Campus Crossfire debate highlights political differences between WU students

Em McPhie | Senior News Editor

The 2020 Campus Crossfire debate featured a fast-paced discussion with few areas of overlap between representatives from the College Democrats and College Republicans.

The debate took place in person, with all participants wearing masks. Moderator Guillermo Rosas, a political science professor, asked a variety of questions about topics such as the pandemic, economic policy and climate change.

Coming just days after a student protest calling for the abolition of the Washington University Police Department, one of the questions posed at the debate was about the movement to defund the police.

“Right now, policing in America is the second greatest source of local expenditures across the United States, only after education: $176 billion spent every single year,” said sophomore Ranen Miao, a representative for the College Democrats. “What should we be diverting that money towards? Mental health resources for our communities, the $20 billion to solve homelessness across the U.S., feeding people who are hungry, investing in community resources.”

Curran Neenan | Student Life

After taking a moment to honor the victims of police brutality, Miao discussed policing’s racist history and argued that the existing system of policing is problematic because of the racist laws that police uphold and disproportionately enforce on communities of color.

Senior Jacob Ramer of the College Republicans disagreed, calling the idea of defunding the police based on its history an “insane response.”

“The fact is, these aren’t racist laws, these aren’t extreme laws…[The Democrats] don’t want drug crimes being enforced, they don’t want murder crimes being enforced, they don’t actually want safety on our streets,” he said.

College Republicans representative sophomore Molly McNamara said that police departments should actually be given more funding “so they can have diversity training [and] so they can have nonviolent interactions training.”

Curran Neenan | Student Life

Citing recent examples of fully trained police officers responding to mental health calls with brutally fatal force, Democrat junior Philip Keisler emphasized the importance of finding solutions that actually work.

“We need a system of safety in this country to prioritize mental health [and] poverty prevention, and not putting all our eggs in the police basket and saying, ‘People with guns should handle every single crisis,’” Keisler said.

One of the main topics of the debate was the United States federal COVID-19 response, with the Democrats condemning and the Republicans praising it.

“Dr. Birx said in March that 200,000 lives would be lost if this situation was handled perfectly,” McNamara said. “Now we just approached that number not too long ago, so we are on the right track.”

McNamara was referring to Birx’s March 30 prediction of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities. The current United States death toll has since climbed to more than 225,000, and the country’s average daily deaths have remained roughly constant for the past two months—higher than they were back in late June.

“We are in the midst of a third wave, and that is because the federal government has not been competent in its response,” Miao said. “The fact that we are prioritizing the economy over human life represents moral bankruptcy in this country.”

When asked if she supported stimulus checks being sent to every American family, McNamara said yes, claiming that Democrats were the ones who voted against a recent proposal to accomplish that.

Keisler pointed out that the $500 billion relief package proposed by Senate Republicans did not in fact include funding for stimulus checks, noting that the proposal paled in comparison to the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion version, or even the White House’s suggestion of $1.8 trillion.

“These stimulus checks are not meant to be a long-term solution,” McNamara said. “We have to open the economy, or our government will fail.”

Another point of contention during the COVID portion of the debate surrounded the topic of masks, with Keisler citing proposals from Sen. Bernie Sanders and the United States Postal Service to send masks to families across the country, free of charge.

“There’s no reason that families need to be provided [with] masks,” McNamara said. “You can make them with a bandana, you can make them with a bunch of different things—an old t-shirt can make a mask. That’s what’s been so great about our innovation in this country.”

Miao noted that bandanas are shown to be insufficiently effective in preventing the spread of COVID. Bandanas do not satisfy the University’s mask policy.

Ramer argued in favor of the government allowing people to return to their pre-pandemic routines and allowing children to return to schools.

“This is very important, and there are ways to do this safely—encouraging masks, encouraging high vigilance and especially focusing on developing a vaccine, which Democrats have not really pushed on,” he said.

Keisler called the idea that the United States must either fully open its economy or go into a permanent lockdown a false dichotomy.

