Second Presidential Debate Provides Open Forum for Student Discussion

Evan Taylor

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The Politics Department held a screening of the second presidential debate followed by a town hall discussion last Tuesday, Oct. 16 in Maxey Auditorium. Present at the discussion, moderated by Assistant Professor of Politics Susanne Beechey, were Whitman students and professors and Walla Walla residents.

“It was useful,” said Chandler Briggs, a Walla Walla resident. “The comments everyone made were intelligent and worth hearing and discussing.”

Students and community members watched the second presidential debate in Maxey on Tuesday. Photos by Marie von Hafften.

Briggs heard about David Brooks speaking last Monday, Oct. 15, on an advertisement on the Northwest Public Radio. He then heard about the debate screening and discussion the following night, and decided to attend.

The meeting was a chance for the perspective of the community to be heard concerning this presidential debate between candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. This town-hall-style debate concerned domestic and foreign policy, and sparked animated responses from participants during the subsequent discussion.

“I thought it was an exciting and lively discussion,” said Beechey. “People brought up a number of strong points about the content of the debate and raised some questions about important issues that we haven’t heard in the debates yet.”

Indeed, members of the discussion were discontented that issues such as women’s issues, gun control and gay marriage were not surfaced in the debates.

Even though the town hall discussion was occupied by a majority of Obama supporters, the discourse remained relatively unbiased and open.

“My intention was to steer the conversation into a broader conversation than simply having people engage in partisan politics,” said Beechey. “One of the unfortunate things is that we actually don’t have a lot of conversations across party lines in elections. A lot of times when we are engaging in discussion around the elections, we frame our comments in a way where we’re talking to people who agree with us, rather than really being open to engaging with people who might think differently.”

President Barak Obama and Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney discussed a variety of domestic issues during the second of three presidential debates on Tuesday.

The Whitman community is made up of a majority of liberal students, which can leave out the opportunity to have good debates between the parties.

“I did not hear anyone voice support for Romney,” said sophomore Woody Jacobson. “You could imply from many of the comments that were said that they were Obama supporters. I think it would have been more interesting to have a variety of viewpoints on what happened at the debates instead of a lot of critiques of Romney’s ideas and a lot of supportive comments for Obama. I would have loved to engage a little more in that way between the two opposing sides.”

It was clear during the screening of the debate toward which political party Whitman students lean. When Romney spoke, there seemed to be a more satirical air amongst the audience; students would laugh at certain phrases and arguments from Romney.

“It was a little too loud for me,” said Briggs. “I had a lot of things I couldn’t hear because people were laughing and heckling a little more than I would have liked.”

However, during Obama’s time speaking, a more serious atmosphere spread which was significantly quieter and more attentive.

“I thought it was a good idea to have this kind of streaming of the debate and let everybody watch it as a group and dissect it afterwards,” said Bill Richards, a resident of Seattle visiting friends in Walla Walla.

After the live viewing of the debate, attendees shared their reactions.

A group of students from Beechey’s Introduction to U.S. Politics course gave presentations before the debate, while a different group from the same class presented before the final presidential debate this past Monday, Oct. 22. The group put forward issues they thought to be important in the presidential election, whether or not they were recognized or discussed.

“It’s an opportunity for students to talk about some issues that, in some cases, are not getting a lot of visibility,” said Beechey. “It’s an opportunity for them to infuse a little more campus perspective [and] discussion on the debate.”

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