Editorial: Democratic primary debate could provide key opportunity to engage students
Oct. 30, 2019 11:11 p.m.
This post was updated Oct. 30 at 11:24 p.m.
The center of the U.S. political world is coming to a UCLA stage.
And PBS, Politico and UCLA have an important role to play.
The list of candidates will be short, making this set the smallest debate in the Democratic presidential primary thus far. Polling and donor restrictions will narrow the list of debate qualifiers from the 12 that took the stage on Oct. 15. Only three candidates have met both the polling and donor qualifications.
Despite having the smallest group of Democratic candidates debating to date, the event will not necessarily feature prompts relevant to the population it will be surrounded by.
When these candidates convene in Royce Hall on Dec. 19, students need to be involved. As nonprofit reporting entities, PBS and Politico are sure to make the onstage discourse applicable to the topics most concerning the American people – but that’s no guarantee those topics will relate to the college demographic. And that doesn’t just mean raffling off tickets or thanking the UCLA community – it means saving a seat at the table for students, both literally and in terms of the content discussed.
Besides, this debate could’ve been held anywhere in Los Angeles.
While topics relevant to college students shouldn’t be the sole focus of December’s debate, the fact that it’s being held on a college campus known to have so many politically charged students means they should somehow be considered at least.
A large portion of the responsibility falls on UCLA and more specifically the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The debate is running as part of the UCLA Luskin Lecture Series, which has the specific goal of better enhancing “public discourse on topics relevant to the betterment of society.”
It is crucial – with limited candidates on the stage and voting on the horizon – that PBS and Politico direct the candidates to issues that American voters care about. More importantly, for this debate, these organizations must direct their questioning with the perspectives of college students in mind.
And while the Luskin School of Public Affairs has some sway over those proceedings, its larger responsibility falls on engaging a sector of the American people.
Debates on both sides of the aisle have been hosted at college campuses, even harkening back to when UCLA hosted the 1988 presidential debate between then-Vice President George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. Earlier this year, a Democratic debate was held at Texas Southern University, and this opportunity was often used to highlight the experiences of black citizens and college students, and their importance in the Democratic electorate.
Now, UCLA must make sure this debate does the same for the needs of its own community of students.
The main ticketing to the event will be handled by the Democratic National Committee, but the Luskin School of Public Affairs has the responsibility of distributing remaining tickets to alumni, staff and, most importantly, students. And it must help these students have a seat in the debate hall, as well as have a hand in bringing their concerns to the stage for the candidates.
Politico and PBS have an obligation to Democratic voters to run an engaging and informative debate, and UCLA needs to do right by its students.
After all, America will be watching – and its students should be too.