Bannister: At Tuesday’s debate, Democrats show maturity and strength


Edmund Bannister, Columnist

The Democratic Party debate on Oct. 13 was one of the most uplifting, clarifying and optimistic moments I have ever witnessed in left-wing politics. The candidates, including frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, were individually and collectively superb. They articulated the views and personified the spirit of a newly engaged, newly energized Democratic Party and cut a stark contrast with the angry and pessimistic attitude of the Republican primary challengers. The candidates abstained from character attacks and even defended each other in a manner that almost resembled camaraderie.

When Anderson Cooper pressured Clinton on her personal email account, Sanders looked directly at Clinton and shouted, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!” When Sanders’ record as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War was brought under scrutiny, Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran, graciously refused to attack Sanders and said he respected his choices. The candidates regularly affirmed their mutual respect for one another and seemed unified on many of the core issues discussed on the stage, including income inequality, race relations, paid family leave and the need for affordable college education.

But of all the positive qualities displayed by the candidates on Tuesday night, none was more obvious than maturity. Martin O’Malley put it perfectly when he said, “On this stage, you didn’t hear anyone denigrate women, you didn’t hear anyone make racist comments about new American immigrants. What you heard instead on this stage tonight was an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward.”

The remarkable thing about O’Malley’s statement was that it wasn’t about inflating himself or running down his Democratic rivals. Instead, it was a universal affirmation of the Democratic value of tolerance over the exclusionary rhetoric of the Republican field. Donald Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, has stirred up nativist fears, suggesting against all empirical evidence that Hispanic immigrants are, “bringing drugs [and] bringing crime.” His calls to deport more than 10 million undocumented immigrants and their families have been dismissed as lunacy by policy experts, and yet Republican challengers have rushed to align themselves with many of his views. Ben Carson, the runner-up in most primary polls, has been criticized for his comments suggesting that a Muslim president would have split loyalties and that Darwinian evolution and the Big Bang are incredible “fairy tales.” The Republican field has bought into the shamelessly fabricated scandal surrounding Planned Parenthood, and each and every candidate has come out in support of defunding the organization completely.

Indeed, it seems as if the whole Republican party has descended into a state of reactionary frenzy. Despite the fact that abortion has been legal since 1979, candidates have taken it upon themselves to be crusaders for its abolition. Despite the fact that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states, Republicans continue to push for its prohibition. Despite the fact that 11.3 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the United States, Republicans continue to insist they be denied a path to citizenship. Instead of moving forward with new ideas and new proposals, primary voters have flocked to Donald Trump’s nostalgic pledge to “Make America Great Again!” From all corners of the party there is an aching desire to return to a better time, before same-sex marriage, before Hispanic immigration and before abortion legalization. These are the symptoms of a party slowly drowning under the weight of demographic and legal reality.

The Democrats on the other hand are jumping from victory to victory and have found renewed energy in issues such as income inequality and criminal justice reform. Their key voting demographics include young people, women and minorities, groups steadily expanding in political clout. In national polls they have a decided advantage over Republicans on many key issues. According to Gallup and NYT polls, 50 percent of Americans are pro-choice, 60 percent of Americans are pro-same-sex marriage and 66 percent of Americans believe current wealth distribution is unfair. These statistical advantages mean the Democrats have a decisive edge when it comes to national elections for the presidency, when voter turnout among young people and minorities tends to be higher.

The Democrats in the Northwestern student body have a great deal to look forward to in the coming months. Clinton is hitting her stride and appears more confident, Sanders is provoking a national conversation about income inequality and the Republicans seem increasingly divided as insurgents like Trump and Carson wreak havoc among the establishment. If the resurgent spirit on display at the debate endures, the next four years are looking very bright indeed.

Edmund Bannister is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.