Political Debate Raises Awareness on Notable Issues

By Purnell T. Cropper | December 2, 2011

By Michael Schwartz ’14

The ornately decorated Mirror Room in Grey Towers Castle was the scene for passionate debate among Arcadia’s student political party groups.  More than 40 people were treated to a fascinating exchange of views during the event, which was organized by Politicate.

Members of the Arcadia Democrats, College Republicans and College Independents went back and forth on hot button issues related, including the right to assemble, unequal income distribution, and the federal government’s role helping students manage debt (or not).

Six local politicians were on hand at the debate: Pennsylvania State Representatives Kevin Boyle and Todd Stephens; Montgomery County Controller Stewart Greenleaf Jr.; Montgomery County Commissioners Joseph Hoeffel and Leslie Richards; and Montgomery Township Supervisor Joseph Walsh. They took part in a question-and-answer session with the audience of mostly Arcadia students, which included Brody Rosenfeld ’12 and Ari Kantrow ’14.

Rosenfeld enjoyed the debate and appreciated hearing the different points of view expressed by both students and officials. Kantrow called the event “super-intense” and identified the most with the College Republicans as well as the politicians who she thought were “very fair.”

Regulating the Right to Protest

The first of three debate topics broached was how much control law enforcement should have over protest groups, such as the controversial Occupy movements which have swept the world.

College Independents President Zach Wynkoop bluntly stated, “In essence, if you regulate free speech, you regulate thought, which of course sounds like the book 1984.” Wynkoop said that any regulation on protest groups was “laughable” and a “totalitarian aspect of the government” which would serve as an “infringement of people’s rights.”

Arcadia Democrats member Miranda Lynn Cornelison agreed with the Independents and argued, “Freedom is not an abstract concept, it’s a concrete one. You’re either free or you’re not free and as such you can’t regulate someone like that.”

However, Treasurer Richard Baker defended the rights of the police to make sure protest groups don’t grow out of control.

The College Republicans stated that they were completely in favor of the right to protest and were against the abuse of protestors by law enforcement. However, they felt that protestors camping out for months are unfair to business owners and city officials because of sanitary concerns. College Republicans member Ilya Gomelsky said, “I want them to be protesting for as long as they feel necessary. I just want it under sanitary conditions for everybody.”

Unequal Income Distribution

When it came to the matter of economic disparity—the wealthiest one percent of the nation’s population versus the rest of the ninety-nine percent—College Republicans Vice President Patrick Wajda argued that the one percent largely consists of innovators, such as Henry Ford, J.D. Rockefeller, and Mark Zuckerberg, whose work has improved the lives of everyone else. After making the argument that these people originally came from the ninety-nine percent, he stated, “Look, you’re going to have in a free market system economic disparity, it’s a byproduct of freedom. Some people born are just born more ambitious, more energetic and more driven than others.”

Both the College Democrats and the Independents were critical of these remarks. After praising the work of Zuckerberg and other innovators, Baker of the Democrats said, “That doesn’t mean that the rest of the society isn’t as equally motivated, they are just not given the opportunities.” As solutions, Baker proposed strengthening social programs and to restructure taxes so that anybody can get the chance to be like Mark Zuckerberg.

Steven Harter of the College Independents called the notion made by the Republicans “neo-liberal propaganda.” He also listed several ways to address economic disparity, including “taxing the wealthy, strengthening unions, stopping the socialization of ecosystem destruction, strengthening social security debts such as universal health care, subsidizing free education to make it affordable.”

Alleviating Student Debt

The final debate topic was the role of the federal government with helping manage student debt.  Arcadia Democrat member Cornelison proclaimed that student debt is a problem for more students and will only continue to get worse. She stated, “The percentage of students defaulting on these loans keeps rising and it’s going to keep rising if no action is taken.”

Yet Wajda of the College Republicans believed that the federal government didn’t need to get more involved with student debt. He argued that student loans are voluntary and that students rather than taxpayers should be responsible for paying them. When it came to choosing where to go to college, Wajda remarked, “[I]f you want that choice, you want that power, you have to pay the cost.”

However, Carlee Rossiter of the College Independents argued that more money needs to be put into educational objectives such as “books and better teachers.” She added, “Increasing the federal investment in education would help us out. Do we need to control it? Yes. But we also need to increase that amount.”