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October 25 , 2004
Classroom on Quad urges 'Vote 2004'
BY Michael Terrazas
The first Classroom on the Quad, held in March 2003, was devoted to the question of whether the United States should invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. The latest iteration, held last Wednesday, Oct. 20, served as a primer for the Nov. 2 presidential election, which many believe will be a referendum on the decision that was made on that question.
Themed “Vote 2004,” this year’s Classroom on the Quad was organized by the Student Government Association (SGA) and the College Council; SGA President Jimin Kim, College Council President Amrit Dhir and SGA Rep. Rubina Madan welcomed the crowd of a few hundred gathered on the Quad in front of Pitts Library. The event featured a slate of some 13 speakers, including President Jim Wagner, who gave introductory remarks.
“We must be students of the issues, not simply robots or agents of someone else’s ideology,” Wagner said in urging the audience to be “citizen scholars” as they weigh their votes. “Political debate in the United States at this time appeals primarily to the critic in us. As citizen scholars, we have an obligation to do the risky thing: to propose what might be right and true.”
One by one, the speakers offered their views on the election. Some examined issues related to the presidential race: Sheila Tefft of the journalism program talked about political coverage in the media; Steve Green of the Israeli Consulate talked about the candidates’ positions on Israel.
Others spoke about what was or wasn’t important in deciding whom to support; Charlie Shanor from the law school examined which issues were “false and real” in the race and urged audience members to look beyond the candidates’ rhetoric.
“[Sen. John Kerry says President George W.] Bush would reinstate the [military] draft; [Bush says] Kerry would surrender in Iraq,” Shanor said. “If you believe either of these claims, you are on drugs or ignorant.”
Political science’s Bruce Cauthen tried to put the war in Iraq in perspective. Though he disagreed with Kerry’s assertion that it was “the wrong war at the wrong time,” Cauthen said he believes Iraq has distracted attention from more important targets in the war on terror, specifically the continued uncertainty in Afghanistan and the emerging nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea.
“Iraq and the Taliban,” Cauthen said, “were despicable but convenient bulwarks against Tehran.”
Most of the speakers at least attempted to remain nonpartisan, though some clearly wore their hearts on their sleeves. After listening to Edward Queen (Center for Ethics) and Rick Doner (political science) stump for Kerry, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese from history and women’s studies announced she “strongly and proudly” supported Bush.
The event had passion. Oxford’s Lucas Carpenter, a Vietnam veteran, addressed the attention paid to both candidates’ actions during that war. “There is nothing good,” Carpenter said, “that can be said about the United States’ involvement in Vietnam.”
The event had comedy. Beth Litrell, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union chapter of Georgia, said in explaining her organization’s mission, “We try to keep the police and handcuffs out of your bedroom—though if you want handcuffs in your bedroom, we support that right.”
And the event had predictable partisanship. Justin Tomczak and Pat Pullar from the state Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, each took the opportunity to rip into the other party’s candidate.
But the event closed with an exhortation from religion’s Bobbi Patterson not to let partisan emotion become too divisive. “Some of us will win and some of us will lose on Nov. 2,” Patterson said, “but all of us will have to live in this country in the future.”