I think there is a strong bipartisan agreement that having a presidential candidate speaking on campus for your first day of school is a great thing. With that in mind, I can say that while it was amazing having Senator Bernie Sanders (BA, 1964) return to the University of Chicago, I disagree with him on most of the issues he spoke about.
It was clear that the audience received his speech well. I was particularly glad to hear a presidential candidate on our first day of class because I unfortunately missed Paul Ryan speak last year in order to attend my own convocation.
One thing that I do appreciate about Sanders is that you know where he stands on the issues. Not surprisingly, his position on just about everything (except for, at times, gun rights, as Hillary’s surrogates point out) is as far to the left as possible. Hillary Clinton stands in sharp juxtaposition to this. Consider this example: It took her over five years to announce her opposition to the Keystone Pipeline (which she conveniently did right when all of the news coverage was focused on the Pope’s visit), despite Obama’s State Department concluding that it would create 42,100 jobs, stating that her State Department is “inclined to do so” in 2010, and the project’s overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle (including that of her husband, the president of the AFL-CIO, and Chris Matthews). Sanders, on the other hand, has at least been consistent in his opposition to it. Although I believe both of them to be wrong here, there is a noticeable difference in that at least Sanders says what he thinks, whereas Clinton poll tests all of her policies.
One issue that I wish the Senator had addressed was school choice. He correctly cited the abysmal levels of youth unemployment that are devastating communities throughout our country but failed to support one of the programs that has managed to unite Senator Ted Cruz with his Democratic counterpart, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. What better way to turn the lives of children stuck in some of the worst school systems around than giving them an opportunity to attend schools that will lead to them succeeding down the road?
Sanders and I didn’t disagree about everything. When he was asked why he wasn’t more “progressive” on Israel, he reiterated his support for Israel’s right to safely exist, even though, as UChicago’s own Charles Lipson pointed out, he received scant applause from the audience.
Although I am more to the right on Israel than Sanders, he did get into a shouting match with some of his constituents in Vermont, where they cursed Israel, and, at one point, Sanders told a member of the audience to “shut up.” Vermont is one of the most liberal states in the country, and the fact that he has no problem being his own man, at least on this issue, is heartening to me.
This instance alone should be proof to anyone that although there is a lot that divides Republicans and Democrats, there are some issues on which we see eye to eye. As an example, Sanders worked with John McCain to pass a sweeping Veterans Affairs reform bill a few months ago.
In the same way that I thoroughly enjoyed hearing what Senator Sanders had to say, I hope that Republican presidential candidates who visit UChicago have a similarly large turnout, and maybe even fill Rockefeller Chapel. One thing that President Obama recently said that I couldn’t agree more with is that it benefits college students tremendously to hear speakers with whom they disagree, so that students can get “out of their own narrow point of view.”
The day after I heard Sanders, I went downtown with some College Republicans to listen to Governor John Kasich. I hope that when he (or any other Republican candidate) comes to visit the school that my friends on the other side of the aisle listen as well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that for those who find themselves even slightly to the right of Sanders, College Republicans meets every Thursday at the IOP. Lest you think you’re alone, we had seventy people at our first meeting. Respectful discourse is critical to a democracy, and no one on this campus (or anywhere else) should feel like their opinions shouldn’t be heard by those who disagree with them.
After all, that’s why I went to see Bernie Sanders in the first place.
The image featured in this article was taken by Michael Vadon. The original image can be found here.