Howard Dean and Newt Gingrich traded polite but partisan jabs while debating health care and national security at Lisner Auditorium Tuesday night.
The former Democratic National Committee chair and the rumored 2012 presidential candidate stressed that despite sitting on different sides of the aisle, both career politicians could agree there needs to be a fundamental change in the U.S.
“This is a transition point for the country because there are a lot of changes that are going to happen,” Dean said. “Your generation is not tolerant; it’s inclusive. And the Republican Party is going to have to deal with that.”
Gingrich – who came as a last-minute replacement for Liz Cheney after she canceled her appearance to help work on her father’s upcoming book – called for a return to localism, saying “it is impossible for a Washington-based system to effectively govern a country of this size.”
During the debate, the two also found common ground when they learned neither fully supports the health care reform bill that passed Congress last year.
“We have to decide what we want in this country, and it isn’t free,” Dean said. He added, “We can’t blame everything on Washington,” and, “it’s time we took a little responsibility for ourselves.”
Gingrich lauded Dean for his position on the health care bill.
“The fact that Gov. Dean would say flatly things aren’t free marks him as so different from much of the Democratic Party,” he said.
Though they disagreed on the specifics, Dean and Gingrich agreed in principle on the need for economic reform that creates jobs and helps cut the deficit.
“It’s important to understand that these problems originate in both parties,” Dean said, placing the blame on both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. “If the president doesn’t succeed, we all lose.”
The discussion of national security grew heated when Gingrich raised the subject of Islamic radicalism, describing the need to hold a national dialogue on terrorism.
“Your generation is going to face a long struggle – I believe at least as long as the Cold War. I think it is going to be extraordinarily dangerous and I think if our opponents get either biological or nuclear weapons, we are in real trouble,” Gingrich said.
Dean, however, took offense to Gingrich’s use of the term “Islamic radicalism.”
“Intolerance breeds intolerance and we can’t fight intolerance with intolerance,” Dean said.
The two politicians disagreed on immigration, with Gingrich favoring residency status for illegal aliens while Dean called for the opportunity for full citizenship.
Looking toward the 2012 presidential election, Dean expressed support for Obama.
“I am going to support the president. I do think he’s going to be better than the alternatives – no insult intended,” Dean said, referring to Gingrich’s much-speculated 2012 presidential bid.
Dean also applauded the ability of the College Democrats and College Republicans to come together for what became a discussion, rather than a debate.
“We [Gingrich and I] think the respective presidents of both organizations ought to write an op-ed to show the Congress how it’s done, ’cause they could use a little help,” Dean said.
The debate was moderated by Derek Malone-France, director of the Writing in the Disciplines program and interim executive director of the University Writing Program.
“It was exactly what we had hoped for: the preeminent activists in both parties really having a discussion. It wasn’t this vitriol-filled back-and-forth. It was a discussion,” CDs President Josh Altman said.
Altman said the event was well worth the $40,000 co-sponsorship provided by the Student Association, the body’s largest single allocation last year.
“You know, to bring an event of this caliber to campus, it has a cost,” Altman said. “But you know the SA, the University, they supported us and I think that the student body got a lot out of it.”