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Middle ground traversed in Dean-Jordan debate

Photo By: Julia Guerrein/The Behrend Beacon


Sydney Shadeck, Staff Writer

Behrend had the opportunity to host Howard Dean, a former Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair, and Elise Jordan, a MSNBC and NBC political analyst and Time contributing writer, in a political debate following the midterm elections of early November. Ferki Ferati, President of the Jefferson Educational Society, which organized the debate and others across the area, gave a welcome on behalf of the Society before Behrend’s Chancellor, Dr. Ford, went on to stress the importance and quality of campus events such as the debate, noting the value of rational discourse in society today. Ford introduced the speakers before moderator Steve Scully took to questioning the pair.

The evening began with Scully asking each participant what their respective parties stood for. Jordan claimed that although she was representing the right in the debate, she had strayed from the Republican party and criticized the values it now shows, feeling that there has been a “hostile takeover,” referring to the party as the “cult of personalities of Donald Trump,” a party largely comprised of representatives who are losing sight of what should be stood for.

Dean followed by saying the Democratic party is also “changing dramatically,” putting emphasis on the huge importance of young people in politics. He cited human rights, diversity, immigration, gay rights, and fiscal practicality to be the most important issues for the future of the democratic party.

When the conversation shifted to focus on the recent appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Jordan said that the nation is lucky Trump chose Kavanaugh, who was a mentor to Jordan in previous years, because although contentious, he became “the symbol of women’s rights and oppression” during the “incredibly mishandled” sexual assault hearing. Despite this, she does indeed believe Kavanaugh deserves a seat on the Court.

Contrary to this, Dean states the seat was undeserved but not due to the sexual allegations Kavanaugh faced from Dr. Ford. Dean was instead troubled by the speedy process of the appointment itself. “We have to respect the process and a respect for the court. We need a court that is well respected,” which the confirmation was not conducive for according to Dean.

Both participants agreed that the issue of national debt is frustrating, complex, and wrongly handled. The tax cuts put forth by the current administration, although both Jordan and Dean supported them to some extent, were irresponsible. Jordan states the cuts “unfairly targeted blue states … and our laws should not be set up to punish any part of the country based on political affiliation.”

Dean adds, “Congress rewarded those people that did not need rewarded,” with the tax cuts. He would prefer to see that money put into schools, roads and factories in rural America instead of back in the pockets of the wealthy.

Scully next posed the issue of healthcare. Dean, a former physician, called for a complete change in the healthcare system, hoping for the nation to invent a new American system, namely a pay-by-patient instead of pay-by-service system so as to redirect incentives and decrease costs for the patients. Jordan said she would be willing to test Dean’s proposed system, claiming that “something dramatic has to happen” as what is now in place is “unsustainable.”

The cost of college tuition was agreed to be far too high and unmanageable for most aspiring students. Jordan, however, was not in favor of free tuition. She instead advocated for an increased push for vocational or trade schools and to proactively prepare students when it comes to student debt. Dean acknowledged the complexity of the argument, but made clear the importance when he ventured to say that it may be the next major national crisis point. He supported the idea of making some tuition, such as that at a community college, free while an overall reform is made.

In regard to foreign aid, neither participant was clear on how to best tackle the costly spending the nation faces now. Jordan recognized that Trump used this high-spending scare on his campaign trail and admits that the president is not wrong, but that the nation needs be very careful when handling foreign policy in tandem with national interest. “It’s not a black or white answer,” said Jordan when asked for a decisive ‘cut’ or ‘keep.’

Dean argued that the budget should not be cut but re-done to make spending more efficient and moral, stating that the nation must stand up for human rights as well as it is able.

The generally highly controversial issue of gun control, like most other topics, went over relatively smoothly between the debaters. Mississippi native Jordan spoke of growing up in home with a large number of guns and her continued support of gun ownership and second amendment rights but was adamant that “we could really use some common sense.” She called for safe gun storage laws and increased regulations to save hundreds of lives. “This is the greatest public health catastrophe and tragedy of our time … It’s not about more guns, it’s about properly storing, handling, and quite frankly regulating who gets to own guns.” Jordan found attendees of her focus groups in south following Parkland shooting to be very open to changing laws. She made clear that responsible gun owners should be able to protect themselves but there needs to be a change in the system to accommodate the mass shootings seen nationwide.

Democratic representative Dean agreed; he also supports Second Amendment Rights and calls for large changes, seconding the idea of gun locker laws. He denounced the National Rifle Association, claiming “they have become a far-right fundraising institution,” going as far as to speculate a between the NRA and Russia.

With immigration and diversity at the forefront of Democratic agenda, Dean declares that these are issues that are not going to go away.  “There is going to have to be a big solution … we have to think very seriously about how to help these countries run themselves better” through coaching and aiding in ways that are not detrimental to this nation. Jordan was of a similar belief, stating that immigration reform should have happened long ago, but fierce conservative opposition held it back.

Scully probed for Jordan’s opinion on whether the freedom of the press is in jeopardy, to which she responded: “I am very uncomfortable with Trump’s rhetoric … and how he is brandishing the press as the enemy of the people. I do think it’s a political strategy … and media personalities need to avoid falling into Donald Trump’s trap.”

For his last formal question, Scully asked the two how they are able to work with the opposite political parties.

“The key to this is respect. We need people who aren’t afraid to say no to their leader -- to follow their conscience,” said Dean. He said there are not enough people who follow what they believe is right, regardless of party affiliations. “Thank God for the First Amendment,” he ended.

“I think that’s the easiest question you’ve asked all night,” said Jordan. “Just listen. Be a human being. Be a decent person. Try to figure out what they can live with, what you can live with. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”

In closing remarks, both commented on the importance of civic involvement, specifically on local levels. Dean reminded the audience that it is the job of citizens to make changes happen. The debate was entirely civil, filled with more agreements than disagreements and handling the latter with grace and poise. Both sides stressed the danger of polarization of the nation and the imminent need to find a middle ground, displaying a wonderful example of how to do so.