Thursday, October 14, 2004

Xavier students gather, let own voices be heard



By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

[photo]
Ken Akers, a sophomore at Xavier University, speaks during a discussion Wednesday night at Xavier University. More than 50 students gathered to watch the debates and discuss political issues.
The Enquirer/TONY JONES
EVANSTON - As Sen. John Kerry and President Bush prepared to square off against each other Wednesday night for the third time, film clips from the first two debates generated some heated discussion at Xavier University.

More than 50 Xavier students - many of them first-time voters - and a panel of political experts met in a Schmidt Hall boardroom to discuss the issues that surfaced in the first two debates before watching the third.

Nonpartisan organizer

After seeing a film clip of Bush and Kerry stating their positions on the war in Iraq, Charlie Gabis, a Xavier freshman, defended the president's rationale for the war.

"Under Saddam Hussein, 35 to 40 people a day were killed," Gabis said. "We pushed diplomacy to the limits and it didn't work."

Ken Akers, a sophomore who said he doesn't like either Bush or Kerry, spoke about the war in painfully personal terms.

He said his cousin, an Army officer, was killed a month ago in Iraq.

"My cousin was sent over there to find weapons of mass destruction," Akers said. "My cousin isn't coming back. The war has cost me something extremely precious, and we did it for the wrong reason."

A university non-partisan political club called X-You Decide 2004 organized the event at Xavier.

The experts on the panel represented both parties. But the students had as much time to comment as the panel members.

"This night is really about voters, not experts," said Gene Beaupre, Xavier political science professor and moderator of the discussion about the first two presidential debates.

"This is the kind of thing that politics is all about - people in a room talking about the positions they have," he said. "To me, the first and most important thing is to have dialogue."

After listening to clips of Bush and Kerry from the earlier debates talking about the environment, a panelist, Michael Barrett, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, cautioned the students not to focus on the styles of the two candidates.

"Bush gave specifics on the environmental issues," Barrett said. "I'll give Kerry points for style, but not for substance."

A Democratic panelist, Charles Halpern, co-founder of the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C., said Kerry has fought for years to protect the environment.

"He's been a leader on environmental issues," Halpern said.

Abortion and religion

On the abortion issue, freshman Shane Gleason criticized Kerry's willingness to allow federal funds to be used for abortions under certain circumstances.

"Just because abortion is legal doesn't mean we should fund it," Gleason said.

Panelist Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, responded to a student who questioned how Kerry could call himself a Catholic while refusing to oppose federal funding for abortions.

"I would never question somebody else's religion," Burke said. "He is what he is, and he was raised a Catholic.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com




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