By Jeremy O’Neill
Sewanee students, staff, and community gathered in the Mary Sue Cushman room at the Bairnwick Women’s Center on September 12 for a public viewing of the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Debate. The event was put on by the Center for Speaking and Listening, as well as the Dialogue Across Difference and Yea, Sewanee Votes! programs of the Office of Civic Engagement. After the debate there was an opportunity for discussion, moderated Sean O’Rourke, professor of rhetoric and American studies.
Over the course of the debate, the audience was very reactive to various comments by the candidates. Laughter, applause, and whispers of disagreement echoed throughout the room at the many trademark lines. “Well Bernie wrote the bill, I read the bill,” from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, in reference to Senator Sanders’ universal healthcare proposal, “Appoint a Secretary of Education who actually believes in public education” from South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” from former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke all elicited strong reactions from the Sewanee audience.
Attendees were also given an opportunity to share how the debate affected their positions on various candidates. The Sewanee polls show that 56 percent of respondents found Senator Elizabeth Warren provided the best answers to the questions provided, with 40 percent also believing that Senator Warren offered the best vision for the United States. Another 30 percent of respondents preferred the vision of the United States offered by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
An important topic of discussion among Democratic candidates was how to compete with current President Donald Trump. Opinions among Sewanee community members were much more spread out on this issues. 36 percent of respondents found the best critique of President Trump coming from Mayor Buttigieg, while 22 percent believed the most effective criticism of the President came from California Senator Kamala Harris.
The debate seemed to leave Sewanee full of cautious optimism for the future. While not many in attendance at the Women’s center that evening are happy with the current political climate, it is clear that students, faculty, and community members are willing to come together to discuss and support different ideas for the state of our union.