Last Wednesday, one day before the first presidential debate, Political Science professors Gerald Gamm and David Primo led a spirited discussion about many of the primary issues and questions facing voters this fall.Gamm and Primo voiced their opinions on critical issues including foreign policy, the economy and social welfare programs before an audience of nearly 200 captivated students. Although he identifies himself more as a libertarian, overall Primo argued in support of President George W. Bush’s administration while Gamm supported the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry.Introducing the foreign policy topic, Gamm offered some background. “Our place in the world changed forever on September 11,” Gamm said. “We are rightly concerned about fighting terrorism and reestablishing world order. Many people hate and are ready to kill Americans. How do we fight them?””President Bush’s policy is to go after them even if we’re not sure where they are – we may screw up, but that’s okay, we have to go in to show that we’re tough,” Gamm said, answering his own question. “Senator Kerry says that is a radical and irresponsible policy – we have a looming threat from Iran and North Korea and we don’t know what is happening with Osama bin Laden.”Following this introduction, the discussion rapidly turned to focus on the war in Iraq, the main topic of the first presidential debate.”This is an area where people have strong views, but limited information,” Primo said. “The press is conflict-based, so it is not as easy to cover positive events. Bush grossly underestimated the opposition and had no effective plan for Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed. Now what? Bush has a clear plan while Kerry talks about building coalitions. The problem is that’s difficult. Kerry hasn’t clearly articulated what he will do differently.””The media would report if stabilization was likely in Iraq,” Gamm said, responding to Primo. “Bush’s plan is to bring democracy to Iraq, but we don’t know how to do that… Democracy depends on habits of freedom of speech, justice and order. You can’t have elections of opposition that’s meaningful when one third of the country is in the hands of insurgents.””Bush gave the impression that this would be easy,” Primo said. “But you have to try and ask whether the absence of dictatorship is better than the absence of order. The war on terror is a new kind of war that no one knows how to win, and it is unclear what victory means.”On the economy, Gamm and Primo again asserted the differences in policies. “There has been a bipartisan consensus on balancing the federal budget throughout history,” Gamm said. “President Bush has a different vision of fostering growth – that if we cut taxes enough, energy will be unleashed into the economy. This has resulted in an extraordinarily high deficit. Kerry is presenting a more traditional response – not spending too much – returning to fiscal austerity.”Primo did not find the growing budget deficit to be as big of an issue. “So long as it is compensated for in future spending, the deficit is not a huge issue,” Primo said. “Inflation, interest rates and unemployment are low, showing a positive economic situation, especially considering intervening variables such as September 11.”Instead, Primo thought domestic social welfare programs were a bigger issue that neither candidate is discussing. “All of us are going to get screwed if we don’t do something about Social Security,” Primo said. “Neither candidate has taken this issue on. Neither party has an incentive to fix it because it will require either raising the retirement age, cutting benefits or raising Social Security taxes.”When asked which campaign did a better job of spinning news in their favor, Gamm said, “To this point Bush has run better than Kerry.” He added, “So much of this campaign is about how to frame issues. It is remarkable because President Bush has a record from the past three and a half years that can be debated – is he being honest or woefully blind or actively lying – there is no debate about issues, just personality and character.”Primo agreed with Gamm. “There is a tremendous lack of discussion on the issues. All that people want to hear about is the horserace,” he said. On the subject of image, Gamm and Primo agreed on Kerry’s weakness in that area. “Former President Clinton was famous for having long policy discussions and considering multiple angles, but he could make an argument clearly, whereas Kerry talks about both sides of an issue before getting to his position,” Primo said.In defending Kerry, Gamm boiled down the election to what kind of decision maker one wants in the White House. “Many people say that Bush’s strength is his decisiveness, while his weakness is a lack of curiosity,” Gamm said. “Kerry’s strength is curiosity and interest in continuing to investigate, but his weakness is that this interest may lead him to change his mind even though his core values are the same.”In addition to those issues, Gamm and Primo also discussed gay marriage, abortion, the Supreme Court and the mixing of religion and politics.Gamm and Primo were thrilled with the debate. “This was an enormously attentive and interesting group of student who care deeply about the issues,” Gamm said. “This is the pinnacle of a Rochester education – to hear experts in the field challenge one another. It was a prime example of the synergy when you link residence halls and classes,” he added.”This was an impressive turnout,” Primo added. “I hope that people will continue the dialogue started here and continue to debate amongst themselves.”The event, part of the monthly “Food for Thought” series, was sponsored by Susan B. Anthony Residence Halls’ lower Residential Advisor staff. “This event was hugely successful,” senior and Sue B. Resident Advisor Steve Lega said. “Our ultimate goal as RAs is to foster a setting comfortable for learning. Getting everyone involved in this spirited academic discussion in a residential setting was exciting.””As soon as I return to my hall, I’m sure that many people will be arguing and discussing what they experienced tonight,” freshman Greg Meditz said. Additional reporting by Andrew Alkon.Keesing can be reached

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