Tag Archives: debate

National Debate on Alcohol Prohibition

The college presidents said they wanted a national debate on the 21-year-old drinking age. They got it.

For years, former Middlebury College President John McCardell has been criticizing the law, saying it only encourages binge drinking and pushes alcohol into the shadows.

But then McCardell quietly enlisted about 100 college presidents in a campaign calling for the drinking age to be reconsidered. After The Associated Press reported on the effort this week, the issue erupted into the biggest discussion on the subject in years — in blogs, over e-mail, in newspaper editorials and around office water coolers.

College presidents usually avoid contentious topics because alienating alumni and politicians poses big risks and offers few rewards. So it was big news when so many leaders of the nation’s best-known institutions signed on to McCardell’s “Amethyst Initiative,” named for the Greek gemstone said to ward off intoxication.

Supporters included presidents of private universities such as Duke, Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins, and public schools including Ohio State and the University of Maryland.

“No matter where you stand on this issue, it’s impossible to look at what has happened over the last three or four days and say this is a settled question,” McCardell said Friday in one of nearly a dozen scheduled media interviews.

“It’s also impossible to say the public isn’t ready to participate in the debate the presidents are calling for.”

Critics led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving got their view across, too, accusing the presidents of seeking to avoid the unpleasant work of cracking down on campus lawbreakers.

MADD marshaled critics, including the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who called changing the law “a terrible idea” that would “jeopardize the lives of more teens.”

Amid the backlash, two presidents — Robert Franklin of Morehouse College and Kendall Blanchard of Georgia Southwestern State — withdrew their support.

“We welcome an honest discussion and that begins with a clear discussion of the science,” MADD CEO Chuck Hurley said. “We are hopeful that that will be the focus going forward.”

More presidents join group
But at least 20 presidents have added their names this week, including the presidents of Montclair State in New Jersey and the University of Massachusetts system, bringing the total to at least 123.

“We’re not burying our head and trying to hide behind laws,” said Father Paul Locatelli, president of Santa Clara University in California, who meets personally with every student written up for alcohol infractions. “We’re trying to say, ‘What is the best way to approach this issue?'”



McCain Offer Could Revive Stuffy Debates (IBD)

By DAVID S. BRODER | Posted Friday, June 06, 2008 4:30 PM PT

It’s pretty obvious what was the most overhyped political story of the past week. The honors clearly go to the Hillary Clinton drama: Will she stand down? Will she endorse? Will she deign to accept the vice presidency? Will she join a monastic order and move to a commune?

What a lot of nonsense.

It was always a certainty that this accomplished Democratic pol would do what was in her own and her party’s interests, namely, by behaving like the pro she is and thereby preserving her future career options.

There was never a chance she would go to Denver to launch a futile challenge, nor would she sulk and let herself be the scapegoat if Obama loses.

Because the Clinton speculation consumed so much of the oxygen, a genuinely important development drew much less sustained attention than it deserves.

I am referring to the challenge from John McCain to Barack Obama for a series of 10 joint town meetings starting this month and continuing perhaps until Election Day.

Bypassing the TV networks, the presidential debate commission and all the other muckety-mucks who have seized control of the campaign dialogue, McCain simply dropped the newly nominated Obama a note saying, in effect, let’s get it on.

The Obama camp said it found the notion “appealing,” and with that, what may be the largest step toward improving the content of the presidential election became a genuine possibility.

Ever since Jerry Ford, as an incumbent president, challenged Jimmy Carter to debate in 1976, we have institutionalized a small number of debates, really joint news conferences, between the major candidates.

The first such debates were held in 1960, under a law that allowed the networks to sponsor them without providing equal time for minor candidates.

The country was captivated by the Kennedy-Nixon encounters. But Lyndon Johnson was nowhere near that generous to Barry Goldwater; Richard Nixon stiffed his opponent in 1968 and 1972, and the debates might well have disappeared had Ford not emerged from his convention trailing Jimmy Carter — and in need of the bravado communicated by his decision to be the first-ever incumbent president to enter a television debate.

Most years, the autumn debates were the main events of the campaign, drawing the largest audiences and having the maximum impact. But over time, these debates have become more and more ritualistic and less and less useful to voters.

The candidates rehearse so intensely, calculating what topics will likely be raised and delivering their answers so often that they seem scripted. Campaign aides critique each run-through, suggesting words or phrases that “test” the best.

The stakes are so high that all the life and spontaneity are drained out of the occasion; often, irrelevancies — Al Gore sighing or George H.W. Bush glancing at his watch — dominate any of the substance.

There is no guarantee that the new town meetings will avoid these dangers. But I think the odds are that they will be better.

Having so many of them will reduce the stakes for each one. Starting them early will also make them more manageable. Keeping the format simple, as McCain suggests, will also help. Encouraging the candidates to talk directly with each other, and with the voters who put questions to them, will help keep the dialogue fresh and the exchanges pointed.

You can’t avoid some showmanship and some rehearsed zingers. But given the personalities and character of these two candidates, it is very likely that a lot of what we would see would be the genuine beliefs of these two men, expressed in their own words.

And what a marvelous precedent that would set for future years, when one or the other of the candidates — likely the incumbent president — would try to avoid early and frequent debates.

This simple-sounding idea, which stirred no great excitement last week, could turn out to be one of the best things to happen to our politics maybe since the enfranchisement of women. Too bad it was eclipsed by the Adventures of Hillary.

© 2008 Washington Post Writers Group