Representatives from the GW College Republicans and GW College Democrats went head-to-head Thursday night during The Last Great Debate in the Hippodrome. The groups participated in a mock presidential debate moderated by CNN’s Burden of Proof co-host Roger Cossack.
The format of the debate was consistent with the presidential debates, with general questions presented to one side and then the other with a two-minute time limit for responses.
Cossack posed questions to both parties on a variety of issues including the stock market, Supreme Court appointments and apathy among young people.
The CDs were the first to give their opening statement, which summarized Gore’s platform.
Education is clearly the number-one priority in this election, said Anjan Choudhury, CD president. We are all students here. We all face the same issues. We all know the importance of higher education reform and education reform in the systems that we have come through.
Opening for the College Republicans was CR Chairman Bill Eldridge, who spoke about the need for local control over education, social security reform and a stronger military.
Eldridge introduced the idea of two roads that a voter can travel down when voting for one of the two candidates.
One road is a road in which the government does not trust the individual, Eldridge said. George W. Bush offers a second road, a road in which the government does respect the individual.
About 12 members of GW’s Students for Nader also attended the debate, dressed with dollar bills sticking out of their shirt pockets to mock both the Republican and Democratic parties on the issue of campaign finance reform.
Students supporting presidential hopeful Ralph Nader submitted a question asking both sides why there should be an increase in military spending when no countries today seem able to threaten the United States.
The CDs responded to the question by citing a change in the world and military power since the Cold War.
When you look around the world, you have to have a military that is strategically prepared to deal with the new world order, Choudhury said.
Chouldhury said military spending should be increased because the United States needs a force that is better equipped and military personnel need a pay increase.
The CRs agreed with the CDs that military spending should increase, but claimed that it was a Republican-led Congress that originated the idea.
We need to make sure that our military is prepared to defend us and our allies, Eldridge said. We would like to disagree with the Democrats on the points where yes, they do need a pay raise; however it was the Republican Congress that passed the bill.
Closing arguments for both sides highlighted the most important views of each party.
The Republicans stressed their Social Security plan, which would allow Americans to put their money in private social security accounts. Those accounts would offer higher yields and may give seniors more money once they retire.
We are going to guarantee Social Security, CR member Brian Pasquarelli said. The system needs to be reformed for the youth of America, so that when they get old, they can have coverage, too. Governor Bush will reform that system.
The CDs ended the debate discussing the topic of leadership, portraying the Bush campaign as reactionary.
What it really comes down to, fundamentally, who we believe in, in terms of philosophy and leadership, Choudhury said. George W. Bush has run a very pretty campaign, I don’t dispute that, but he has given you the illusion of inclusion.
In his closing statement, Eldridge stressed the importance of garnering the vote of the undecided voter.
My goals for the night was to present Governor Bush’s policies and the policies that he wants to put in effect when he becomes president next year, Eldridge said. We wanted to present our education plan, our tax plan and our social security policies. Part of that goal was to try and turn those undecided minds to the Republican Party and to vote for Governor Bush.
Although Nader supporters turned their backs in protest on the closing arguments of the two parties, debaters said they were happy Nader supporters came and expressed their views.
I was glad that we took the Nader people’s questions, Choudhury said. I don’t think that students are going to get anywhere by dividing and making fun of other students. I don’t think that is productive or respectful. I applaud every student who wants to get active, I just think that you have to respect everyone’s opinion and you cannot personally attack them.
Participants and spectators said the debate met its goal to enlighten GW students about the political platforms of both parties.
The issue here was not to change the students’ minds, said Danielle Gonzales, the CD’s diversity action coordinator. It was to spread our message so that they know where the College Democrats and the College Republicans stand.
Cossack said he was pleased how well the debate went and with the preparedness of the debaters.
As the moderator, I was very impressed to see how prepared both sides were, Cossack said. I tried to ask questions that perhaps were phrased in a way that wouldn’t be so suggestive of answers.
This probably is the closest election that most of us could ever remember, he said. Even those that say they are going to vote one way or the other; there are a whole lot of soft votes for Gore and for Bush. This election could be decided on the day that they vote once they get inside the booth.
Freshman Nell McGarity said he thought the event was successful.
I learned a lot about both candidates tonight, McGarity said. But I have come to the conclusion that Gore and Bush are like the tin man and the scarecrow – one needs a heart and the other needs a brain.