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Congressional candidates debate gun policy at forum

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On Monday, April 30, Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy held a forum at the college for candidates running in the 5th congressional district primaries on May 15th. The forum, which lasted about two and a half hours, was held to allow constituents to hear the candidates’ positions on topics such as gun lobbying, gun laws, and gun ownership.

There are currently eleven candidates running in the upcoming representative primary on May 15. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in January that the old congressional map, created under the 2011 Pennsylvania Redistricting Act, was excessively gerrymandered. The Court released a new, non-partisan map on February 19. Delaware County, in which Swarthmore is located, was previously split between the 1st and 7th congressional districts but now lies in the 5th congressional district, according to the new map issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The incumbent representative for the 5th district is Republican Patrick Meehan, who announced that he would not seek reelection after the New York Times revealed that Meehan had paid out a sexual harassment settlement to a former staffer. Currently, ten candidates are running in the Democratic primary while Pearl Kim is running unopposed in the Republican primary. With the new congressional map, it is likely that Democrats will capture the 5th district seat in the November general election.

Candidates present at the forum were Mary Gay Scanlon, Lindy Li, Ashley Lunkenheimer, State Representative Margo Davidson, Rich Lazer, Mayor of Chester Thaddeus Kirkland, Molly Sheehan, Larry Arata, and State Representative Greg Vitali. Democratic candidate Theresa Wright and Republican candidate Pearl Kim did not attend. The forum was moderated by Reverend Peter Fredrichs and there were four forum panelists: John Linder, Movita Johnson-Harrell, Kiera Caldwell, and Swarthmore Professor of Political Science Tyrene White.

Over the course of the forum, nine questions were posed to the candidates regarding the influence of the NRA and gun lobbyists, gun violence, illegal gun sales, and gun suicide as a public health epidemic. Other questions included how candidates would approach bipartisanship, and what policies candidates would support in order to decrease the number of mass shootings.

During the forum, each candidate emphasized their strengths and areas of expertise.

Molly Sheehan, a postdoctoral fellow at UPenn repeatedly spoke about her determination in overturning Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that allows corporations to spend ‘soft money’ on political campaigns.

“When we talk about gun violence, we have to address corporate welfare and gun manufacturer lobbying,” Sheehan said. “If you elect me, I will fight not only to overturn Citizens United so that the type of power that the NRA has will be obsolete but also full public campaign financing so that every person has the same power over their elected officials”

Mary Gay Scanlon, an attorney and former Wallingford-Swarthmore school board president, spoke about her past experience with bipartisanship.

“We had a couple of Tea Party members on our school board and we had to work with folks to get things done. It’s about finding common points of interest,” Scanlon said. “My father and grandfathers were hunters and it wasn’t just they’re sons that they passed down those traditions to. I think that that experience with people who have handled guns gives me a point of intersection to speak with folks.”

Larry Arata also shared how his experience as a public school teacher affected his views on guns.

“I worked twenty years in software sales and took a pay cut to be a teacher,” Arata said. “I’ve had two of my students shot and this is something that I’ve seen upfront.”

The Delaware County Democratic Party has not endorsed a candidate in the primary. The Swarthmore College Democrats announced on April 26th that they would be backing Mary Gay Scanlon.

Cassandra Stone ’20, a Deputy Field Director for Scanlon, thought that the forum was a good opportunity to hear the positions of all of the candidates despite being set on who she would vote for.

“I think this forum definitely made me respect some candidates more––and others, less,” Stone wrote in an email to the Phoenix (the thoughts expressed are her own and not on behalf of the campaign). “I also found that many of the candidates got off topic from the specific question at hand and started talking too generally about gun policy or super PACs.”

While the forum was focused on gun policy, many candidates also discussed the large influence of money in politics and on campaign funding.

Arata took aim at former federal prosecutor Ashley Lunkenheimer because her campaign is backed by a super PAC. Lunkenheimer revealed to philly.com that her mother is a major funder of the super PAC, which is called Progress in PA-05.

“One person shouldn’t have control over millions of dollars and have the ability to contribute unlimited amounts to one candidate,” Arata said. “The person that has the wealthiest family and is able to set up a super-PAC to fund their daughter’s campaign should not have the greatest influence.”

Though the focus of the forum strayed occasionally, constituents were given an opportunity to hear candidates’ thoughts on guns and to learn more about the candidates’ platforms in a crowded race.

Pa. gerrymandering ruling moves college into competitive 7th district

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new congressional map on February 19th. The map was a remedy the Republican-majority Pa. General Assembly gerrymandering that occurred under the 2011 Pennsylvania Congressional Redistricting Act. The Supreme Court created a new non-partisan map that allows districts to follow the standards of being contiguous, compact, equal in population, and adhering to the redistricting criteria in the state constitution. Under the new map, Swarthmore is in the 7th district, whereas it was previously in the 1st district. The redistricting means that Swarthmore students now have an opportunity to make an impact in the upcoming midterm elections.

