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Haley Barbour and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) clashed before a mainly partisan audience at the Kennedy School of Government's ARCO Forum Saturday, arguing over which political party is best qualified to lead America into the next century.
As he strode to the dais, Barbour, the chair of the Republican National Committee, was greeted with chants of "four more years" from the largely pro-Democratic audience. Dodd, the Democratic National Committee chair, looked on with amusement.
"I understand why I am here with 45 days [before the election], but I don't know why Haley is here," Dodd quipped, alluding to President Clinton's double-digit lead among Massachusetts voters.
Dodd and Barbour gave opening speeches and then responded to questions from four student panelists representing the Harvard-Radcliffe and the Harvard-Radcliffe College Democrats.
Debate moderator Philip R. Sharp, the Director of the Institute of Politics (IOP) asked about each party's solutions for crime and social problems, and asked for their views on closing society's gap between "the have's and the have not's."
Dodd urged voters to stick with Clinton, asserting that unemployment and inflation are at their lowest levels since 1968.
"Things are beginning to move in the right direction.... I think we should be looking at which party is best helping to prepare us for the 21st century. We should look at which party has most improved out quality of life," he said.
Barbour countered that Bob Dole's 15 percent tax cut would benefit all Americans. "We should ask ourselves what do we want the 21st century to be like. [Republicans] want to push power and money away from Washington and back to the people."
"Clinton says the country can't afford to let you keep that much more of what you earn. We think that families can spend that money a whole lot better," he said.
Education and Gun Control
Both speakers told the audience of roughly 600--which was mostly composed of college students--that their party is the party of education, with Dodd calling increased federal school funding "an investment in the future of this country," and Barbour accusing Democrats of misleading voters.
"The idea that we are cutting education spending because we are not increasing it as much as [Clinton] is, is a fraud," Barbour said.
Barbour, a Mississippi native, said Republicans will reform education by implementing school vouchers.
"The Clintons and Gores should not be the only ones who live in public housing and send their children to private schools," he said.
In response to student panelist Seth D. Hanlon '98, president of the College Democrats, the panelists sparred over crime.
Strict punishments for criminals is more important than gun control, Barbour said.
"We should punish people who commit crimes with guns. Dole says we don't need the Brady bill. All we need is a system of instant checks," to prevent convicts from purchasing guns.
Dodd replied that the Clinton-backed Brady bill, which imposes waiting periods for handgun purchases, has helped reduce the nation's crime rate by 9 percent.
The speakers also clashed over affirmative action.
Both speakers concluded the 90-minute event by asking the audience to make an informed decision, based in major issues, and Barbour stuck to his guns.
"Issues and ideas are what shape America," he said. "I ask you to make the decision based on facts and not based on misstatements of facts."
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