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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

CADY: A debate riddled with disappointment

Graphic from PxHere.
Graphic from PxHere.

I sat in Marquette University’s Varsity Theater on Thursday evening with low expectations, but high hopes. 

Marquette and TMJ4 hosted the U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Ron Johnson and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes . As they went head to head on issues such as reproductive rights and gun reform, I was left with a sense of wonder: Where could we be as a country if we pulled back the political volatility? 

On the surface, we had a classic political circumstance – so old as time it reads like a sketch. You have the older, long–serving white politician sitting on a record less impressive than his rhetoric  and a young, up and coming politican serving his community with big ideas and nowhere to take them.

The contents of the debate hardly skimmed the surface of actual issues, solutions and stances but rather consisted of disparaging commentary and combative discourse. 

As the opponents passed through inflation and economic policy talk, they landed on the ever–present issue of gun violence – an issue that plagues the Milwaukee community. After all, it was only a few days ago that a 12 year–old girl was shot and killed while merely unloading groceries with her mother. 

When asked what we need to do about the gun violence issue in America, Johnson responded with the statement that we need “renewed faith, stronger families and more support.”

His response was as vague as it was disheartening. As much as I – and likely many citizens – wish that we could pray away the issue of gun violence, we cannot. We cannot sit in church on Sunday, have more family dinners and send “thoughts and prayers” in order to end the epidemic of slain children in what should be the safe haven of their classrooms. 

Barnes noted that Sen. Johnson received ample monetary support from the National Rifle Association for campaign funds, so it was unlikely that he would ever stray from his touch and go gun policy. Although Barnes’ answer was more encouraging, claiming that we need more background checks and firearm restriction, he did not address the gun show loophole nor other key issues in the debate on violence. 

The topic of police reform brought more tension to the stage – and both candidates were caught in the crossfire. 

Johnson set the stage by making bold claims such as the statement that Barnes “incited” the Kenosha riots and that, as a whole, Democrats would “rather have an issue than solve a problem.” The one tangible thing that he did comment on regarding police reform and where he stands is that he is in support of qualified immunity for law enforcement officers. 

Barnes countered Johnson’s claims of supporting law enforcement by saying that “no police officers in this country are more dispirited than those that were present on January 6th.” In reference to the insurrection that took place in Washington, D.C. that left officers injured and permanently scarred, Johnson called the rioters “tourists” and “patriots.” 

To me, this was one of Barnes most effective and understandable jabs. He closed by saying, “This talk about supporting law enforcement – it’s not real, it’s not true.” He went on to discuss that we need trust between people and police to have safer communities, and for that reason he does not support qualified immunity for officers. 

Arguably the most prominent issue on the table for this race is reproductive rights. 

There were many people in the audience of the debate adorned with shirts that read “Ron Against Roe” and other commentary phrases surrounding abortion. Entering the questions surrounding this topic, I knew the temperature was rising. Barnes began with his position that reproductive rights for women are essential – “I respect everyone’s personal beliefs – I just don’t think they should be the law for everyone,” he said.  

“At what point does society have the responsibility to protect life?” Johnson asked. He went on to speak about he proposed a one time issue referendum regarding abortion that the people of Wisconsin could vote on. And in honesty, this is a fair position that I understood. I just wished Johnson spoke more about his personal stance so that voters could gauge an idea of where he stood.The debate on abortion wrapped up by a clashing discussion about family leave – Barnes in support of six to twelve weeks paid time off and Johnson opposing this idea in the name of business survival.

Moderators of the debate attempted to conclude on a positive note – asking the candidates one thing that they admired about one another. Barnes said that he admired Johnson’s dedication to his family – which was a bit ironic considering that he spent the evening referring to Johnson’s success as credited to his “business in law.” But, nonetheless it was a compliment.

However, Johnson could not bite his tongue. He went on to claim that he appreciated Barnes’ family and that he was raised by hard working people, but then said because of that it confused him why Barnes would “turn his back on America.” 

It was distasteful, untimely and laughable. 

Despite all of this, the greatest missteps may have come in the debate’s aftermath. As members of the media, we were allowed into a press room to speak with the candidates or representatives of them – as we eagerly awaited, we were met with disappointment once again. 

An ABC News journalist asked Johnson’s representative why the senator himself was not there, to which he responded, “because I am.”  This response came with more spite than despondency, might I add. 

His overall tone to the room was condescending and disrespectful. As not only a citizen and a voter but a journalist, I care immensely about a candidate’s perspective on and treatment of the media. This left me with a bitter feeling. 

Yet, I felt almost let down by Barnes’ decision to not have anyone come speak. 

Overall, the debate was lackluster in its contents, but eruptive in its tone. I know where I stand as a voter, as a woman, a journalist and a progressive individual. I know what I want for my country, my state, my family, friends and myself. But, I continue to be disappointed by the way that our politicians treat debates more like boxing rings – focused solely on the thrill, the fight and the fury with little thought given to what difference they can truly make with their power. 

This story was written by Grace Cady. She can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Grace Cady, Managing Editor of the Marquette Journal
Grace Cady is a senior at Marquette University from Delafield, Wisconsin. She is majoring in journalism and political science. This year she will be the managing editor of the Journal. Outside of the Wire, Grace likes to read, write creatively, watch movies and spend time with friends & family. Prior to this year, she served as the executive opinions editor at the Wire and has held intern positions at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Magazine and the National Federation of Federal Employees in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Grace is part of the O'Brien Investigative Fellowship program this year alongside Julia Abuzzahab.

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