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Whoever said college students don’t pay attention to politics hasn’t been to Temple lately.
As the Temple College Democrats and Temple College Republicans held their second annual debate Thursday night, it was clear that at least some of the student body is active in the body politic as well.
In front of a crowd in a conference room in the Student Center, the two student organizations traded barbs on the big presidential election topics and answered pointed questions from the approximately 100 students in attendance.
The exchanges were heated at times, especially during the question-and-answer session, but both sides played down the charged atmosphere as simply healthy, albeit passionate, debate.
“I think it was just as healthy as any republican-democrat debate,” said Kyle Uhlman, a College Republican. “That’s really all you can ask.”
Both sides said they felt they achieved their primary goal of sparking interest among students and presenting their views on the country’s most pressing issues.
The College Democrats has tripled its membership since forming this recent chapter last year, and the College Republicans has seen similar increases since starting up its chapter in 2002.
“If there was anyone we could get to, it was swing voters, and they have a little time to make up their minds,” said Anna Walker, president of the College Democrats. “It was ultimately to educate people and talk with the other side.”
“Our goal was to educate the students on the issues at hand, and I think we did that very well,” said College Republican President Ryan McCool.
The debate format allotted each group two two-minute intervals to answer six questions, and one 30-second chance for rebuttal. Afterwards, there was a town hall-style question and answer session.
Among the topics discussed were the war in Iraq, the federal budget deficit, marriage equality, energy independence, healthcare reform and solutions for Philadelphia’s crime problem.
Universal healthcare, one of the more contentious topics in this year’s presidential race, was also the most fiercely-contested in the debate.
Keith Davis and Chelsea Dumas, who spoke on behalf of the College Democrats, said they advocated the idea, saying that shedding President George W. Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy would provide funding.
They said that by breaking up insurance companies and offering cheaper government alternatives and preventative care, competition would increase and make prices more affordable.
“Universal healthcare would not only succeed in the United States, but save lives,” Davis said.
Ace Caroe and David Barton of the College Republicans said they agreed that there needed to be increased competition, but that government programs like universal healthcare would be inefficient and would only raise taxes, negating its affect.
“Look at some of the government programs, like FEMA” Caroe said. “Do you want the people who handled Hurricane Katrina to handle your health insurance?”
Barton said health care could be reformed through other means, such as requiring doctors to disclose prices and allowing consumers to buy out-of-state health insurance.
The crowd appeared especially concerned with the topic, asking both groups two questions regarding universal healthcare. The students, mostly left-leaning but balanced by a strong conservative showing, questioned the Democrats on the fiscal aspects of the plan and the Republicans’ resolve on why it wouldn’t work.
With both groups of eight students lined up side-by-side in the front of the room, the question-and-answer session aroused some of the more voracious arguments and crowd reactions.
In response to one healthcare question, College Republican Mike Narozzi [corrected April 2, 2008] emphasized that most average Americans were receiving health care and it was not an issue, sparking an exchange between College Democrat Shaun Antrim and College Republican McCool.
“It’s at what cost though?” Atrim asked rhetorically, before explaining the struggles some of his elderly co-workers face to pay for coverage.
“Whoever said healthcare was cheap?” McCool responded. “The technology we have, the machines we have, it’s not cheap.”
The two went back and forth until the moderator, political science professor Dr. Robin Kolodny, intervened.
The two groups also argued extensively over solutions for the federal budget deficit and energy independence. Walker and Kevin Paris, of the Democrats, suggested eliminating the Bush tax cuts and cutting back on “excessive military spending” to reduce the deficit.
Uhlman and College Republican Vice President Brian McGovern countered that the Bush tax cuts have stimulated the economy and the government should instead cut back on wasteful bureaucratic spending and reform social entitlement programs to reallocate funds.
Before they could debate energy independence, though, a student dressed in a polar bear costume came into the room holding two signs, one reading, “Stop Global Warming.”
The student aroused cheers and laughs from the crowd and continued along the back wall until McGovern followed him and grabbed one of the signs, breaking off a piece in the process. The crowd watched in delight until the energetic Caroe, a College Republican, regained their attention.
“He basically caused a disturbance and a delay, and we weren’t sure if we were going to be strapped for time,” McGovern said afterwards, while admitting the ploy was funny. “I just wanted to move him along where he wasn’t in the way of the actual event going on.”
Such was the lively atmosphere of the debate – one of ideological, but not bitter, disagreements. Afterwards, as the crowd dispersed, the two groups mingled and congratulated each other, as the Republicans jokingly accused the Democrats of being behind the polar bear gag.
“It was terrific,” said Kolodny, the moderator. “First of all, the turnout was just fabulous. And second of all, they obviously put a lot of time into it. It’s very hard the way these issues are to find the time to keep up with them, and I felt they did a great job. I’m proud of what it says about Temple’s student body as well.”
Nick Pipitone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.