In January, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the old congressional map as unconstitutional. The court ordered the Republican-controlled legislature and Democratic Governor Wolf to negotiate a new map that overturned the 13-5 tilt to the Republicans for congressional seats in the state. The negotiated map was never created and Republicans submitted independent maps.

“The legislature didn’t hold any open hearings or [do] anything at all until two days before the deadline and at the last minute, the Republican majority leader and Speaker of the House just drew their own map and they didn’t consult other Republicans, let alone Democrats,” Ben Stern ’20, president of the Swarthmore College Democrats and deputy campaign manager for U.S. congressional candidate Mary Gay Scanlon, said. “It was basically the same map and of course Governor Wolf rejected it.”

The Republican legislators claimed that the court had over-exercised its power to favor Democrats. Some have called for impeachment of justices. Republicans have also attempted to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is so complicated because whichever way you spin it, it seems as though the map is favoring one group over the other,” Jorge Tello ’20, president of the Swarthmore Conservative Society, said. “From what I know about it, the original map was already favoring the Republicans. I see how it can look like a politically motivated act no matter how you draw the map.”

According to Justin Snyder ’21, whose family lives in Wallingford, a neighboring community to Swarthmore, the new map is more logical. He also stated that the negative reactions to the redistricting are in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

“I think that [Republicans of the congressional delegation] are just very upset that the map is going against them with the elections coming up,”  Snyder said. “I think they don’t want the maps to be different because these politicians probably would’ve had a better chance with the old map.”

According to Dylan Clairmont ’21, secretary of outreach for Swarthmore College Democrats, the redistricting created a more level playing field for local and state politics by correcting the gerrymandered districts that the Republican legislature drew after the 2010 census.

“Before redrawing the map, [Pennsylvania] used to be so skewed to the Republicans,” Clairmont said. “I think it’s better that we don’t have local politicians thinking through how they can link two populations together while excluding another group.”

“The districts here prior to the court ruling were heinously gerrymandered,” Stern said. “It was one of the worst cases of politically motivated gerrymandering in the country.”

Snyder also believes that the redistricting made a better map that not only makes things more fair, but also is more logical.

“I believe my district is a little smaller than it was before,” Snyder said. “I was in District 1 before and now I’m in District 5 which is much more of a fixed shape that actually makes sense.”

According to candidate Mary Gay Scanlon the redistricting did a good job with resolving the partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania. However, she wishes the process had been done differently.

“I’m certainly thrilled that [the redistricting] happened because the state had been badly gerrymandered to distort our electoral process,” Scanlon said. “I wish that it could have been done with the cooperation of the legislature because it is their job, but they screwed up and they didn’t take the opportunity to fix it.”

While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court drew the new map — a job normally done by state legislature — the map followed non-partisan criteria by the Pennsylvania state constitution. While the Democrats are likely to gain three new seats, the claims that the new map is now favoring Democrats are contested.

“I think it’s natural that the people that say that this is judicial overreach are Republicans,” said Stern. “Prior to the redistricting decision, 15 congressional seats are Republican while 5 are Democrat because of partisan gerrymandering. I think the prediction after the elections are 10-8 which you could say is advantageous to Democrats, but even then, Democrats still have less seats than they should have proportionally at the state level.”

The efforts to remedy the gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and negative responses to the redistricting both point to the upcoming midterm elections and the political ramifications of a new map. Swarthmore is now in the 5th District, which encompasses all of Delaware County and is now a safely Democratic district.

“I could definitely see Swat having an impact on the upcoming elections,” Tello said.

According to Clairmont, the college is an important voting group in a new district that is now more competitive amongst Democratic candidates after the redistricting.

“It’s important that students, if they can, vote here with the exception of maybe people who live in swing states since absentee ballots don’t really get counted until months afterwards,” he said. “Swat is a useful resource for candidates and we can, in turn, help pick a candidate that represents our beliefs instead of just going for a liberal Democrat.”

Swarthmore Democrats have been tabling at Sharples for several candidates, including Scanlon, to sign their petitions in order to get them on the ballot, in addition to other political activism initiatives.

According to Stern, Swarthmore College Democrats have been in the process of writing up policy platforms, especially regarding immigration, with other groups on campus to send to Democratic candidates.

“We can say that if [the candidates] don’t meet these policy asks of us, we will vote for the more progressive candidate,” Stern said.

The redistricting and ability to gain approximately 3 seats for Democrats not only increases voting power for students, but also incentivizes candidates to appeal to this demographic.

“In an election with so many candidates, [sending out a platform] can actually make a big difference because we’re now in a pretty safe Democratic district, so Democrats in this race are practically rushing to be the most progressive. They’re not running on this centrist, moderate platform trying to win against a Republican in suburban Pennsylvania,” Stern said.

As expressed by Scanlon, students should take seriously the opportunity to vote and exercise citizen engagement.

“I’m a civics and elections junkie. You don’t get to complain if you don’t vote,” Scanlon said. “I think it’s really important that students, if you can vote, that you do get engaged and understand the issues. Clearly people here [at the college] are smart and engaged.”

