Centre students will ask VP candidates to sign their ‘civility pledge’

September 12, 2012

Centre College students David Miller, left, president of Centre Young Democrats; Patrick Cho, president of the Student Government Association; Ben Boone, president of the student Senate; and Luke Wetton, president of Centre Young Republicans, showed off a “civility pledge” that classmates have signed. Photo by Tom Eblen

DANVILLE — David Miller is president of Centre College Young Democrats. Luke Wetton is president of Centre Young Republicans. They have different political philosophies, and they have debated each in the campus theater.

But they also are good friends. They eat lunch with the same group of students almost every day, and they hang out together most Friday and Saturday nights.

“We talk politics all the time, but with the understanding that disagreeing with the other’s political viewpoints is not a personal attack,” said Miller, 21, a senior from Orlando, Fla.

“The reason David and I have a good relationship is that we’re in an environment where we can relate to each other and realize we’re not that different,” said Wetton, 20, a junior from Russellville.

One thing they do agree on is the “civility pledge” that Centre’s Student Government Association created last year. It is a simple statement that covers a lot of ground: “I promise to do my best, be my best, and respect the members and property of our Centre community.”

Virtually all of Centre College’s 1,300 students have signed the pledge voluntarily, said Patrick Cho, the student government president. When Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, come to Centre’s campus Oct. 11 for their only face-to-face debate before the election, students will ask them to sign it, too.

“If there are two people who are really going to get into it a battle of words and wits onstage, I think Paul Ryan and Joe Biden are the people to do it, and to do it well,” Miller said. “But I don’t think either of them are going to have a problem remaining civil and not insulting one another. They know what’s expected of them.”

Cho said the pledge grew out of conversations among Student Government Association members about the kind of campus culture they wanted to encourage.

The wording was borrowed from an admonition students often hear from Centre President John Roush: “Do your best, be your best, no regrets.”

Students have rallied around the pledge because, unlike most college honor codes, the idea came from students rather than administrators or faculty, said Ben Boone, 22, a senior from Nicholasville and president of the student Senate.

“There’s something very real and tangible about one student saying to another, ‘We can have political disagreements, but there’s no reason why you have to call me an idiot and I have to call you a liar,'” Miller said.

Cho said he wasn’t aware of any students who have declined to sign the pledge. In fact, he said, a popular fashion accessory on campus is a yellow wrist band that says, “Be Your Best. No Regrets.”

The debate — Centre’s second, after hosting the 2000 vice presidential debate between Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney — has increased students’ interest in politics. Both the Democrat and Republican student organizations have seen membership soar. Cho said student government is leading a voter-registration drive.

“One of the things our generation gets accused of is being politically apathetic, but I don’t think that’s true,” Cho said.

But the young people said they are turned off by the hyper-partisan, money-influenced demagoguery and no-compromise attitudes prevalent in politics today. “People are yearning for something different,” Cho said.

Miller and Wetton said they think the biggest problem with the baby boomers who run the country is that, unlike their predecessors, they don’t have personal relationships with their political opponents.

“Previously, there seemed to be more understanding that politicians were elected to work together,” Miller said. “Not to stand on opposite sides of the chamber and shout each other down. That’s not a way to get anything done.”

What advice would these Centre students give their elders?

“Calm down, share a meal together,” Miller said. “Because we’re in Kentucky, have some bourbon together. Having a good relationship outside of work helps.”

Wetton encouraged political leaders to think about their legacy.

“If these people thought about that very carefully, they would realize that there is more value in being able to say we came together and sometimes agreed to disagree, but we made progress,” he said. “That’s better than always sticking to your guns and putting the country at risk.”


Many questions remain after Democratic, Republican conventions

September 8, 2012

Presidential nominating conventions make for interesting political theater, even if you do come away from watching them as confused as ever about what either candidate would actually do if elected.

For the most part, the Democratic and Republican conventions were giant pep rallies for the converted. There was a lot of inspiring rhetoric and many tales of personal struggle, both real and imagined. Leaders of each party distorted the records and plans of the other, while glossing over and obfuscating their own.

President Obama’s acceptance speech had too few specifics; challenger Mitt Romney’s had almost none. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, kept fact-checkers busy with his disregard for the truth. Vice President Joe Biden was himself.

Clint Eastwood, speaking to Republicans, had a stammering conversation with an empty chair. Comedians loved it. Have you heard the new pickup line? “Is this seat taken, or are you talking with President Obama?”

In one of the best speeches of his career, former President Bill Clinton took advantage of Republicans’ vagueness to put his own spin on their plans. Clinton summarized the GOP argument for replacing Obama this way: “We left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Kentucky Democrat who is in a tight race to keep his 6th District seat, was too chicken to attend his party’s convention. His challenger, Andy Barr, got a speaking slot at the Republican convention, but he used his moment in the spotlight to push his campaign contributors’ phony “war on coal” agenda.

One of the most honest comments in a speech at either convention came from Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican. You may have missed it, because it was mixed in with a lot of libertarian sound bites and distortions of Obama’s comment about government’s role in creating infrastructure that contributes to individual success.

“Republicans and Democrats alike, though, must slay their sacred cows,” Paul said. “Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent. Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.”

As we hunker down for eight more weeks of slimy attack ads, funded by millions of dollars in anonymous special-interest cash, there are some questions voters should ask before election day:

What are each party’s specific plans for job-creation and economic revival? What can Obama do that he hasn’t already done — or failed to do in the face of solid Republican opposition?

What specific things would Romney and a Republican-controlled Congress do to create jobs and boost the economy? More tax cuts and deregulation won’t do it; they never have before.

Tax rates, especially for the wealthy, are already at their lowest point in decades. Do Americans really want dirtier air and water and more gambling on Wall Street? Financial deregulation, which began under Clinton, was a big cause of the 2008 crisis that tanked the economy. Bush-era tax cuts, plus two wars waged on credit, are the biggest causes of our exploding national debt.

If Obamacare is repealed, what would Republicans replace it with? So far, they haven’t offered credible proposals for either expanding insurance coverage or curbing health care costs.

While Obama’s health-care reform law has been easy to demagogue as a package, many of its individual elements are very popular, such as letting parents insure young-adult children and banning lifetime benefit caps and exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Do voters really want those reforms to go away?

If Obamacare survives, how will both parties find ways to lower health care costs? That is the reform law’s biggest shortcoming. Improving on it will require Republican as well as Democratic solutions, many tough choices and less demagoguery. Is either party up to the challenge?

More than anything, voters should ask candidates running for the White House and Congress how they will work with those in the other party to solve the nation’s problems. The past four years have clearly shown that ideological rigidity and partisan gridlock just make things worse, no matter who is in charge.

Fayette among 372 counties that switched vote

November 13, 2008

The Daily Yonder, a Texas-based Web site that covers rural news and issues, has an interesting look at the 372 counties nationwide that switched from one party to the other in the presidential election, compared with 2004.  Fayette was among the 327 counties that voted in 2004 to re-elect President Bush but went for Barrack Obama this year.  Click here to see the map and read the analysis.