150 years after crowds flocked to hear Lincoln and Douglas speak in front of Old Main, Knox College once again played host to a U.S. Senatorial debate on Thursday, Oct. Students gathered in Kresge to watch current Illinois Senator and majority whip democrat Dick Durbin face Republican challenger Dr. Steve Sauerberg, a family physician from the Chicago suburbs, vie for the same position in a debate sponsored by the Illinois Radio Network.
After an introduction by President Roger Taylor, who expressed his pride in the continuation of Knox’s long political tradition, debate moderators Craig Dellimore and Melissa Hahn announced the rules of the debate—no time limits would be enforced for answers except for that of the final question, and the same approach would be taken for rebuttals, which would not be strictly limited in either number or length.
Beginning at precisely 8:06 p.m., the first question of the debate leapt right into the turmoil currently facing the U.S. economy, regarding the disaster on Wall Street and the $700 billion bailout plan proposed by Congress. This set the stage for the majority of the other topics that would eventually be discussed, most of which were directed at the state of the national economy, there was only one question directly about foreign policy.
Durbin justified the bailout plan by saying, “We were challenged to either do something or nothing. To do nothing would have been extremely negligible.”
When asked if Congress did the right thing, Sauerberg’s response was an emphatic no; he also responded to Durbin’s remark by saying, “Actually there were three options: do something, do nothing or do something right,” and claimed there was “no excuse whatsoever to taint a bill.”
This later led into one of the major topics of dispute between Sauerberg and Durbin, regarding earmarks, which Sauerberg is fundamentally opposed to. He called earmarks “the most corrupting influence in all of Washington…it’s buying votes.” Moderator Hahn quickly replied with the query, “You really want Congress meeting all those days in a year?” to which Sauerberg said, “I want Congress to do their job.”
Durbin, however, rebutted, “The very bills my opponent is calling so secret are on the internet for the public to read.” He said, “There isn’t time enough in a day for each individual project in America.”
Durbin and Sauerberg also showed themselves to be greatly divided on questions of how to deal with the issue of rising health insurance; Sauerberg, speaking from his experiences as a physician, called it, “A totally dysfunctional system that needs to be revamped entirely,” and promoted a plan to create individual, privatized health insurance which individuals could buy on their own through the internet. Durbin called this “a radical unworkable idea” because he believes it would isolate individuals, and said “when it comes to health care, we’re strongest when we’re together.”
At one point in the debate, Sauerberg, who throughout his campaign has agreed with Obama that significant change in Washington is necessary, quoted Obama’s words that “there are too many lawyers, not enough engineers,” as one of his favorite things said throughout the presidential campaign so far.
Despite his echoing of Obama’s sentiments, Sauerberg asserted that he does indeed support his own party’s candidate, saying “John McCain is a truly unique individual; he has exhibited maverick tendencies his whole time in Washington”, and that, “we do need change, but John McCain is not the only change we need.” In the end, he asked audience members who want change to show it by voting for Steve Sauerberg.
Debate topics ranged from social security to energy plans to U.S. military involvement in Iraq, all platforms on which Durbin and Sauerberg essentially disagreed, but the argument came to a head when perceptions of patriotism arose. Sauerberg was asked if he regretted statements he recently made about Durbin’s lack of patriotism, to which he said, “No,” though Durbin claimed that 48 hours earlier, Sauerberg had apologized for that very thing.
Sauerberg clarified his statement by saying, “I do not apologize for what I said; I do apologize for hurting his feelings.”
The doctor continued, however, to say he was only quoting what citizens had told him they felt about the senator. As he put it, “Mothers of troops feel Durbin’s remarks are unpatriotic,” and he also said that comments made by Durbin “embolden the enemy.”
In response to these particular statements, Durbin asserted that Sauerberg has taken negative campaigning to “a new low” in Illinois, and went so far as to say, “This conversation wouldn’t have happened even in the Lincoln-Douglas days.”
Some Knox students voiced similar views about the nature of Sauerberg’s accusations. Junior Marc Dreyfuss said, “Sauerberg’s allusion to Durbin’s lack of patriotism was not only illegitimate, but also unethical, and these should not be the actions of anyone who claims to represent any state in this nation.”
Dan Dyrda, junior, said, “I cannot believe how unprofessionally Sauerberg behaved, especially in the latter half of the debate. After watching, I think it’s clear why Durbin has been serving as majority whip as well as our Senator, and almost certainly will continue to do so.”