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Young Voices: University Students React to Foreign Policy Debate

NewsHour politics production assistant Allie Morris (wearing the HatCam) talks to George Washington University sophomore Alli Schlossberg after the third presidential debate Monday night.(Photo by Jessica Fink/NewsHour)

From inside George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium, it was clear which of the verbal jabs and one-liners entertained the 300-person crowd at the presidential debate watch party Monday night.

Moderator Bob Schieffer attempted to keep President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney focused on foreign policy issues, but there were moments during the 90-minute debate when the candidates had their own topic agenda. Students and faculty responded to these moments audibly. There was a tense, collective gasp, for example, when Romney emphasized how he would approach Israel when — not if — he was president of the United States.

But it was Mr. Obama’s series of quips starting with “horses and bayonets” that drew the strongest reaction of all — 20 seconds of laughter and applause.

But what were some of the students at the watch party saying after the debate about the substance of what the candidates said?

Nolen Diebert, an international relations Master’s candidate at George Washington, called it “an interesting debate.” For him, the highlight of the night was the overall discussion of the United States’ foreign policy goals. “I think what I heard from both candidates, actually, was a clear articulation of what we want to do in the world.”

Sophomore Alli Schlossberg also said the candidates delved into some issues, but she also said they sidestepped others. “I was especially concerned with Obama’s policy on Israel,” she said. “And I feel every time he was grilled on it, he talked around the issue.”

Hannah Stanbaugh, a freshman, expressed some dissatisfaction, noting that the U.S.’s “unending friendship” with Israel leads the conversation away from more controversial issues. “I wish there was more of a discussion about some of the things that Israel is doing to Palestine right now, and some of the border problems that are going on,” she said. “I’d like to see a more even and honest approach [in discussing] this situation.”

Schlossberg also said that the candidates repeatedly shifted focus away from foreign policy to domestic issues. “They just kept going back to education,” she said. “But I thought that we talked about that in the last two debates. I wanted to hear a lot more on foreign policy.”

And while Diebert said he was generally pleased with the depth of the debate, he pointed out that some of the points raised by the candidates brought up new questions that were left unanswered.

“We have all of these ideas about improving gender equity, about improving democracy, about improving access to civil societies,” said Diebert. “What I didn’t hear was a good way of how exactly we’re going to do it.”

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