“What we need to do is a reopening over time that’s based on science, not on fears of the stock market, and we can do that,” Keisler said. “Unfortunately, what’s happening is a lot of governors, encouraged by this president, are just trying to ram through openings just because it’ll look good for their stock prices.”

As the conversation shifted to the economy, Ramer argued that increasing the minimum wage would hurt small businesses who couldn’t afford to pay workers higher rates. Miao replied that historically, a high minimum wage in the United States has been associated with a low unemployment rate, due to the increased spending of working class individuals.

“Nowhere in America is $7.25 sufficient,” Miao said. “Between 2009 and 2020, the minimum wage went from $7.25 to $7.25. The wealth of the top 0.001% in this country went up from $1.2 trillion to $3 trillion. Our working class people today…deserve a living wage.”

“[Issues of wealth inequality] are definitely worrying concerns in the sense that we really want the best for all Americans,” Ramer said. “I think the major goal of any administration should be, ‘How can we improve the lives of middle/lower class Americans,’ not necessarily ‘How do we bring down those who have succeeded?’”

McNamara highlighted the renegotiated NAFTA treaty (now known as USMCA), calling it one of the highlights of the Trump administration and saying that it allowed companies to be globally competitive and pay their employees good wages.

“One in seven children in this country go to bed hungry,” Miao said. “There are millions of people in our streets who are currently homeless, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development says these are not problems that we just cannot overcome. The cost of ending homelessness in the US is $20 billion—that is one tenth of Jeff Bezos’ wealth. The fact that one man is able to have all of that wealth, while millions of people continue to suffer, is absolutely morally obscene.”

To combat this inequity, Miao voiced his support for instituting a wealth tax and also increasing taxes for corporations, implementing sanctions should they try to escape taxes by moving operations overseas.

Ramer agreed that American companies should stay in the United States, but argued that they should be incentivized to stay rather than punished for leaving.

The environment was also discussed, with heated exchanges over the Paris Climate Agreement, clean energy and housing regulations.

“I’d like to point out the considerable hyperbole coming from the Democratic side…This is not the end of the world we’re talking about,” Ramer said. “This is a serious problem that we need to address, we absolutely agree, but to describe it as killing Indigenous communities, killing Black communities [and] destroying our country is kind of insane.”

Miao highlighted several areas where the environment intersected with racial justice, such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines plowing through Indigenous communities, the fact that Black children are four times as likely to develop asthma as white children and the unsafe water in Flint, Mich., among other cities.

On the issue of healthcare, Keisler spoke emphatically in favor of Medicare for All, framing the fundamental right to life to include the right to not be killed by easily preventable diseases.

“Unfortunately in the United States, we have 45,000 Americans die every year from lack of healthcare,” he said. “We have a $81 billion in medical debt in this country. Those are disgusting figures that speak to the brutality of our current healthcare system.”

Miao highlighted disparities in healthcare costs, pointing to the $10,000 price tag of giving birth in the United States as compared to other countries where it would be fully covered.

McNamara agreed that healthcare should be considered a right, but argued that everyone in the United States already had it, saying that if someone went into an emergency room they would not be left to die.

“When Ranen talks about a doctor seeing you as a customer, this also makes them more likely to innovate and more likely to treat you with the best care,” she said. “If they’re not actually profiting from good results, they’re not actually going to care if they get good results.”

Despite additional heated exchanges about the Paris Climate Agreement, clean energy and the housing industry, students from both sides thanked the others for participating in the conversation.

“Today was really fun for me, as I appreciate engaging with those who hold different opinions from me whenever I can,” McNamara told Student Life.

Keisler expressed a similar sentiment, saying that he was grateful for the opportunity to engage with students about important policies.

“I hope everyone votes, but also continues to engage in the activism necessary to put these policies into place,” he said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article included a quote that said the United States medical debt was $1 billion. We have corrected it to include the correct figure.

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