Though his speech was replete with references to “justice” and “morality,” Sanders’s message was more about the absence of those virtues from our society than their unmovable place in the world. It was not a feel-good speech. Bernie Sanders doesn’t really do feel-good speeches.
Unlike the social-justice crusaders you’d find on a liberal arts campus, the students at Liberty University were not very receptive to Sanders’s message of entrenched inequality and the need for the government to provide more for society’s poor and weak. The Liberty students I spoke with agreed on one aspect: He seems like a good man; he’s just a little misguided. They seemed, on the whole, a lot more receptive to Sanders than students of a similarly liberal college would be if one were to drop Ted Cruz or another GOP competitor on campus.
Cody Bright, a Liberty senior and a Jeb Bush supporter, had a Bernie Sanders sign with him under his chair. He said it was his way of saying, “Welcome to Liberty.”
“It’s good for us to hear other sides that we’ll never hear unless speakers like that come here,” Bright said, adding that he thinks Sanders makes good points about income inequality, but he disagrees with the senator on raising the minimum wage.
At $28,000 a year, Liberty’s tuition is considerable, though at least one student I talked to received free tuition because his parents are Christian missionaries. Matt Ozburn, a junior, is paying his way through school by working 35 hours a week in one of the college’s restaurants.
When asked what he thought about Sanders’s plan to subsidize all public-university tuition, Ozburn was hesitant.
“It sounds nice, but I’m not sure what that would mean in the long run for taxpayers,” he said. “Where would that leave us 10 or 15 years in the future? Would that bring us into more debt?”
Skepticism aside, some students were genuinely enthusiastic about having Sanders on campus. Of 15 students interviewed for this story, two said they could see themselves voting for him.
Kay Mello, a junior, said right now she would vote for either Sanders or Dr. Ben Carson.
“Those are my two options right now,” she said. “With the other candidates, they’re more concerned about other politicians, and all they care about is the 1 percent.”
Despite the lukewarm reception that Sanders received, some students still said they liked him more than one candidate: Hillary Clinton. One trio of students went so far as to say they’d rather see Sanders as the Democratic nominee.
Mello said the email controversy has made Clinton less trustworthy. Paige Seiger, a senior, said she supports Carson for president but would rather see Sanders win than Clinton “by far,” if it came down to that.
“Hillary’s a liar,” Seiger said. “She said that nobody ever issued her a subpoena, and Trey Gowdy was like, ‘I literally have the subpoena that I issued her back in March.’”