Rutgers Republicans and Democrats face off in debate
Student Democrats and Republicans met to discuss the country’s most pressing issues on Thursday at the Eagleton Institute of Politics on the Douglass campus.
Two students from the Rutgers Republicans, Andrea Vacchiano, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Robert Suriano, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, faced two students from Rutgers Democrats, Kyle Bright, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, and Sandeep Patankar, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
The four students debated back and forth about prominent subjects like minimum wage, voter rights, the cost of higher education and gun control in America.
In a moderated question and answer session, each side had 2 minutes to state their arguments, with 30 second rebuttals that followed.
Before the debate started, the president of Rutgers Republicans, Danna Almeida, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said that the event’s goal was to allow both parties to engage in civil discourse about important issues in the nation.
The moderator of the event, Saladin Ambar, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and a senior scholar at the Eagleton Center on the American Governor agreed. He said that despite political differences, Democrats and Republicans can have a respectable conversation and come together to solve world problems, because bettering the world is more important than a person’s political agenda or party affiliation.
One of the first topics brought to the table was voter rights. Parties debated on the extent of documentation needed from citizens at the ballot box.
The Democrats argued that requiring voter identification is a cynical attempt to suppress certain left-wing voters, because a large population, especially minorities, do not have photo identification — and that just so happens to be the party that has a tendency to vote democratic.
They made the case that requiring such documentation disproportionately excludes certain demographics and discourages them from casting their vote, which is a breach in democracy.
On the other hand, the Republicans argued that voter fraud is a real issue and that for a government to be legitimate, votes must be legitimate. They asserted that it is too easy to claim someone else’s identification at the booth in many states today and that ID should be required at the ballot box, because it is integrated in several other parts of a person’s life, including college.
They insisted that even if a person does not have proper identification, there are simple steps they can take to obtain one, like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Republican students heavily opposed the idea of raising the minimum wage. They argued that an increase in wages would be detrimental to the economy. It would particularly hurt small businesses, forcing them to either lay off employees or foreclose, they said. The students argued that such a move would result in employment rates plummeting. They claimed that as the minimum wage rises, entry or lower position job opportunities would decrease, which in turn would restrict people with limited skills and experience, like teenagers, from getting jobs.
The current minimum wage is not a living wage for many people, Democrat students said. They claimed that because wages are so low, people use the government as a crutch and rely on federal money, like food stamps, to get by. Raising the minimum wage would alleviate this issue and save the government thousands of dollars every year, they said. The Democrats also argued that it would result in more efficient workers and, furthermore, a lower turnover rate within a company.
Another topic was the cost of higher education, what can be done to keep tuition at bay and whether there should be more or less government involvement in the matter.
The Republican side proposed two solutions. The first was for colleges to limit luxurious spending on things besides education. The reason why college is expensive, according to their claim, is due to educational institutions providing gyms, movie theaters and expensive sport stadiums — all which they said are not necessary. Their second solution restricted government loans to universities. They argued that government subsidies to people who do not show post-graduate potential is inefficient, because they end up unemployed. Furthermore, they said that certain career paths, such as fine arts, do not require higher education to begin with and that people who desire more technical jobs should not be pressured to attend college.
The Democratic students said that one way to reduce tuition is to follow former President Barack Obama’s initiative and pressure universities to cut spending or risk losing their access to federal loans. They stressed that for-profit institutions should be closely monitored, because they do not always prioritize student needs.
“Currently the most biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans would be guns (sic). They do not want to compromise with each other and there is a lot of polarization because the tragedies are very personal,” Vacchiano said.
During the gun-control debate, Democrats said that too many Americans die from gun violence. They claimed that the best solution to prevent massacres is to limit access to guns and deplete access to assault rifles. They further explained that states with more relaxed gun laws have three times higher gun violence rates compared to states with stricter gun laws.
The students continued their argument, pointing out that smart gun technology is an alternate solution. Smart gun technology is the use of personalized guns, which can prevent shootings when the weapon is in the hands of an unauthorized user.
The Republicans rebutted with mass shootings being a problem in the U.S., not gun ownership. They further supported this by saying that gun violence has been decreasing since 1990, and is continuing to decrease. The Republican side gave several solutions to reduce mass shootings while reserving Second Amendment rights. Their first solution called upon armed police guards to prevent tragedies when they suspect mass shooters.
In addition to the idea of metal detectors in schools, another solution they posed was to enforce “straw purchase” laws, which involve buying guns for someone else.
We need to enforce laws like these before we try to add more, they argued. Lastly, in rebuttal to the Democrats initiative to ban assault rifles, they pointed out that the Virginia Tech shooting was done with a pistol, not an assault rifle.
The goal of the event is to essentially foster dialogue and make sure our student body has a better idea of where each party stands on each issue, Ambar said.
He said that political differences and debates are a good thing, as long as they are coupled with respect and basic appreciation for the opposing side.
“That was on display tonight,” he said. “Even though people disagreed on the issues, often substantively and substantially, there was still a fundamental respect for the positions of their opponents.”
Jordan Taylor, a School of Arts and Sciences junior in the audience, agreed.
“It was nice to hear them express in an eloquent way. Both sides really presented their ideas in a respectful way, got their points across in a way that was clear, in a way that everyone was able to understand,” he said
Vacchiano added that more events like this should happen and that the more political discussions there are, the more students from other majors beyond political science will get involved. She hopes to see this debate happen again next year.
“Rutgers is a very liberal environment, and they don’t really hear conservative views besides the occasional one on Facebook and same thing goes for conservatives. All of us are in our own bubbles so I think the most important thing students take away is the ability to hear different sides and perspectives,” she said.
Taylor echoed similar sentiments and said that there is room for more people to be involved, especially those who are not versed in political issues.
Ambar agreed that it is important for more people, specifically students, to get involved with their government and political views.
“Part of your job as a student is not simply about performing in class. (It is about) taking what you’re learning in class and bringing it into the public arena. How does one do that? One does that, in part, by engaging with ideas, fellow students, professors and the world,” he said.