Representatives from Cal Berkeley Democrats and the Berkeley College Republicans met at the “Great Debate” Thursday to make their cases for the relative merits of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for the presidency.
Two representatives from each campus organization took their candidate’s side on topics ranging from the national economy to foreign policy, health care and education.
About 80 students attended the event, held in 10 Evans and put on and moderated by students from the Undergraduate Political Science Association. The debate isn’t usually about a presidential election, but the proximity to Tuesday’s election made it an inevitable subject.
Like the national election race, the Great Debate came down to an essential difference between the candidates — the difference between Obama’s support for a strong federal government and Romney’s focus on the private sector and free market competition.
CalDems Sofie Karasek and Simon Rhee focused on the president’s accomplishments, like passing the The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, bailing out the auto industry and staving off economic depression, while BCR’s Shawn Lewis and Alexis Boyd critiqued persistently high unemployment during Obama’s first term and touted Romney’s business experience.
A shift in unemployment from “8.2 percent to 7.8 percent is not an achievement — it’s not something to be proud of,” Lewis said. “Gov. Romney has a record of creating jobs. We need to get out of the way of businesses hiring and expanding — not federal programs.”
Rhee, a campus junior and rhetoric major, charged Romney and the Republican Party with minimizing the importance of government and relying on the private sector as the solution to all difficulties.
“The private sector appeals to the public’s wants, not their needs,” Rhee argued. “It’s like unprotected sex — it feels great, but there are lots of long-term negative impacts.”
BCR’s debaters hammered their opponents on the president’s record of government spending and the level of the national debt.
“There’s a lack of understanding of private sector and where money comes from,” Lewis said. “Jobs don’t exist without the private sector … Government does not create anything on its own.”
The debate closed with questions taken from the audience, one of which asked about the candidates’ positions on abortion, including in cases of rape or incest.
Representing BCR, Boyd called the issue a distraction. Though Romney has expressed support for abortion in cases of rape, incest or those in which the life of the mother is in danger, Boyd said the issue of economic independence is the most important in this election.
“Women are mainly concerned with economic independence and concerned with getting a job,” Boyd said.
Though both sides mentioned the importance of education — Cal Berkeley Democrats in terms of increased spending and BCR by touting the role of free-market solutions like school voucher systems — Lewis pointed out that neither side had really discussed the election’s effect on college students.
As the debate closed, most students gravitated to the left and right sides of the auditorium to discuss the debaters’ performance, leaving only a few still sitting in the middle.