Students of the college who can vote are able to do so in a significant way for a new district especially in the midterm primaries since they fall during finals on May 15th.

“We used to be in a silly district that snaked up to Philadelphia where Republicans never ran, so our vote was basically meaningless,” Stern said. “Now, there’s an open wide primary in the 5th District and it’s great that we have some political power. Especially since districts are small and people don’t vote in midterm general elections to begin with and even fewer people vote in primary midterm elections. It’s such a small voter turnout that a college campus of 1500 students can actually have a pretty big impact.”

Record Swattie Turnout Helps Democrats Win Local Elections

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On Nov. 7, Democrats came out victorious as Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden won two seats on the Delaware County Council. This was the first time in over 30 years that Democrats have secured seats on the Council, which has historically been Republican dominated. Many community members were involved in helping campaign for the Democrat candidates as signs that read “Zidek Madden Vote Nov 7th: Bring Sanity Back” were dispersed throughout the County. The Swarthmore College Democrats parallelled these efforts by campaigning on campus to students; their efforts were rewarded when Swarthmore College student voter turnout was the highest ever for a local election.

Taylor Morgan ’19, president of Swat Dems, was approached by the County Democrats and candidates after their win and thanked for the student turnout.

“I heard from the people at the polling place, and also at a victory party at the Inn later that night, from the County Democrats and the candidates, that this year was the most significant turnout of Swarthmore students for local elections. All the candidates came up to me at the victory party that night and were thrilled at the engagement and involvement of Swarthmore students canvassing, voting, and in other ways supporting their candidacy,” said Morgan.

Swat Dems’ efforts started way before election day and extended past the college campus. According to Morgan, the organization’s strategy was to provide information about the election, both about the campaigns of the different candidates, and on the logistics of the voting process, in order to actually help students to go out and vote on Nov. 7.

Before the election, Swat Dems worked to enable students not only to vote, but also be involved in the campaigning process.

“I brought in two canvassing trainers to campus and hosted about 19 students who got trained to do paid canvassing. Secondly, we had a ‘Get Out the Vote’ operation which consisted of phone banking; canvassing around campus; dorm storming, which consisted of putting voter day information under the doors; tabling in Sharples to sign people up to drive shuttles; and to volunteer for campaigns,” said Morgan.

On the day of the election, Swat Dems were joined by the Sunrise Group and the Swarthmore Conservative Society to coordinate efforts to get people out to vote. President of Swat Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 said that his group abstained from endorsing specific candidates but still believed it was important to get out and vote.

We joined in the Get Out the Vote effort by advertising it on our social media accounts and by tabling on the day of the election,” said Guerra.

Swat Dems also tried to incentivize students to go vote through food trucks.

“I researched two Black-owned businesses in the area, and I found two food trucks with the help of Andy Rosen, who is the chair of Swarthmore’s Farmer’s Market called Plum Pit Bistro and Catering, and The Sweetest Rose Cupcake Company. So we incentivized students to go vote through food catering. We encouraged students to get on the volunteer shuttles behind the food trucks before or after they were getting their food. And I think this really channeled a lot of students to get in the car and go down the street to vote,” said Morgan.

Morgan was also able to get community members to volunteer as drivers through connections from previous local campaign work.

“I was able to secure 17 local drivers who functioned as volunteer shuttles throughout the day, who used their personal time and vehicles to just drive Swarthmore students back and forth from the polling places,” said Morgan.

Morgan was hesitant to call the Democrats gaining seats a victory but is still optimistic about the future.

“I’m hesitant to call it a win because that implies that the challenge leading up to Tuesday is over, but on the contrary it has just begun. Delaware County, the college, and the community members have been facing complete obstruction and this is due to the Republican Machine. But now, we actually have people who recognize a lot of community needs and crises that are happening locally, that are at the table, and they can at least impart change that has for so long been obstructed. So to me, the ‘win’ means that there is a more likely chance that people will be able to access these changes, not necessarily that these changes will come,” said Morgan.

Morgan described the ‘Republican machine’ as a product of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of district boundaries to provide advantage to one political party.

“Our district is the most gerrymandered district in the country. This is largely due to the regime of Republican machine in Delaware county. In college courses, Delaware County is held up as an example of what gerrymandering is and the dangers of it. And so the people that were elected, named Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, have come out publicly against gerrymandering and have actually supported legislation that works at dismantling it. Also, Delaware County has the only for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania, and this is due to [Republican backing over the years],” said Morgan.

Peter Foggo ’21, a Democrat, decided to partake in local politics because of this Republican machine that Morgan described.

“I decided to participate in the local elections mainly because Delaware County has historically been controlled by Republican officials, but after the outrage following the most recent presidential election, I think that a lot of people in Delaware County realized that change was not only needed, but a realistic goal,” said Foggo.

Yasmeen Namazie ’19 echoed the importance of local politics bringing change to greater political platforms.

