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Presidents Day celebrated with debate

February 22, 2007

Members of the College Republicans, College Democrats and the Socialist Alternative spoke their minds at the entirely student-organized President’s Day Great Campus Debate on Monday evening in the Riverview Ballroom of the University Center.

Two representatives from each of the campus political organizations participated in the debate, which focused on four topics: energy and environment, the economy, the war in Iraq and health care. Representing the College Democrats were Jennifer Jamison and Ben Plunkett; Brett Hoven and Nick Shillingford debated on behalf of the Socialist Alternative and Josh Sandey and Nick Carow represented the College Republicans.

Political science professor Neil Kraus moderated the event.

In opening, Kraus stated that the event possibly be labeled “first annual,” in anticipation that the President’s Day debate become a tradition at UW-River Falls.

To begin the debate, each of the political groups presented their opening statements. Plunkett started off the debate by thanking all of those in the audience for attending.

He went on to quote 2008 presidential nominee and current U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s campaign speech. Plunkett said the College Democrats anticipate that the debate will be a catalyst for more political conversation on campus.

“We hope this debate will serve as a starting point for further discussions to better the country,” he said.

In the Socialist introduction, Shillingford explained the 2004 election was the most expensive presidential election in history, and the 2008 election will most likely be even more expensive, with costs in the billions.

Speaking for the Republicans, Sandey forecasted the course he thought the debate would take, basing his analysis on the continuous grumblings of the liberals in the past.

“I expect to hear complaining from the liberal Democrats and Socialists tonight,” he said.

Environment

Beginning the debate, the Socialists posed their views on environmental concerns. Hoven said the environmental problems will continue to worsen as long as big business refuses to respond.

“We need to break free from these two parties that support big business,” he said, adding that subsidies need to be cut.

Hoven also offered up the idea that efficient, affordable public transportation would help in solving some environmental issues.

In response, Carow posed a question.

“Did big business or small business build [the University Center]?” he asked.

Carow also interjected his opinion on fuel oil and environmentally-friendly vehicles.

“We need to drill for more oil in the United States. Period,” he said. “We also reject the idea that tomorrow we stop driving SUVs and start driving hybrids.”

Carow insisted that the U.S. build more nuclear power plants and refine coal development.

“We are the Saudi Arabia of coal,” he said.

On behalf of the College Democrats, Plunkett spoke up on the environmental issue.

In agreement with the Republicans, Plunkett said that nuclear energy is one of the cleanest forms of energy and is one option to consider.

“Denial is not just a river in Egypt,” he said, adding that we cannot simply ignore the environmental problems.

Plunkett also said there is need to make low interest loans available to families in order for them to purchase environmentally-friendly appliances.

In a wrap-up of the environment topic, Kraus asked all of the groups whether or not global warming is happening.

“By all means,” Jamison said, basing her answer on scientific proof.

The Socialists were in agreement with the Democrats, while Sandey acknowledged warmer temperatures, but gave no definite answer.

“We don’t know what it is,” Sandey said in reference to the cause of the climatic changes.

Economy

Jamison spoke first on the issue of the economy, stating that statistics can sometimes be irrelevant.

“You can make statistics say whatever you want,” she said.

Jamison also said that the way the economy works, the lower class continues to get poorer.

One solution she posed to the continuous economic problems is to cease spending money in Iraq.

Hoven, speaking for the Socialists, said that CEOs and politicians, not the average American citizens, are among the few who are actually benefiting from the current status of the economy.

He acknowledged the continuing rebuilding efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and said as the economy grows, corporate gain is “going through the roof.”

Hoven then segued into the U.S. poverty levels.

“It is outrageous to see a country that accounts for 28 percent of the [Gross Domestic Product (GDP)] can’t keep people out of poverty,” Hoven said.

For the Republicans, Sandey insisted the economy is strong.

He said that unemployment rates are at the lowest point when compared with the past four decades.

Sandey also said that with Bush’s tax cuts will come more growth and taxing companies is not the right answer.

“America cannot tax itself to prosperity,” he said.

During the open discussion, Sandey clarified that if companies were taxed, that tax would be passed on to consumers and prices on consumer goods would increase.

