Disruption Takes Honor

As institutions across the country are pressed to reform, so, too, is Honor.

To begin, we at the Review want to make clear that we are not taking any official editorial position on the referenda or candidates being presented to the University of Virginia student body for their consideration from February 19th to the 25th right here. We would instead like to do our part in providing commentary, or a few thoughts that students can mentally chew on as they decide whether and what to vote for. We hope that, in our small way, we are contributing to University discourse.

The most seminal choice that will be made in the coming week is in what form Honor will operate going forward. There are two options on the ballot, both of which amend the Honor Committee Constitution. Option one will allow students to retain the current system as it exists, premised on the single sanction with important alterations made in recent years through the Informed and Conscientious Retractions. As written in the report on multiple sanction honor systems at peer universities produced by the Honor committee, these modulations have already rendered the description of our current system as a single-sanction system “inaccurate.” Those who have committed an Honor offense are provided many opportunities before trial to come clean, and their punishments are far more lenient than expulsion.

However, there is a clear philosophical distinction between what we currently have and the less constrained language of Option two. Option two removes the constitutional barrier to implementing a multi-sanction system, and, if it passes, the Honor Committee will form a commission to study and eventually recommend what kind of multi-sanction system students may want. According to a central argument made by those in favor of Option two, a multi-sanction system will refocus the purpose of the Honor system from that stated at the beginning of its constitution, “preserv[ing] the community of trust which that System fosters,” towards administering a system of crime and punishment, adjudicating transgressions proportionately. In this sense, while the single sanction system is primarily meant to send a message and foster trust through the looming threat of a disastrous consequence, the multi-sanction system transitions to one with a primarily functional, and not moral, task.

Both sides have merit, and the Review will not formally endorse one position over another. However, it is interesting to note the context in which this fundamental question before us arises. Americans broadly are reeling from a combination of economic, social, and cultural pressures that have degraded their faith in the institutional pillars of our society. Thirty-five years of stagnant wages and incomes resulting from downward pressures on the labor market have created a state of constant economic precarity. The Great Recession only quickened the pace of the slow-moving natural disaster that technological gains and globalization have produced. Political polarization and gerrymandered districts have sent increasingly ideologically fixed representatives to Washington averse to the very compromise that both birthed and carried our national existence. Social media has empowered individuals over traditional media outlets and spread the word about issues that have caught like wildfire, most notably systemic racism and police brutality. On the right, the demographic destiny of the American people towards one of greater diversity and cultural empathy has left many conservatives of the old and white variety bewildered and bereft of belonging. Across the board, we are suffused with an intense negativity towards our systems of governance. Politically, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the tribunes of this great wave of dissatisfaction.

Within this national ambiance, the Review would be surprised if Option two did not pass. The University of Virginia and its student body are specific pockets of the national experience whose preferences and opinions are in no way determined by the national mood. To think otherwise is a huge oversimplification. Still, we have endured a similar discontent with our institutions that has expressed itself in ominous terms for the integrity and credibility of student self-governance: apathy. The Cavalier Daily recently wrote an analytical piece about the extent to which voter turn-out has been low and why. The solutions offered by those who proposed some were band-aids to a gaping wound. The problem is not that there are not enough outreach or marketing efforts. If students felt that their votes and their choices made a significant difference, they would be motivated to vote. Few bother to because most people either do not care or are disappointed with what they have seen. Compounded by the country’s dour bend, Honor is most probably in for the kind of sledgehammer-smashing disruption of institutions that we will all have to reckon with sooner or later.

Vision Deficit

How Bernie is beating Hillary on a vision for the country.

We’d like to begin this first of the semester article by apologizing for the lack of content thus far. We will be ramping up our efforts starting today, and for all of those who had been waiting to hear from us, we appreciate your patience and recommit ourselves to the cause of furthering and elevating civil discourse here at the University of Virginia.

