’ behalf.
The Yale College Democrats-sponsored event, held in the Branford College common room, raised questions about health care, costs of higher education, global warming, national security, unionization, public education and immigration — issues important to students, forum planner and issue coordinator Abby McCartney ’10 said.
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But while the candidates’ representatives, some of whom were students, diverged on questions of immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq or No Child Left Behind, their policy plans often overlapped. The frequent agreement voiced at the forum reflects a consensus that the Democratic Party has been slowly building in order to legitimize itself as a consolidated party, College Democrats member Callie Lowenstein ’10, who attended the meeting, said.
“There was a definite desire tonight for the candidates to stay on the same page, which I think is the theme of this campaign,” she said. “The party in general is so eager to be in office that it’s more interested in being more unified.”
Representatives referenced candidates’ personal experiences to argue that they had both deep-rooted, long-standing convictions and the ability to work across the aisle with conservative leaders to enact change.
The candidates’ representatives said Bill Richardson has proved successful in instituting educational and energy reforms as governor of New Mexico; Sen. Hillary Clinton LAW ’72 has visited over 80 nations as First Lady; Sen. Chris Dodd has demonstrated his compromise-building ability by working with both liberals and conservatives; former Sen. John Edwards has established a “College for Everyone” college scholarship program in North Carolina; and Sen. Joseph Biden has picketed for unions long before the labor vote mattered for him.
In response to criticism that Sen. Barak Obama has at times eluded his audiences with a complex speaking style, Connecticut for Obama representative Lex Paulson ’02 said the Illinois senator has displayed an intellectualism that is fresher than that of his older fellow democratic hopefuls.
“We live in a complex world, and with all due respect to the baby boom candidates on this stage, I’m tired of fighting the counterculture wars,” Paulson said. “I think we need to turn the page on the ’60s finally and talk about public policy in a new way.”
At other moments, representatives said techniques for implementation distinguished individual democratic platforms that were otherwise similar. Steve Moilanen, a Brown University senior speaking on behalf of Edwards, said although all the candidates’ universal health care plans sounded the same, Edwards has a unique strategy for executing his plan.
“I think what you’ve heard [are plans] to negotiate with insurance companies,” Moilanen said. “Edwards has wholly rejected that. There’s no reason we want to give them a place at the table. If we give them a place at the table, they’re going to eat all the food. We need to take power away from them.”
Some students in the audience said they considered the forum’s discussion of global warming to be the most engaging part of the evening, despite the lack of disagreement surrounding the subject. Most of the candidates agreed to increase car-mileage standards to upwards of 50 miles per gallon, cap carbon emissions gradually and reduce emissions by 80 percent in the next few decades.
The forum comes on the heels of a televised democratic presidential debate last Friday at Dartmouth College. Comparing the televised debate with the presidential forum, College Democrats Campaigns Coordinator Ben Shaffer ’09 said he found Monday’s discussion more pertinent and realistic to students.
“I think it was better [than last week’s debate] to have real people [speaking] who are going to vote for the candidates,” he said. “It’s far less stylized and less sound-bite ridden.”
While some Yalies said they were less persuaded by the student speakers than by the adult representatives, others, such as Lowenstein and Emma Ledbetter ’10, said they were satisfied with the student presentations.
“I think most of them did a good job of representing the campaigns; some of them were more closely connected than others,” Ledbetter said. “But all of them had some really good things to say.”
Forum participants and planners said having speakers who were also students gave the discussion additional relevance and substance.
“It gives people a chance to hear from other students about the candidates, and that’s obviously a very different perspective from what Richardson would give,” Richardson representative Quinlan O’Connor ’10 said. “I could say things he might not necessarily be able to say.”