How do Tufts Democrats, Republicans, Left Unity Project fit into CIVIC’s two-party debate?

Members of CIVIC, a non-partisan politics discussion group, pose for a portrait after their event, 'The Debate: Democrats v Republicans,' in ASEAN Auditorium on Oct. 26. (Seohyun Shim / The Tufts Daily)

Tufts CIVIC held a debate between Tufts Republicans and Tufts Democrats in ASEAN Auditorium at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on Oct. 26The debate covered U.S. foreign and domestic policy, which included everything from legislation regarding reproductive health to how to best deal with the potential threat in North Korea.

When asked about the goal of the debate was, CIVIC co-leader Alex Jaramillo, a senior, spoke of a hope for respectful discussion of important issues.

“In light of the the political divisions that the country is facing, [the goal is] just to clarify the parties’ positions, and just to get a place, as CIVIC does on campus with our regular meetings, to talk about politics without yelling at each other, without it becoming a series of ad hominem attacks,” he said.

In addition to creating an atmosphere of civility in which the two sides could share their beliefs, organizing member of CIVIC, Rachel Wolff views these debates as a chance to glimpse into the future of the two parties.

“For a lot of people, there’s sort of the assumption that all Democrats support one thing and all Republicans support another thing,” Wolff, a sophomore said. “I think that these debates where we bring out specific members of the party who might not always align with exactly what the party platform is at the moment gives us an opportunity to showcase where the party will be going in 10 or 15 years.”

In terms of the debate, Tufts Republicans Vice President Robert Whitehead, a sophomore, said that he is not looking to change anyone’s mind necessarily, but to have open discourse and present new ideas that might not be heard in what many consider to be the liberal echo-chamber that Tufts has become.

“I think most people come in here with fairly well formed political beliefs or at least a strong sense of identity not necessarily with a party but in terms of where they stand,” Whitehead said. “So my goal is not to engage in missionary work or conversion, I’m a lot more interested in not only just presenting a right-of-center point of view but also one that a lot of people actually haven’t heard.”

Whitehead, a registered Libertarian, told the Daily that other political ideologies at Tufts are actually being heard but often get mislabeled.

“We might call ourselves Tufts Republicans, but at the end of the day we’re also an umbrella organization for people like me who feel more at home with the Libertarian Party than the Republican Party,” Whitehead said.

The two representatives from Tufts Democrats were Tufts Democrats President and senior Misha Linnehan and first-year Caroline Blanton while the two representatives from Tufts Republicans were Whitehead and first-year Alex Muresianu.

The debate began with opening statements from both sides regarding their intentions and hopes for the debate, which included open discussion, civic duty and even the potential for a little bit of fun despite the serious topics at hand.

The moderators, who were CIVIC members, explained how the debate would work: For every question, the Republicans and the Democrats alternated who gave the first speech. This was followed by a two-minute reply from the other side. Then, if they chose, each side was allowed a 30-second rebuttal speech to address the points made by their opponent.

Many of the topics of discussion were hot button issues like healthcare and the current voting system. Things remained civil and productive until a question was asked regarding what action, if any, should be taken surrounding climate change, at which point the debate became increasingly heated.

Tufts Republican debaters acknowledged that they believed in the existence of climate change but were quick to point out the economic costs that would come with potential attempts to combat it.

Linnehan responded to their statement.

“You talked about the costs and benefits of policy, but let’s talk about the costs and benefits of climate change,” he said. “It’s mostly cost, in fact, it’s entirely cost because it’s going to kill everybody. If we don’t stop climate change everybody on the Earth is going to die … We have to prevent this, we don’t have an option.”

A contentious back-and-forth ensued after this statement by Linnehan, with the moderators having to intervene to end the round.

Despite the controversial nature of some of the debate, the Democrats and the Republicans agreed on many of the points brought up, including opposition to a wall on the Mexican-American border and the necessity of breaking up monopolies to combat the downturn of the job market.

In an interview after the debate, Linnehan mentioned that even though the Republican representatives in the debate seemed to share similar ideologies on various issues with Democrats, it was not an accurate representation of the party as it currently stands.

“In the debate, I’m going to call them out on the fact that they are representing the Republican Party and that isn’t how the Republican Party thinks,” he said. “There were several issues where this came up, climate change was a big one… They were saying that they believe that climate change is a thing, but that isn’t what the Republican Party is saying.”

In terms of how he finds CIVIC as a platform for debates such as these and political discussion as a whole, Linnehan expressed that he appreciates the intentions of CIVIC, but that it doesn’t encourage enough active civic engagement.

“I think that one major problem on the Tufts campus is that not enough people are involved actively in politics. A lot of people like sitting around and talking about politics … which is why CIVIC has such an appeal to people,” Linnehan said.

The Daily also talked to Edwin Jain, an organizing member of the Left Unity Project (LUP). Jain talked about how he didn’t feel that enough political ideologies were being represented in the debates held.

“I think the fact that they did not have any really leftist or socialist group or faction in that debate shows that these debates aren’t really representative of what people on campus think, what people in the Somerville community think and what is at stake here,” Jain said.

Tufts Republicans President George Behrakis, a sophomore, told the Daily that he would love to see students with more conservative ideologies come out of hiding.

“I get the messages all the time, ‘I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, I’m a Libertarian, I don’t really tell my friends because I fear that they won’t be my friends after, but what do you do at your meetings.’ If we can get those people to come to one or two meetings and get them more comfortable, we’ve accomplished something good,” Behrakis said.

While Behrakis expressed a feeling of concern among Tufts students wanting to join the Tufts Republicans, Jain stated that this sentiment did not reflect the country’s political power dynamic.

“I think when right-wing groups talk about being marginalized, that’s one of the most ludicrous things I can think of when you think about who has power in this country and in this institution,” he said.

When asked about CIVIC as a platform for political discourse, he spoke of too much analysis and too little action.

“This idea of discourse on campus has ignored the power that people engaged in that discourse actually have. A real discussion of ideological diversity, a real way of equalizing voices, is to hear those who don’t have billion dollar media empires,” Jain said. “The way to bring those voices to an equal playing field is to pay attention to groups that don’t have those resources.”