(Almost) Everybody Loves Bernie: A Few Things You Already Knew About the Political Climate at Smith

Emily Kowalik '18Assistant Copy Editor

As the semester races by, it seems as though everyone has their eyes on the 2016 presidential race.

As Stephanie Capsuto ’18 said, and many others echoed, “Smith is a very liberal place.” It should be no surprise, therefore, that most Smith students  said they would support whoever is nominated to run on the Democratic ticket, whether that is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Smith students, like Millennials across the country, are keeping an eye on what the Panetta Institute of Public Policy and the Pew Research Center regard  the four major policy areas of 2016: “Independence from the Washington establishment, support for climate change mitigation policies, job creation and student debt reform.”

Many find that Sanders sides with them on these issues. Breanna Lynch, a graduate student at Smith, said that he has a “great record” and that “all of [her] political beliefs are reflected in him.” Capsuto said that she believes “he wants what is best for the general public.”

“I really appreciate the way he’s running his campaign. It’s like a movement,” said Lydia Ross ’17.  Ross said she especially appreciates the way Sanders has been funding in small amounts from many donors as opposed to be being backed by a few wealthy donors, Super PACs or large corporations.

The source of campaign funding marks one big difference between Clinton’s and Sanders’s campaigns. According to the Washington Post, “Both [candidates] now rail against big money in politics and the power of super PACs, but [Clinton] has a super PAC helping her candidacy. [Sanders] said he doesn’t and never will.”

Many Smith students have pointed toward Sanders’s voting record as a Senator as another reason for his popularity. The Iraq War use-of-force resolution, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Keystone XL oil pipeline were amongst the agendas that Sanders opposed from the outset.

Clinton, on the other hand, has been more hesitant. She was, at first, in support of the Iraq War resolution and the TPP trade deal, but changed her stance when the Democratic Party moved to the left, and has only recently declared her opposition to the pipeline.

As the Washington Post wrote, “[Sanders] has been a man of conviction, prepared to upend the system; [Clinton] is too often a political weather vane, too cautious and catering to the political establishment.”

At a left-leaning campus like Smith, some more conservative opinions appear to be swept under the rug.  According to Capsuto, “Smith is a very liberal place. However, it can be hostile toward Republicans.”

Theresa Meyer ’17 and Sarena Shafner ’17, both members of the Smith Republicans, felt comfortable expressing their support for a non-Democratic candidate, in their case, Marco Rubio.

Meyer said she supports Rubio based on his voting record, youth, good reputation and his opinions on foreign relations and the economy. She said that the Republicans would benefit from “making the playing field calmer” and having campaign debates in a style less “gladiatorial” than it currently is.

Both Meyer and Shafner mentioned Clinton’s involvement in “corruption and scandals” and Sanders’s lack of understanding concerning the “American climate” as reasons why they do not support the two Democratic forerunners.

Meyer and Shafner also voiced concerns about the lack of bipartisanship on campus.

“Smith is very liberal; I’m not saying it shouldn’t be. The issue is when other opinions aren’t even listened to,” said Meyer, adding that some students may hide their views due to fear of reproach from other students on campus.

Meyer and other Smith students have addressed this problem through the creation of the Smith Bipartisan Coalition, which aims to create a safe environment for positive political debate. Meyer said that it is important to “allow space for dialogue … on hot political issues.”

There’s still a lot of time before Americans go to the polls and elect their next president. Until then, we’ll have to wait and see how the political conversation develops on campus.