The students at the Potomac School, which can already boast high profile alumni like Jay Rockefeller and John Kerry, have another reason to be proud of their school.
Monday morning, the school hosted a debate between Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Marc Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
The two men faced a panel of four debate team students, seniors Katie Fabiani and Maria McElwain, junior Andrew Kilberg and sophomore Aaron Kur, asking questions supplied by the students and finalized Monday morning that were similar to those posed to candidates Sen. John F. Kerry and President George W. Bush in the three televised debates in recent weeks.
One of the questions posed to McAuliffe asked how Kerry proposes to alleviate pressure and strain on U.S. troops by bringing help from other nations into Iraq.
“The reason the coalition in Iraq is falling apart is that our two biggest allies, Poland and the United Kingdom, are pulling their troops out,” McAuliffe said. “All the reasons that George Bush told the world we had to go into Iraq are false.”
He said that Kerry will “go it alone” in Iraq if needed, “but we need to have burden sharing, that’s how we will begin to bring our troops home.”
Racicot disagreed, saying Vice President Dick Cheney had asked during the vice presidential debate “how can you bring in other nations if you say this is the wrong war at the wrong time.” He pointed out that although 90 percent of the soldier casualties in Iraq have been American soldiers, “I would think about the Iraqi troops who have died there as well. Could the chairman [McAuliffe] please tell me what Senator Kerry’s plan for Iraq is? What does it mean?”
MCAULIFFE SAID THAT Kerry wants to bring in troops from allied nations, and that the war could have been conducted in a different way altogether.
“Saddam Hussein was a bad man, there’s no doubt about that, but he was not a threat to us,” he said. “We’ve created chaos in the world because of Bush’s arrogance to go it alone.”
When asked about allegations by Kerry that the Bush administration was responsible for the shortage of flu vaccinations, Racicot said that it wasn’t the administration’s fault.
“It’s because of lawsuits against drug manufactures that put companies making the vaccine out of business,” he said. “There was an act presented to Congress in 2003 that would’ve granted immunity to those companies and guess who voted against the act? The President was in favor of the act and Kerry and [vice presidential candidate John] Edwards voted against it.”
By pointing the finger at Bush, Racicot said “This is another example of the raw opportunism of John Kerry.”
McAuliffe was quick to turn the point around, saying “You’ve got to give it to these Republicans, they’re really good at passing the buck.”
He said that the Republican Party and the current administration “like to blame everyone else for everything,” and that it was “laughable” that the Republican-controlled Senate, House of Representatives and White House were not able to pass the act for lack of support from the Democratic party.
“And now the President says we can look to Canada to import vaccines,” McAuliffe said. “He was just saying months ago that getting low-cost prescription drugs in from Canada wasn’t safe enough,” he said.
When the topic turned to the draft, a burgeoning issue especially for young Americans, both men denied their candidates would reinstate a non-volunteer call to arms.
“We may have a draft, I can’t say for certain,” McAuliffe said. “We have a backdoor draft in Iraq right now, our troops have been deployed for much longer than their terms and have not been able to come home.”
He said that when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield was visiting troops in Iraq last week, he had told the troops they were not coming home any time soon. “We need to work with our allies to bring in extra forces so our troops can come home.”
Racicot blamed the threat of the draft on the Democratic Party “manufacturing issues where none exist.”
“The Democrats are trying to persuade the American people by slight of hand,” Racicot said. “The President has said if he’s re-elected, there will not be a draft, it’s that simple. The all-volunteer force we have in Iraq right now is overwhelmingly capable,” he said.
On the issue of gay marriage, the men agreed that the decision belongs to the individual states, but disagreed on the need for an amendment.
“The President feels that marriage is a contract between a man and a woman,” Racicot said. “He feels that the people of this country have the right to be involved in this decision and that a constitutional amendment and the process of the amendment is the best way to go about making this decision.”
“That’s not what this legislation is about,” McAuliffe said. “Kerry is for civil liberties and civil rights,” he said, and believes that a decision regarding personal rights and benefits like sharing health insurance and pension plans “need to be made by those two people in the relationship. Kerry agrees with what Cheney said, that these should be states' decisions.”
“The Constitution is to provide more rights for people, and if this amendment is passed, it will be the first time the Constitution will be used to take rights away,” he said.
“What are the Democrats afraid of, that they’ll hear the true voice of the American people in this amendment?” Racicot said.
ON THE ISSUE of abortion, both men said that the issue will come strongly into focus after the next election, especially since whoever is president will be making several appointments to the Supreme Court, which may overrule the Roe vs. Wade decision.
“The Democratic Party and John Kerry are pro-choice, they believe in letting a woman make a decision about her own body,” McAuliffe said. “During the last debate, President Bush was asked where he stood on the issue and he said he wouldn’t put his judges to a litmus test, but all the justices he’s appointed have been anti-abortion,” he said.
“Don’t you think the President would nominate candidates based on their capabilities,” Racicot said. “The most important quality of a nominee is how well they can serve based on their training.”
Both men predicted that jobs, the economy and education would all play a major role during the next four years regardless of who wins in two weeks, a message that holds importance for students in their final years of high school.
“We see a safer world, a focus on the economy and an ownership in society because we believe in the capacity of the American people,” Racicot said. “As a parent of five children, I know that if we don’t address the issues now, it’ll be up to our children and grandchildren to protect our nation and to make those decisions,” he said.
“Bush is the first president in 72 years not to create a single net job,” McAuliffe said. “Three out of 10 college graduates were hired into positions last year. Bush inherited a budget surplus that he’s turned into a $3 trillion debt.”
Both men stressed that this election is about the future of not only the country, but of young Americans who hold a stake in the future of the country, whether they’re of voting age.
“You own this country. Each of us is an equal stake holder in the future,” Racicot said. “Democracy cannot exist without enlightened, educated citizens.”
The panelists were very happy with the morning’s debate.
“I think it went great, they had really good answers and it got pretty heated,” said Aaron Kur. “We tried to ask questions that were similar to the debates but also related to the students here.”
“We are so fortunate and thrilled to have this program here,” said Katie Fabiani.
“I think it’s great,” said Maria McElwain. “It was really nice that Racicot spoke, because he could articulate Bush’s positions to a younger audience and fill in some of the holes.”
The girls agreed that the school’s proximity to the Capital played a part in the makeup of students and their political education.
“Just to have Mr. McAuliffe as a parent here, that reflects our parent base and how active they are,” McElwain said.
Andrew Kilberg said with all the “media attention brought to this election, both sides have established huge infrastructures to get out the young vote. Young people feel they really have a stake in this election.”
“The draft issue is always going to resonate with young people, but they might not take it seriously because both candidates have said there wouldn’t be one,” he said.