Over 60 people gathered Wednesday in Griffin Hall for a debate that found students, faculty and local residents arguing the merits of Democratic presidential candidates Bill Bradley and Al Gore. The debate was sponsored by Ephs for Bill Bradley, the Williams Democrats, the Williams Voter Information Club and the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee.
Each candidate was represented by a student from the College and a member of the Williamstown community. Representing Vice President Gore were John Wiedower ’00, a political science and philosophy major, and professor of political science George Marcus. Representing Senator Bradley were history major Michael Hacker ’00 and attorney Sherwood Guernsey, a former Peace Corps member who has taken a leading role in the Williamstown Democratic Town Committee.
The Bradley representatives began the debate, with Hacker opening. He acknowledged Gore’s service to his country but questioned his fitness for the presidency, citing a lack of vision, tenacity and goal-oriented attitude as the vice president’s major drawbacks.
“Gore is blind to the needs of those left behind in this era of prosperity,” Hacker said, before calling Gore “a Washington politician, with all the attached stigmas.” According to Hacker, the vice president has shown himself more interested in politics and minutiae than in the American people as a whole, which would make him an inadequate president.
Hacker then underlined what he felt were Bill Bradley’s unique strengths: character and conviction. By exiting the Senate and touring the nation, Hacker said, Bradley has been “walking the walk” and has shown character and the ability to make hard decisions and stick to his convictions.
Following Hacker’s speech, Wiedower opened his remarks by praising Gore’s pragmatism and his ability to plan realistically. Wiedower brought up the two candidates’ health care plans as examples, lauding Gore’s “reasonable plan” while assailing Bradley’s as a “pipe dream” that could never pass the Republican Congress and might harm senior citizens.
Another fault of Bradley’s, Wiedower said, is that in pursuit of his lofty goals he often focuses on only a few issues which capture his interest. Gore, on the other hand, has had a history of covering a wide variety of issues. Wiedower claimed that as president, Gore would pursue a larger number of issues than Bradley.
After Wiedower’s opening speech, the floor was then given back to the Bradley side, with Guernsey speaking for the Senator. He opened by asking: What is this campaign about? This, he said, was essential to understand before proceeding further. The campaign is not, he argued, about individual issues, on which the two candidates have staked similar ground. Guernsey proposed a different measuring stick: “What are the qualities of leadership that these two candidates bring to the campaign?” The difference, he said, lies in ideals and scope of vision.
“Bradley embodies big ideas, vision,” said Guernsey, whereas Gore favors minimalism and small, gradual ideas. As the leader of our country we do not want a man who is afraid to push for his ideals and instead plays it safe for small rewards, Guernsey said.
Guernsey attacked Gore’s record of support for gun control and abortion rights, both of which have been key points of the campaign. He continued by stating the Bradley has consistently maintained his liberal position on the two issues, “100 percent.”
Next, Marcus spoke on behalf of Gore. To complement his partner’s speech, Marcus chose not to focus on specific points of Gore’s platform and instead highlighted the nation’s response to the vice president’s campaign. He claimed that, while support for Bradley has waned, Gore has emerged as a dynamic candidate, ahead in the polls due to his experience and the confidence that the public has in his agenda. The Democrats have decided who they want to represent them, said Marcus, and it is Gore. Now, Marcus said, it is time to recognize who the true leader is, and who has the support of the people.
Hacker gave the rebuttal for the Bradley team. He analyzed Bradley’s narrower scale of issue interests as a strength, rather than a weakness. By focusing his attention on a few issues, Hacker said, Bradley accomplishes his most important goals, while Gore’s across-the-board approach lacks drive or conviction. “It’s the difference between something and nothing,” Hacker said.
According to Hacker, Gore flip-flops on key issues; he has no firm set of beliefs. Bradley, however, has a clear set of beliefs and he is willing to fight to get his goals accomplished. In conclusion, Hacker said, the Democratic Party may have picked Gore, but the choice is still up to the American people.
Wiedower then presented his rebuttal, asserting that Gore has proven throughout his career that he is able to manage affairs with responsibility. He cited the Clinton-Gore administration’s economic and legislative policies as proof, and applauded Gore’s opposition of Reagan’s “disastrous” health care cut (a bill Bradley supported). “He’s been there,” said Wiedower, in support of fiscal responsibility. Wiedower further accused Bradley of following the party line on too many important issues.
Following a series of 30-second rebuttals from the audience, questions were posed to the different teams from the audience. One audience member asked about campaign finance and health care, and each candidate’s approach to the subjects. Guernsey said that Bradley assures health care access to all children and adults, a solution that will help millions of Americans right now, as opposed to Gore’s gradual approach, which will help only a small portion of people over a period of years. Guernsey continued by claiming that Bradley wants to use the budget surplus to provide health care to all Americans, not cut taxes and then scrounge for money.
Wiedower’s response to this was to point out that Gore has in fact extended his health care plan, and will use one-sixth of the surplus to provide health care to all seniors. Bradley’s universal health care plan is admirable, he said, but it simply will not pass Congress. The sensible course of action is to support a more modest but realistic plan that will get the job done.
Guernsey responded by insisting that vision was needed in this case instead of minimalism and modesty. “If you don’t believe in something, it just won’t happen,” he said. Wiedower responded that Gore’s plan simply has a better chance of passing and accomplishing what it was designed to do.
As the debate drew to a close, the audience was called upon for an open vote to indicate which of the two candidates they planned to support. Of those who voted, 22 cast their vote for Bradley while 32 voted for Gore. The Williamstown Democratic Town Committee provided voter registration forms for all guests, encouraging everyone to vote in the presidential election of 2000.