CHESHIRE– In an event patterned on the presidential debates, representatives of the Yale College Democrats and Republicans addressed hundreds of high school students, teachers and members of the media at the Cheshire Academy yesterday.
Closely adhering to the positions of their parties’ respective presidential candidates, YCD Membership Coordinator Roger Low ’07 and YCR President Al Jiwa ’06 answered questions about topics including North Korea’s nuclear capability, the war in Iraq, gay marriage and gun control. Low and Jiwa said the debate was intended to develop an interest in politics among the assembled high school students, who wrote and submitted the questions.
Low’s arguments were primarily focused on discrediting the policies of President George W. Bush ’68.
“The fact is, we’ve lost a huge number of jobs under his presidency, and that’s not success,” Low said. “Alliances and friends that used to be with us now mistrust us because we’ve completely blown our credibility in telling the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I am hard pressed to talk about a single good thing that President Bush has done.”
Though Jiwa initially attacked the Senate voting record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry ’66, he also emphasized Bush’s policies, defending the war in Iraq, multilateral negotiations with North Korea, and the No Child Left Behind Act.
“When the international community wasn’t responding, wasn’t enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations, President Bush had to respond to protect this country,” Jiwa said.
Jiwa said he viewed the debate as an opportunity to get future voters interested in politics as well as to inform the roughly 150 registered voters in the audience about the candidates’ positions.
Though he was nervous about speaking before so many people, Low said he grew more comfortable as the debate progressed.
“It’s the thrill of having high school students get into the issues,” Low said. “I don’t think I could’ve done this for a lot of things, but in this election I feel so strongly about the need to defeat Bush that I was motivated.”
The event was organized by Cheshire Academy teacher Brad Nicholson, who said his goal was to increase student interest and awareness of the issues in this year’s election. He said he thought it was fitting to recruit Yale students for the debate since the two presidential candidates graduated from the University.
“I thought it was great,” said Nicholson, who teaches world history, international relations and world religions. “I wish we’d had time to get to some more issues, but for the ones we got to, I think they did a great job of portraying both candidates’ positions on the issue.”
Reacting to the debate, students in the audience were split. Some said the discussion swayed them more toward Bush’s side and some more toward Kerry’s. Kaileigh Ackerman, a junior at Cheshire Academy who was one of five students reading questions to Jiwa and Low, said that regardless of which side was more convincing, attending the debate was a valuable experience.
“I think it engaged the students, and I think it’s important for them to be exposed to these issues,” Ackerman said. “I hope it opens the eyes of students and makes them feel that these issues affect them, so they can develop their own point of view.”