College political groups debate health care

| Staff Reporter

In spite of President Obama’s calls for bipartisan health care reform, only one Republican congressman—Rep. Anh Cao of Louisiana—voted for the House’s sweeping health care overhaul bill on Saturday.

Partisanship is common in national politics and is also alive at Washington University. Members of political student groups on campus say they use the partisan divide to foster debate.

Senior Ryan Winograd, president of the College Republicans, said political disputes do occur between students at the University, but usually they are purely intellectual.

“I’ve had debates and I’ve had arguments with students. It’s never gotten violent. Ever,” Winograd said. “I guess that might be an issue at some schools, but I don’t think that’s an issue at Wash. U. I’ve definitely seen yelling, heated, maybe some name-calling.”

One upcoming debate between the College Republicans and College Democrats is Campus Crossfire on Monday night. Each group will have a representative debating the issue of health care.

The debate will consist of 45 minutes of formal debate, followed by 15 minutes of questions from the audience.

“It’s always fun,” said junior Katherine Berger, president of the College Democrats. “We always end up having the Democrats on one side of the room and the Republicans on the other, and there’s cheering.”

Winograd said he values the debate created by disputes among those with differing viewpoints. Although he said some political discussions on campus are unproductive, he believes it is important for the College Democrats and the College Republicans to play a leading role in promoting productive discourse.

“We definitely have students with differing opinions, and you do see them arguing about it sometimes. Sometimes it happens in a manner that I think fosters good discourse and enlightenment, perhaps on both sides of the issues, and other times it occurs in a way that is completely unproductive,” Winograd said. “I think the goal of the College Republicans and College Democrats should be to make sure that those sorts of debates and discussions happen in a way that is educational and not confrontational.”

Berger said she considers the partisan divide on campus to be a source of debate rather than a conflict.

“I think that people who are really interested in politics and particularly interested in partisan politics know that your political beliefs do not necessarily define who you are as a person, although it’s certainly an important part of it,” Berger said. “At least in my own experience, as much as we might argue over health care or the economy or the war, [or] whatever the subject may be, we’re all students. We’re all on that same sort of level.”

Winograd argued that debates and discussions between people with differing opinions are vital to the development of knowledge about an issue.

“[Dialogue is] the only way you can truly question your beliefs, grow your beliefs [or] change your beliefs,” Winograd said. “Maybe you actually know everything and that dialogue, the discourse strengthens your beliefs. But when it gets to the point of yelling or name-calling, you’re not really debating anything. You’re just staying with what you believe; you’re not questioning what you believe in any way.”

Another collaboration effort between political student groups is in the works. The College Democrats, College Republicans and the Association of Black Students (ABS) are coordinating another health care debate. The debate will involve politicians and policy experts from both ends of the political spectrum.

“That’s an example of more than just our two groups working together, but, more broadly, [we will work] with other groups in the school to bring what will hopefully be an enlightening discussion to campus,” Winograd said.

Winograd hopes these events will help to inform the public of important political issues.

“What’s important for me is …that when people make decisions, they are as well-informed as possible so that they can then apply their ideology and decide what their preferred outcome is,” Winograd said. “I may not agree with it—that’s fine. I actually really enjoy debating with students whom I disagree with to see why I disagree with them. What’s frustrating is when I’m debating with someone who doesn’t really have good reasons for their beliefs. For me, it’s more fun when they’re very well educated about [the issues].”