“I went out and voted because I understand the significance of local elections and their power in informing federal policy outcomes. After the Trump election, the Republican stronghold in the Senate and House has created a shortage in Democratic influence. As a Democrat, I want Democrats in local leadership to regain the House in 2018 and reverse the draconian policies implemented by the Trump administration: reinstate DACA, fund Planned Parenthood, repeal the travel ban, etc,” said Namazie.

Morgan hopes that this recent success will motivate students to get more involved in future democratic processes.

“To the group as a whole, I think that precisely because there was such a clear link between student engagement and victory, maybe students will be more likely to be involved in the future. And maybe, exactly this will kind of change the way students see the significance and effect of local politics,” said Morgan.

College conservatives and democrats emphasize activism and collaboration

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Amidst the first year of a controversial presidency with near-constant political turmoil, campus political groups such as the Swarthmore Conservatives and the Swarthmore Democrats are looking for ways to expand their outreach and build upon the progress they made last year.

The values of each club, while rooted at different points on the political spectrum, are currently leading to increased activism, and both clubs look forward to joining together for projects.

Swat Conservatives aims to promote free speech on college campuses. According to president Gilbert Guerra ’19, the club is a place where Trump supporters can share their ideas without feeling personally attacked but where they will still be challenged.

“It would be a challenge of their ideas, not their own personal merits,” he added.

Guerra explained that in past years, the goal of the club was to build a core base of about thirty participating members. The group was previously called the Swarthmore Republicans, with a base mostly consisting of moderate Republicans, but then it shifted to a general conservative society mostly comprised of socially conservative Catholic students and focused on socially supporting students with conservative ideologies. After that, more libertarian students joined, and now there are wide range of conservative-minded students, including an executive board whose members voted for Clinton, Trump, Gary Johnson, or write-in candidates. Some chose to protest by not voting at all.

“There’s certainly a lot of debate within the group,” Guerra said, but the group is still unified in terms of how [they] act and treat each other.

Now, Guerra and other members of the club say they are looking toward more activism on campus, which includes bringing in non-controversial speakers who will bring intellectual, not inflammatory, discussion.

The club also has partnerships with organizations such as the Leadership Institute, a political nonprofit with conservative leanings. As stated by the organization’s website, its goal is to train conservative activists and students to “fight the left and win.” Other partnerships include the American Enterprise Institute, which Guerra hopes will bring “more dynamic speakers to campus and present alternative opinions,” as well as Turning Point USA.

TPUSA is, according to their website, a student movement for free markets and limited government. As the Phoenix covered in April, TPUSA has been the subject of national controversies. However, according to Guerra, the relationship with TPUSA is not monetary. The organization sends materials for students to express their political opinions but does not fund Swat Conservatives.

As for Swat Dems, activism is rooted not just on campus, but also in the Swarthmore community.

President Taylor Morgan ’19 noted that since the election, many members of the group are looking at more action-oriented strategies to engage their community. She noted that while the name Swarthmore Democrats evokes the idea of a politically moderate group, there is a variety of political ideology within its ranks, ranging from far-left to moderately left-leaning, to even some right-of-center members.

“What unites all of us is that we want to seek strategies that lift people up and raise up voices, particularly the people who have been silenced,” Morgan said.

Swat Dems is not affiliated with the Democratic Party at the state or national level, which allows the club to diverge from of the mainstream Democratic Party.

“We have the ability to stray from the platform and hold the national and state party accountable for things that we see as being necessary to be advocated for or spoken out about,” Morgan said.

In addition, this allows the club to take stances that are controversial or debated and that are radically different from most other Democratic groups. One example of this is on issues of Israel and Palestine.

“[The club has] explicitly [rejected] the Israeli government occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is pretty much something that you will never hear any Democrats say,” Swat Dems Vice President Ben Stern ’20 said.

The group is also looking for ways to actively participate in political events, such as registering voters for Pennsylvania elections, hosting flash phone banks, or bringing in speakers who might challenge the group.

Morgan stressed the importance of understanding “uncomfortable truths about what Democrats have done and meant to a lot of people” as well how college Democrat groups can improve.

The two organizations have made the effort to collaborate this semester, including hosting Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, to speak about free speech.  Swat Dems also discussed working in a bipartisan manner to fight gerrymandering and participate in local elections at their meeting on Sept. 26.

“We’re doing a lot more things that involve outreach to other groups on campus. This year, we’re hosting a lot of events with the Swarthmore Conservative Society, which I think is great. We’ve been able to have a lot of good bipartisan dialogue with them,” said Stern.

According to Stern, the two groups are working with other on-campus groups such as i20, the Swarthmore international club, and Deshi, the South Asian student organization on campus, for a disaster relief event.

Both presidents also said that they want their clubs to create beneficial change.

“[We want to] engage with and lift up members of the community, particularly the most unheard,” said Morgan.

Guerra also wants his group to be a constructive force.

“[Swat Conservatives is] trying to focus more on the positive things that we can change and ways that we can make the Swarthmore community a better place instead of just trying to tear it down,” Guerra said.

For these two clubs, activism can mean working together in a bipartisan way and having a discussion of political differences despite an increasingly divisive political climate nationwide.