Jamison rebutted Sandey’s views on tax cuts.

“When tax cuts go to the wealthiest 2 percent, that does nothing,” she said. “I agree wholeheartedly with the Socialist Alternative. Make the accountability rule so companies pay what they’re due to pay.”

Iraq

The topic of the war in Iraq, for which the most time was allotted for debate and discussion, was intended to be the main focus of the evening.

Starting off the war debate, Plunkett listed off a number of inaccuracies with Bush’s intentions to invade Iraq. Iraqis did not have ties to 9-11 or al-Qaeda and they were not in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

“We are stuck in a quagmire,” he said. “The cure is worse than the disease that ailed us.”

Plunkett made his point clear in his closing statement: “Bring our troops home!”

Shillingford began his argument by stating that both the Republicans and the democrats wanted the war in Iraq at first and the Socialists did not.

“Why are we in Iraq?” he asked.

In response to his own question, Shillingford offered up imperialism and corporate interest as reasons.

“We need to create an Iraq in interest of Iraqis, not imperial capitalism,” he said.

Fending off remarks from the liberals, Carow acknowledged that although the Democrats may want change in Iraq, they have no policy for what action to take right now.

“We can win in Iraq, and we will win in Iraq —with patience,” Carow said.

During the open discussion, Hoven reiterated what Plunkett and Shillingford had said about the intentions and miscues of the other two parties.

“Everybody voted for this war to start,” Hoven said. “We all thought [Saddam Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction. We were all wrong.”

Plunkett again insisted the troops be brought home, speaking about the price of the war.

“The longer the troops are in Iraq, the more dollars are squandered and the more lives are lost,” he said. “I’ve had enough!”

Hoven summed up his views on the United States’ meddling in Iraq’s affairs.

“It’s a civil war that cannot be settled by an outside force,” he said.

Plunkett then went on to take an economical standpoint on the events in Iraq in a statement aimed at the Republicans.

“Our business and our economy have suffered because of your war,” he said.

Health care

To finish the debate, the participants voiced their opinions on health care.

Sandey began by asking who we want supporting our health care options.

“I, for one, don’t want to be told which physician I can see,” he said.

Equality in health care availability was also on the Republicans list of necessities.

“[We need to] provide all citizens with the opportunity to buy health care,” Sandey said.

The Democrats insisted that the current health care option needs retuning.

“The new plan does not meet the need to help Americans afford health care,” Jamison said. “It’s gonna help those who aren’t necessarily as affected.”

Shillingford said that just because we have the most expensive health care plan does not mean that it is the best.

“Half of American bankruptcies are due to the inability to pay health care,” he said, taking his information from a Harvard study.

During the discussion, Jamison pointed out that the money is not properly allocated with the current plan.

The cost of drugs was also a topic of debate.

Plunkett said that 1,300 prescription drugs are available at a lower cost than others, which he didn’t think was enough.

“If someone happens to be rich, they can go and buy other prescriptions, out of their own pocket,” he said.

Kraus then brought up the issue of corporate involvement in health care, to which all parties responded.

Jamison questioned the high costs of co-pays.

Carow pointed out that corporations need to have a place in health care due to their ability to help fund medical reseach, noting the decrease in cancer rates in recent years.

Hoven then acknowledged the Socialist view.

“Health care companies don’t have the interest of the sick at heart,” he said.

In closing, each of the political organizations was allowed to make final statements on the overall view of the issues discussed.

Carow said that the Socialists did not specify a solution to any of the problems. He said he heard a lot of rhetoric instead of solutions and compared their statements to that of Stalin.

Jamison put Americans front and center in her closing statements, questioning how the citizens are being cared for.

“How are we caring for those who cannot care for themselves?” she asked.

“We reject the foreign policy of these groups because they have no foreign policy," Carow said.

He also shed doubts on the Socialist view that American intervention does not work.

“We’re an optimistic people and our better days are still ahead,” Carow said.

Shillingford spoke on behalf of the Socialist Alternative, closing with the organizations credo: “Troops home now,” he said. “Money for jobs and health care, not war.”

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Nick Shillingford's surname.)

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