After Secretary Hillary Clinton’s razor-thin margin of victory in Iowa and her thumping defeat in New Hampshire, there is no doubt that the race for the Democratic nomination will be a competitive, protracted one. Far from the easy sweep that the Secretary had hoped for in order to consolidate the party and remain loftily above the fray of the Republican blood bath, she now faces a better-funded and more pressing threat to her candidacy than any mainstream observer had anticipated in Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Senator Sanders can call the results of the New Hampshire primary an unequivocal victory, crushing Secretary Clinton across the demographic board. He hopes to maintain his momentum, leverage his cash advantage, and pressure the Secretary from her left in the hopes of winning the battle over the soul of the Democratic Party and the country. Senator Sanders raised $20 million in January to Secretary Clinton’s $15 million, $3 million in the twenty-four hours following his virtual tie in Iowa, and $6 million in the few days after the New Hampshire primary. He has received over 3.5 million individual contributions from a small donor pool of over 1 million for which the average donation was $34. Secretary Clinton’s campaign has not released any information on what they have received in the month of February, but it doesn’t take much of a leap to conclude that the Secretary probably has not been able to raise an amount equal to and from as diverse a selection as Senator Sanders’s donations. If ever one could quantify an enthusiasm gap beyond intangibles like the atmosphere of each candidate’s campaign rallies, the statistics surrounding their donations are the closest we might get. So why are Democratic primary voters feeling the Bern with so much more gusto than Secretary Clinton’s supporters are saying #ImWithHer?

An exchange that occurred between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders near the end of tonight’s Democratic debate was highly revelatory. PBS anchor Judy Woodruff relayed a question from Facebook that asked both candidates to “name two leaders – one American and one foreign – who would influence your foreign policy decisions,” and explain why. Senator Sanders launched into a detailed answer on why he would look to FDR, noting his domestic credentials in response to a question about foreign policy. Despite this snag, he delivered a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and earnest assessment of FDR’s leadership, and then cited Winston Churchill’s efforts to raise the spirit of the British people as they faced the Nazi onslaught. It was a tough question to answer on the spot, and he missed a crucial part of it, but you could tell that he meant every word. Then Secretary Clinton got a turn. She quickly said she agrees with Senator Sanders’s choice of FDR, citing “the role that he played both in war and in peace on the economy and defeating fascism around the world.” She then picked Nelson Mandela as the foreign leader whose example she would look to “for his generosity of heart, his understanding of the need for reconciliation.” And then she pivoted to an attack on Senator Sanders’s criticisms of President Obama. She devoted an entire three sentences to the question and the rest of her time to leveling unfair accusations against Senator Sanders’s support for President Obama to portray herself as the one who would be fittest to carry on his legacy.

It is exactly that kind of cynical, evasive answer that turns voters off from her. The American people have made clear that they yearn for a special kind of moral leadership that Franklin Roosevelt was best at providing. They yearn for inspiration, for a vision of the country that they can identify with, to which they can attach their hopes, dreams, aspirations and feel that their choice in this election will help guide the country down a more harmonious, better path.

Senator Sanders provides vision at every turn. He cites his campaign contributions as evidence of his ability to bring Americans together in a mighty effort to retake the system from a corrupt few and reclaim it in the name of the people. Bernie seeks what he calls a political revolution. It may not be a full account of the story of the last few years, and his answers may be in need of greater detail, but his is a narrative that helps rekindle hope for what our democracy can achieve in a time of waning faith in our institutions. Nobody disputes Secretary Clinton’s incredible grasp of the issues, from their roots to their stems. But the Secretary has repeatedly failed to fit her candidacy into a larger-than-life narrative. Her campaign insists that Hillary is the best change-maker we have ever seen, that Hillary is a fighter, that Hillary would be ready on day one. As important as those qualities are, how does that compare to Barack Obama’s message of rising above the politics of division and fundamentally transforming it in the process? Or of John F. Kennedy and his New Frontier, who told the nation that we go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard, who appealed to the better angels of our nature when he told Americans to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country? Of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, his Second Bill of Rights, his proclamation that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, his constant optimism in the face of Depression and war?

In September, this editorial board challenged Senator Sanders to recast his message within the framework of American history. While the advice still stands, we believe that it is Secretary Clinton who is in far more dire need of better messaging. Mario Cuomo said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. The making of a President depends greatly on the qualifications of the candidate herself and the policy prose that she can lay before the American people for their judgment. But just as importantly, if not more so, it depends on whether she can explain her candidacy in the soaring rhetoric and high-minded poetry that allows people to believe that there is such a thing as human greatness and that it operates on their behalf. Until Secretary Clinton can do this convincingly, her supporters will remain the lackluster band of anxious observers who would prefer to get this campaigning shtick over with and lock her into four years in the White House as soon as possible.