Discussions of Democracy
Students from the Brandeis Conservatives and the Brandeis Democrats spoke on political issues from the 2016 election
As the 2016 Presidential elections approach, politics are at the forefront of many people’s minds. Brandeis is no different: on Wednesday evening, students crowded the Schwartz auditorium to observe a moderated public debate between representatives from the Brandeis Conservatives and Brandeis Democrats clubs. Prof. Daniel Breen (LGLS) moderated the event titled which was titled “You Be the Judge: A Debate on the Issues of the 2016 Presidential Race” and was hosted by the Politics department.
The debate was designed with a focus on key issues in the 2016 presidential primary. As such, the participating organizations decided which topics would be discussed prior to the debate and prepared through relevant research.
The president of Brandeis Conservatives, Dor Cohen ’16, came up with the idea for the event and arranged preparation between the campus Conservatives and Democrats. He said in an interview with the Justice that the debate was intended to “be informative” and to allow students to “hear about both sides.”
The debaters included Ben Feshbach ’19 and Catherine Rosch ’16 representing the Brandeis Democrats and Matthew Cooper ’17 and Mark Gimelstein ’17 representing the Brandeis Conservatives.
Topics for the evening included interpreting taxation, raising the minimum wage, addressing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and accepting Syrian refugees. National attention has been given to Flint recently because of a water contamination problem due to high concentrations of lead.
On taxation, the Democrats discussed reducing economic inequality and risky financial behavior through taxation. The Democrats also deliberated on notions of creating a fair market through social services, like education. They also spoke on the benefits of organizations like Planned Parenthood, which, though not entirely government funded, they felt were of benefit to the public.
In response, the Conservatives proposed a thought experiment of an apple picker having their apples taken from them. They challenged the incentive structure in place when the fruits of your labor are not your own.
The debaters also considered the ability of the very rich to hide vast sums of money in offshore accounts to avoid taxes. They felt this was ineffectual regarding the tax collection their liberal counterparts proposed.
The Conservative debaters, Cooper and Gimelstein, finished their speeches by pointing out the immense government revenue that was generated following the Bush and Reagan tax cuts.
To prove equal economic opportunity exists in America, they provided examples of economic data which lent itself to a understanding the fluidity of individual economic standing.
The minimum wage was also a major focus of the debate. The Conservatives’ opening stance that employees and employers should come to an agreement regarding fair compensation was met with heated opposition from the Democrats. With this in mind, the Conservatives provided examples of how regions with higher minimum wages often have fewer available jobs.
In response, the Democrats cited a Supreme Court ruling that indicates that the relationship between workers and their corporate employers exists with an inherent imbalance of power, countering the Conservatives’ desire to relinquish decision-making to the free market. Moreover, the Democrats argued that there is a stagnation in overall unemployment between counties and regions with varying minimum wages.
The next focus of the debate was the recent water contamination problems in Flint. The Democrats contended that the water crisis was preventable and racially driven. They cited the disproportionate harms experienced by racial minority groups during this crisis as an example of how the crisis may have been racially motivated.
On the other hand, the Conservatives presented this crisis as a function of systematic mismanagement of resources by elected Democrats in Flint. They suggested that no purposeful racial bias had influenced the decision to use water from the Flint river.
Their liberal counterparts protested that Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, had not done anything to help the largely black Flint community. Ultimately, the Conservatives responded by noting Environmental Protection Agency negligence in white communities located in Colorado, as a way of proving this situation was not unique.
The last topic of debate, which focused on the Syrian refugee crisis, tied arguments to personal narratives, as some of the debaters discussed family histories of immigration to America.
The Conservatives focused their arguments on security concerns and the necessity of prioritizing the wellbeing of American citizens. They cited evidence, such as a statement from the head of the FBI that addressed the inability of the United States government to adequately vet potential refugees, as well as the likelihood of anti-American sentiment among these individuals. In contrast, the Democrats identified the existence of eight organizations which currently vet refugees and argued there is miniscule chance of terrorists seeking to disguise themselves as refugees.
Breen concluded the debate and asked both sides a question to answer, “Why should we have a conservative/liberal future?”
The Brandeis Conservatives attested that belief in the individual would lead to success. The Brandeis Democrats stated that a liberal future would focus on equality of opportunity. Arguments like these deviated from those of leading presidential candidates vying for party nomination in both rhetoric and presentation.
After the event, Breen spoke to the Justice about his experience moderating, “I felt as if things were occurring to me as they were talking that maybe I hadn’t thought of before, so it was actually something that kept me on my toes. I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Given the liberal tendencies of many university campuses, Brandeis included, and the controversial aspects of many of the topics discussed, Breen told the Justice he feels, “It’s important to sharpen the differences between the two points of view [because] very often, we’re lost in verbiage.”
Moreover, Cohen, who spoke with the Justice, explained that he wanted to have the debate “both to be informative for the students to either hear about the issues if they haven’t done so before — especially the conservative side which they don’t hear that often on campus — and just for fun so that the two groups themselves could tackle the issues and their differences.”
As such, it would seem the moderator’s questions hold even more weight. Breen often asked questions which clarified or complicated the statements which had just been made by the debaters.
Both Breen and Cohen described the event as a success. Cohen told the Justice “the turnout was high” and “we hope to turn this debate into a series of events through which Brandeis students can be more informed and get more involved in the political process.”
Editor’s Note: Catherine Rosch is an Associate Editor for the Justice and a columnist for the Justice’s Forum secion and Ben Feshbach, Dor Cohen and Mark Gimelstein are columnists for the Justice’s Forum section.