Losing the Syrian refugee crisis

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They say you need to cut your losses and move on. If that’s the case, I have unfortunate news for those of us hoping to bring about some justice for Syrian refugees—we have utterly failed in persuading America. According to a poll conducted by NBC News, 56% of Americans disagree with accepting Syrian refugees and, contrary to popular belief, 35% of Democrats disagree with accepting Syrian refugees. There’s a problem here and it’s one that can’t be solved by appealing to what we as liberals might think.

There are two main views of the Syrian refugee crisis: Republicans call it a national security issue, and Democrats call it a humanitarian crisis. The former group would paint the crisis as one where terrorists and terrorist cells could infiltrate the United States while posing as refugees. They claim that the lack of strategies for proper identification of people coming in constitutes a threat to national security. Many Republicans have also proposed that preference be given to Christian refugees. The latter group relies on morality and American values to make their case. Many will hastily point out that the governors of the thirty-one states that have rejected—symbolically or otherwise—the admittance and resettling of Syrian refugees have no actual power to do so. Nevertheless, that doesn’t tackle the issue of whether or not we should be accepting them.

To better look at this, I must make a bold claim: there are few examples in the history of the United States that suggest Americans, in trying times for national security, support the triumph of decency or rights over security. We, as liberals, can quote Benjamin Franklin and warn that, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither,” but that falls on deaf ears for most Americans. The NBC poll referenced earlier also found that 81 percent of respondents favor extensive security measures, like bag checks, in public areas like malls and parks. For the majority of Americans, their rights may matter on paper and in theory but in reality, their safety matters most. Can you blame them? In the face of terrible bombings, terrorist threats, and horrific instances of gun violence, is someone’s right to free speech or the rights guaranteed to them by the Fourth Amendment going to seem more important than their desire to feel safe? Of course our rights as citizens matter but to many people those rights do not matter without the promise of safety from those threats.

According to Gallup, Pew Research Center, and CBS/New York Times polls, this disapproval of refugees is consistent with American history. Sixty seven percent disapproved of taking in refugees from Axis and Axis-controlled nations during World War II, 55 percent disapproved of Hungarian refugees in 1958, 62 percent disapproved of Indochinese refugees in 1979, and 71 percent disapproved of Cuban refugees in 1980. Am I saying that these people were right in refusing sanctuary to refugees? No. I am Cuban-American and it saddens me that people easily let their fear overpower justice for humanitarian crises. There was and continues to be great suffering in Cuba at the hands of an oppressive socialist regime.

If we look at history, however, we find that this is how Americans think. We desire security, and many believe Syrian refugees pose a security risk. Politicians know better than to go against their constituents and for this reason we will not see an adequate humanitarian response. Reports from Europe indicate asylum seekers’ refusal to assimilate to local values and implicate them in incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and crime—this a public opinion battle that we are losing. Few Americans would say that the human rights of foreign refugees are as important as the right and desire of United States citizens to be safe. This is unfortunate; it’s also history.

In the battle for the view on the refugee crisis, the Left has lost handedly. The Right and its framing of the crisis as a national security issue has won and will continue to win. For us Democrats and liberals, the time to rethink our framing and our arguments is now. We need to appeal to the desires of the Right. While a majority of people continue to align with the views held by the Republican Party on issues of security, Democrats will get nowhere—and do no justice for refugees—by sticking to our hard-line views. We must move somewhat to center, reconcile with those that want security, and hope that new discourse can bring the other side to the center as well. Only then will discussion prevail and justice see the light of day.

On gun control, left should reflect on its past

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For a country founded in revolution, the United States has a strikingly barren tradition of successful armed revolt. In the nation’s two centuries of history, its government has only once faced a real existential threat from within — the insurrection of the Southern slavocrats — a rebellion infamous both for its perfect villainy and its utter defeat. The spirit of American (mis)adventurism has, of course, never shied away from fomenting unrest abroad — “Support the Texan slave-importers against Mexico!” it shouts at one moment; “Topple Allende!” it demands at another; “Arm the Afghani Mujahedeen!” it snarls; “Support the Free Syrian Army?…the liberals?…the Islamists?…Assad?” it squeaks weakly today — yet our own militants have disappeared from the national memory. John Brown’s body does indeed molder in the grave. Seattle is famous for Starbucks and the Space Needle, not for its general strike. The Black Panthers are remembered as the “dark side” of the Civil Rights Movement, a distraction from the nonviolent heroics of men like Martin Luther King. In order to be extolled in the canons of American history, radicalism must be baptized in the same pacific waters as were Thoreau and Tolstoy.

Given this history (and its distortion), the American Left’s unease with civilian ownership of firearms is unsurprising (when I say the American Left, I mean the kind of person who voted for Obama twice, but felt funny about it the second time). The rifle has never been an agent for the kind of social change the Left desires. Rather, it has acquired a twofold meaning in the Left’s imagination. In the first case, the rifle is a symbol of reaction, wielded alternatively by robed Klansmen, misogynistic mass murderers, and Jesus and Jingo Republicans. In the second case, it is a factor of inner city social disintegration, a tool that, when paired with racism, institutional poverty, and the vicissitudes of the capitalist economy, results in blood and dead bodies. One or another of these evils is inscribed in every shell casing in the United States.

