- FUN FEATURES
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The two sets of students set up camp on opposite ends of the Thorp Auditorium at Cheshire High School, huddling with members of the public who had come to watch the show.
As onlookers began to take their seats, the students made their way to the long sets of tables situated on the stage, laying down their sets of papers, taking a few sips of water, and whispering to one another some last minute strategies.
As the microphone in front of the moderator came to life, the auditorium became quiet, and all eyes focused on the eight well-dressed students at the front of the room.
The Young Democrats/Young Republicans Debate, which has become a yearly tradition at CHS, took place on March 3. Four members from each group participated as more than 60 audience members turned out to hear what the students had to say on a variety of issues.
Though few of the participants are old enough to vote, they still tackled issues that many adults would find daunting, touching on both foreign and domestic issues that are currently hot-button issues for the country.
There were three questions posed to the students, and several minutes of debate were allowed for each one, where the two opposing sides had a chance to question both the sources that informed their opponents' opinions and the veracity of the opinions themselves.
First up for debate was whether or not the U.S. Congress should look to repeal the new START treaty, signed with Russia in 2010. The treaty will require both the United States and Russia to significantly reduce their country's nuclear weapons arsenal over a period of years.
As would be the case for the rest of the debate, the two sides offered up very different views on the treaty's worth to the United States.
Starting things off, Young Republican member Quinlan Demac questioned whether President Barack Obama, who championed and signed the treaty, knew his history.
“President Ronald Reagan already ended the Cold War,” Demac insisted to the audience. “The last recorded conflict with Russia was in 1979. It is clear the conflict is not with them. New nuclear threats have arisen.”
Demac, and his fellow Young Republicans, insisted that a treaty with Russia, now considered an ally of the nation, was unwarranted and could hurt America's ability to protect itself from other powers in the region such as North Korea, which is believed to be pursuing a “robust” nuclear weapons program.
The Young Democrats disagreed.
“This treaty does not affect our ability to defend ourselves,” state Hasher Nisar, a member of the Young Democrats. “This puts into place the ability to scale down nuclear weapons. What signals would be sent to the rest of the world if we had voted against it?”
Nisar, to accentuate his point, rattled off a list of several prominent Republicans who have come out in support of the new START, and suggested that most national defense experts were also in favor of the treaty.
“This is a start. It is a start to ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” he said.
What followed was an interesting back-and-forth between the two sides, as the students questioned each others’ opinions and sources. Young Republican John O'Reilly stated that, with countries like North Korea and Iran posing a threat, reducing nuclear weapons at this time was the wrong approach.
However, Nisar disagreed again, stating that neither North Korea nor Iran could attack the United States directly with nuclear weapons.
“They are not our threat,” he said.
O'Reilly countered, saying “the threat is not Russia.”
Before each side offered their final remarks on the issue, they had a chance to consult with other members of their club. For five minutes between questions, the stage would fill with students and opinions could be heard being bantered back and forth.
The affect was the same in the audience. As the students huddled on the stage, residents, parents, teachers, and even some local politicians, such as newly-elected State Senator Len Suzio (R-13), formed together to discuss the issues that had just been debated on stage. Each group of conversations seemed to carry the same level of passion being shown by the students.
The final two questions dealt with domestic issues, as students spoke about need, or lack thereof, to extend unemployment benefits, and whether the U.S. should take a different approach to immigration.
Whether unemployment benefits should be extended generated impassioned debate between the two sides, as each seemed to make their point more forcefully.
“Historically, unemployment benefits do not work,” said Young Republican Kaitlyn Gaudio. “Unemployment benefits benefit the unemployed. Tax cuts benefit everyone.”
Daniel Byrd, Young Democrat, criticized the Young Republicans' insistence that unemployment benefits wouldn't work, and, instead, cited statistical projections, provided by different government departments, that showed the expectation was, in fact, the opposite.
“This is a cheap and effective way to stimulate the economy,” he said. “This will prevent 3.3 million people from going under the poverty line. It is a win/win for the American people.”
The debate began in earnest from there, as Young Democrat Monica Dileo insisted that some people don't even have enough money to properly search for a job. “They can't afford a babysitter,” she said.
O'Reilly, however, stated that unemployment benefits were unnecessary if tax cuts were extended.
“Why should 3 million people get a check when 360 million people have to pay for it?” he asked.
In the end, when all the points had been made and all the arguments concluded, the audience gave the students a rousing round of applause.
The students who participated in the debate were (Young Republicans) John O'Reilly, Kaitlyn Gaudio, Quinlan Demac, Michael Raccio (Young Democrats) Hasher Nisar, Monica Dileo, Ali Below, and Daniel Byrd.