October 18, 2012

Santorum, Dean Spar in Debate at Cornell

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The 2012 presidential election has been described as not just as a battle between Republicans and Democrats, but also as a decision about the fundamental role the government plays in American society. In a substantive debate in Bailey Hall Thursday night, fomer Governor Howard Dean (D-Vt.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) exemplified the stark political divide in the nation, advocating very different proposals for how the nation should be governed.

The ideological gulf between the two veteran politicians was apparent from the beginning. In his opening statement, Santorum said he believes in limited government.

“I stand by the traditional American principles that made this country successful,” he said.“The Constitution is a limiting document, not an empowering document.”

Dean, however, said that the United States’ founding fathers meant for the Constitution to be a “living document” and that it must evolve.

“I don’t believe the Constitution was ever written as a document that was never meant to be changed,” Dean said.

Citing federal laws that forbid same-sex marriage, Dean said that politicians too often support a government that is restrictive in some policy areas but permissive of other aspects of American life.

“Let us embrace small government in its entirety … or let us have big government, and big government means regulation,” he said.

Throughout the night, the sold-out audience in Bailey  Hall cheered, hissed and booed as Santorum and Dean debated, despite a plea for civility at the start of the event from the moderator, Prof. Samuel Nelson, industrial and labor relations. The most enthusiastic responses came when the two discussed the upcoming presidential election.

During the two recent presidential debates, President Barack Obama has come across as “disinterested and annoyed,” while former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has appeared to be a strong leader, Santorum said. However, Santorum also indicated his dislike for the man he once called the “worst Republican” to face Obama.

“One of the great attributes this president has had for four years is that people like him; they thought he was a really good guy … Now, Romney didn’t come across that much better in my opinion,” he said to thunderous applause and laughter from the audience, before walking back his remarks.

“I know he’s a good guy, but the perception of Romney was he was a CEO that didn’t care about people,” Santorum explained.

Dean predicted a “narrow” victory for Obama, noting that the math of the Electoral College is in the President’s favor. Perhaps to no surprise, Santorum said that Romney would win because the country “couldn’t afford” another four years of an Obama administration.

One of the more tense exchanges came during a discussion on voter I.D. laws, which in some states mandate that voters present valid identification at the polls.

Santorum said that in his home state of Pennsylvania, such laws are an effective deterrent to voter fraud. He said that in his state, the law only affected one percent of the population, and said that I.D.’s are needed for many daily activities, such as buying medicine at a pharmacy.

In his most fiery moment of the night, Dean countered that the laws were intended to suppress the Democratic vote, noting that the Pennsylvania voter I.D. law was thrown out by a state judge on Oct. 2 because the judge said it was discriminatory.

“I am damned if I’m going to let a bunch of Republican political operatives take away the right to vote from students or anybody else. If you’re a Republican that depends on taking away people’s’ right to vote, and that is how you’re going to win the election, then you ought not to be competing in the election,” Dean bellowed to wild applause.

The two also discussed about some of the most potent political issues that are in the forefront of Americans’ minds, including the role of government in higher education and the health care system.

On the prospect of nuclear Iran, Dean said the nation was “the most dangerous country on the face of the Earth” but said it was not in America’s best interest to start another war in the Middle East. Rather, he advocated tougher sanctions on Iran.

Santorum, meanwhile, charged that the Obama administration has not pushed for tougher sanctions because it does not want to anger the Russian government. He said that a “line in the sand” must be drawn and that the Iranians must know that the U.S. will take military action if it is crossed.

“A re-elected Obama, in my opinion, will mean a nuclear Iran,” Santorum warned.

Original Author: David Marten

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