I do not mean to caricaturize the Left-wing gun control advocate. Their concerns are significant and should be treated as such. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, we suffer from four times as many murders annually as do the United Kingdom and France. Likewise, the almost daily terror of mass shootings is an unhappily American phenomenon. What Swarthmore student did not feel a heaviness in their chest when they heard about a 4chan troll threatening Philadelphia colleges? Whether or not this fear of being shot by a masked gunman is rational (the typical American has a very low chance of being murdered, and an even lower chance of being killed in a mass shooting), spree killings become more common, it has become an increasingly regular American anxiety. The problem of violence in the United States is a serious one, worthy of both careful thought and forceful action. If the proper solution to that problem requires increased regulations on civilian gun ownership, then so be it. The question of what exact form those regulations ought to take — background checks, bans on high capacity magazines, required liability insurance for gun owners — I leave to statisticians and policy analysts. My main goal here is not to endorse or denounce specific legislation. Rather, I want to suggest that the Left ought to reexamine its ideological relationship with firearms.

The American Left has a great fear of discussing political violence. This is in large part justified: political violence is generally horrifying. It is easy to romanticize revolution in the abstract, to imagine bare-breasted Liberty leading the people. It is much harder to contend with the glut of blood that revolutions produce; Robespierre and the Jacobins left a prodigious number of bodies in their wake during the French Revolution. Movements that promise justice via murder deliver mostly murder. The 20th century proved to be a particularly cruel testament to this fact. Time and again, communist movements rose to power by the sword and ruled by the sword. An ideology that promised salvation and dignity for all humanity brought instead tyranny and common ruin, due in large part to the self-perpetuating nature of the violence its leaders were willing to employ.

The mainstream of the Democratic Party does not belong to the same ideological and political tradition as revolutionary socialism. But a substantial portion of its post-1960s intelligentsia has been influenced by the New Left, an intellectual movement that attempted to extract certain positive elements from the socialist tradition while rejecting the totalitarian excesses of the Soviet bloc. To oversimplify a terribly complex political idea, the New Left eschewed the Marxist idea of popular proletarian revolution in favor of more focused but tangible victories — racial equality, the breaking down of patriarchal gender roles, LGBT rights.

The New Left was right to do this. Proletarian revolution in the Marxist-Leninist model is generally inefficient, barbarous, and grossly immoral. It is better to learn to live with those who oppose you than to kill them. The new political paradigm privileges a certain class of agent: the non-violent activist, who typically organizes within a marginalized community and agitates for change to that community’s condition. This activist’s agitation often, but not always, aims to force the state to offer the community certain concessions, but the activist does not traditionally attempt to seize state power. They work outside but in parallel to the mainstream political system.

The activist model has proven tremendously effective at achieving certain kinds of change, particularly of a cultural nature. But in privileging this model above all others, we are at risk of dismissing legitimate uses of violence. Some conditions are so intolerable that they absolutely justify defensive force, even if that force is ultimately ineffectual. The Jews who rose up in Warsaw against the Nazis were heroic even though their rebellion was doomed from the outset. While their militancy could not stop the German war machine, it allowed the Jews in Warsaw to make a revolutionary choice: to die by their own terms, in combat, rather than in extermination camps (which is not to denigrate those who did not rise up; no one can in justice judge anyone’s response to such an impossible situation). The raid on Harpers Ferry was similarly justified by the profound inhumanity that was American chattel slavery.

These are extreme examples, obviously; they were responses to conditions that do not currently obtain, and hopefully will never obtain, in the United States. But the principle remains: the oppressed have a right to defend themselves with force in response to violations of their fundamental rights. The Left needs to seriously consider what the full implications of this right are. It is fundamentally absurd to claim with one breath that the police systematically victimize African Americans, only to call for confiscation of all firearms with the next. This is not a call for present day political violence by any means — our system is far from perfect, but progress and the redress of grievances are still possible within it. It is merely recognition of the fact that the future is not guaranteed. One need not be an absolutist about gun rights to understand that.

Democrats and race: A lively debate

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My recent article on the history of the Democratic Party — whose inflammatory name was inserted not by me but by the Phoenix editors — must have struck a nerve. It generated not one but two full-length responses, one from Nate Urban and another from Jason Clayton. Neither response calls into question any fact that I presented, but both insist that I should have written on a different subject from the one I chose. Urban is right that civil rights issues of today deserve focus. But universities also have history departments. At any rate, Urban’s piece is more thoughtful than Clayton’s, so I’ll reply to his first.

Urban’s article is well-written, but I disagree with him throughout. Early in his counterargument he makes a curious assertion: “In 2015, no party should attempt to claim the moral high ground on slavery.” Why not? The Democratic Party is perfectly happy to claim the moral high ground on that issue and others. If you go to the website of the Democratic National Committee and click on the History section, you will find this opening sentence: “For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights, health care, Social Security, workers’ rights, and women’s rights.” First of all, it’s patently absurd to say that Democrats led the fight for civil rights “for more than 200 years,” as I hope I made clear two weeks ago. In any event, the Democratic Party is eager to take credit for its purported accomplishments over the span of two centuries, regardless of the “differences between 19th- and 21st-century political parties.” When the facts comply, I see no problem with this, and I believe the Republican Party should be allowed to do the same. So, yes, in 2015 Republicans can take the moral high ground on slavery, seeing as they actually did lead the (literal) fight to abolish it and pass the Reconstruction amendments.

The bulk of Urban’s response is about voter ID laws, on which I published my own views in a previous article from the fall semester. His point seems to be that Republican support for voter ID laws must be evidence of racist intent. Yet the vast majority of Americans support these laws, including Democrats.  For example, a recent McClatchy poll found that 84 percent of Americans approve of voter ID legislation, along with 72 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of independents. Rasmussen found 78 percent overall approval, and the “Washington Post” 75 percent approval. The laws enjoy support across demographic groups; they are even backed by a small majority of blacks. Cherry-picking ugly comments cannot change this. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that voter ID laws suppress minority turnout, as I noted in my editorial on the subject. After searching meticulously through the data, scholarly studies conducted by both Columbia University and the Brennan Center for Justice were unable to find any evidence that voter ID laws affect minorities. Minority turnout sometimes increased in states with these laws, even exceeding white turnout.

I respect Urban’s views and I’ll try to profit from his example. I hope he’ll review his column and look into his mirror just as steadily as he asks me to look into mine. Now I’ll turn to Clayton.

I must admit, this is a pretty odd piece of text. I had trouble teasing out an actual argument to respond to. Clayton begins with two paragraphs in which he sounds like he’s congratulating himself for not fleeing in disgust when he spoke to a Republican in 2012. He confesses that his usual reaction to articles he disagrees with is to mock them with his friends at breakfast. He says this again later on, so we must assume that this snickering echo chamber is important to him, though it’s not clear why he thinks mocking others behind their backs is something to tell the whole college about.

Lest the reader wonder what any of this self-analysis has to do with the Democratic Party, Clayton then informs us that I should have written my article on a different subject — “conservative ideological goals or Republican Party policies.” He yearns for the golden days when Republicans “wryly acknowledged … part of the Republican platform was completely indefensible,” then issues a demand “that Republicans defend their platform.” Basically the whole piece is a snide lamentation that I didn’t demonstrate “some willingness to debate the issues.” Last I checked, there is more to politics than a set of narrow policy debates.

But if Clayton were actually interested in my views on “the issues,” he could have readily found them in articles I’ve published in this very newspaper (and in “The Swarthmore Independent”), which deal with such topics as divestment, voter ID laws, big business, the limitations of government, and the misleading rhetoric of politicians. Clayton doesn’t respond to any of these, but does take a bizarre swipe at my article on classical music, which is completely irrelevant to the matters at hand. His assertion that I am “complaining, without evidence, that liberals don’t like classical music because dead white men created it” reveals that he didn’t even bother to read the column, in which there is neither mention of liberals nor anything remotely partisan.

Clayton also tries to argue that Republicans are now attempting to “erase our country’s disgraceful history.” His example is the reaction to former Senator Mary Landrieu’s comment that “the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.” Taking Landrieu’s words cleanly out of context, Clayton acts as if her statement was some penetrating acknowledgement that Republicans are denying. He evidently didn’t read the whole quote, because in the real world she was just blaming President Obama’s unpopularity in the South on his blackness, rather than on his policies. Certainly this would explain how Senator Tim Scott, black Republican of South Carolina — bedrock of the Confederacy — won 88 percent of the white vote in 2014, a larger share than Lindsey Graham’s. Republican backlash against Landrieu’s comment had nothing to do with Jim Crow era laws or lack thereof. And on the subject of that disgraceful history, Clayton says I see it “as primarily the fault of Democrats.” He’s right, I do. I’m still waiting for his counterargument.

Sometimes Clayton just contradicts himself. For example, in one sentence he says that my article “promoted conservative views.” Two sentences later he says that it “didn’t promote a viewpoint at all.” Since he can’t decide for himself, I’ll tell him: the article isn’t about conservatism. My purpose isn’t to absolve the Republican Party or pretend it’s free of sin. I intend instead to bring to light an ugly guilt rarely discussed.

If the Democratic Party wants to use history to polish its image, as its national organization clearly does, it must also account for the uglier parts of its past. Now, I don’t expect the DNC to do this, but I do expect honest students of history to do it. Some Democrats I’ve talked to here at Swarthmore are willing to admit that their party’s past has racism in it, but they try to disown this ugly record by claiming that conservative Democrats migrated to the other party over race (a myth which I’ll discuss another time). The Democratic Party argues that its current platform, self-described as pro-civil rights and equality, is something it has long fought for. Yes, Democrats have achievements they can be proud of. But if the party wants to lay claim to that liberal ancestry, it must also acknowledge that some of those same exalted liberals also committed terrible acts of racism. If you claim it, claim it all. I’m willing to discuss the historical sins of the Republican Party; I do that frequently at this college. We’re obliged to talk about our history just as much as the other side. So I stand by what I said before: cut out the fantasies and talk about your past, Democrats.

Have we really sunk so low? A response to Philip Decker

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During my first week of classes at Swarthmore, I picked up a copy of the Phoenix, opened to the opinions section, and saw a column by Tyler Becker ’14 about “Mitt Romney’s Plan for America.” It was Fall 2012, the height of election season, and this was my first exposure to conservatives at Swarthmore. I thought his argument was absurd, filled with discredited Romney campaign talking points. I’m sure I made fun of his article to all my friends at breakfast. And throughout that semester, as Tyler continued to write columns promoting Romney’s campaign or (later) blaming Obama’s underhanded tactics for Romney’s loss, they continued to annoy and amuse me. So it’s strange that now, more than two years later, I find myself feeling nostalgic for Tyler’s columns. And while I’m sure some of that is merely rose-tinted glasses, I also think it says something about the evolving Republican Party, which — against all odds — actually seems to have become more extreme in such a short period of time.

The thing is, as much as I disagreed with Tyler’s columns, they did address the issues. My concerns with him were largely a matter of policy, not style. I eventually found out that Tyler was then the treasurer for a club I had joined, Swarthmore’s mock trial team, and it was easy to begin an honest exchange of ideas. We’d tease him about whatever argument he’d made that week — for example, his anger at Ohio governor John Kasich for accepting the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act — he’d respond, and soon there would be a serious discussion of the issues. Tyler’s arguments, both in person and in print, also seemed more strategically flexible than ideologically puritanical. He’d often concede a small point in order to strengthen a separate argument, or sometimes wryly acknowledge that, yeah, part of the Republican platform was completely indefensible.

So why this stroll down nostalgia lane? While reading Philip Decker’s column, “Historically, Democrats are the real bigots,” last week, I was struggling to figure out just what bugged me about it. I thought it was deeply misleading, it made me angry, I made fun of it to my friends, of course; but what about it did I find so objectionable aside from the fact that it promoted conservative views, and I am strongly left-leaning? Eventually I realized that what I grudgingly respected about Becker’s columns was exactly what so outraged me about Decker’s. This new column didn’t promote a viewpoint at all. It didn’t advance any conservative ideological goals, or Republican Party policies. It was nothing more than a giant accusation that the Democratic Party was hypocritical on matters of race.

And that got me thinking. We often talk about nostalgia for the Republican Party of the past, usually the moderates of the postwar era who promoted many policies that modern liberals would approve of. But reading Decker’s column, I find myself missing the Republican Party of three years ago. How pathetic is that? And certainly I don’t want to romanticize that era too much. I found the overwhelming majority of their principles and policies to be horrendous, as I do now. But I can’t help but feel like something has changed for the worse. There was a time, even during Obama’s first term, when an accusation of racism in the Republican Party merited a serious response. That response went a little something like this: “The Republican Party has an ugly history when it comes to race, but that has changed. We are a big tent and all are welcome. Now let us explain why we support restrictions on early voting.”

But now? When House majority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) admitted to speaking at a gathering hosted by white supremacists in 2002, the Republican response was largely to make repeated references to Robert Byrd, just as Decker does. Of course, by the end of his career, Byrd’s voting record had a 100 percent approval rating from the NAACP, while Scalise’s most recent ranking was 21 percent (it has been as low as 5 percent). The actual policies promoted are irrelevant; what matters is the ability to accuse the Democrats of hypocrisy. Or what about when then-Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) noted “the South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans.” She said that racism was a thing. And Republicans demanded en masse that she apologize for this slander. In other words, the official Republican response to accusations of racism is now to deny it ever existed — in the same state where Scalise met with the white supremacists. Decker’s column makes no efforts to defend policies promoted by Republicans, nor does it address their current efforts to erase our country’s disgraceful history — a history he sees as primarily the fault of Democrats.

It’s possible I’m blowing these differences out of proportion. It’s possible that were Tyler Becker still a student at Swarthmore, he would applaud Decker’s column and disagree with everything I’ve written here. But I like to think he wouldn’t. I like to think that he’d try to defend the gutting of the Voting Rights Act on legal and policy grounds rather than by crying hypocrisy. I like to think that he’d devote his column to explaining his opposition to protests of commencement speeches rather than complaining, without evidence, that liberals don’t like classical music because dead white men created it, as Decker argued in his January 22, 2015 column. I don’t give the Republican Party of 2012 credit for much, but at least there was some willingness to debate the issues, even if only at Swarthmore. All in all, it’s unlikely that the Republican Party of 2012 really differs that much from the Republican Party of 2015. But these changes happen very gradually. If we don’t demand that Republicans defend their platform, then they will dictate the terms of the debate, and right now that debate is little more than a game of “I know you are, but what am I?” We deserve better.

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