By Amar Kapadia
To get a feel for the tense political climate, one need look no further than the congressional debate hosted last week at Rider.
In an hour-long debate in the Yvonne Theater, 12th District Democratic Congressman Rush Holt and Republican challenger Scott Sipprelle exchanged views on topics ranging from jobs to the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. The exchange between the two candidates was terse but civil.
The event, held on Oct. 14, was sponsored by The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics and The League of Women Voters and was moderated by Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute.
While many issues were discussed in a fairly calm manner, other questions made the divide between the candidates quite visible.
When the candidates debated the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a government program that purchases assets and equity from financial institutions in an attempt to strengthen the financial sector by addressing the subprime mortgage crisis, Sipprelle’s supporters in the audience voiced their dissaproval of Holt. Dworkin quickly had the crowd quiet down.
When it came to the issue of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Holt said he favored the repeal of the policy and wanted to let homosexuals serve openly.
While Sipprelle said he believed that homosexuals had served the country “honorably,” he also said he would leave it up to the military’s chain of command rather than to the courts to decide whether to repeal the policy.
“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was not the only military issue discussed during the debate; the candidates also expressed their views on the war in Afghanistan.
Holt spoke first on the issue and argued that the presence of the military in Afghanistan had not made the United States safer. Holt “believes the United States should wind down its combat operations in Afghanistan and focus our security priorities closer to home,” according to his website.
Sipprelle was in favor of ending America’s presence in Afghanistan.
He said the U.S. military is “overstretched” and that the United States should be putting more money into its own infrastructure and creating jobs. He also said the Obama administration has no plan to win the war.
While there were specific discussions on education, Holt, in his opening statement, accused Sipprelle of wanting to “abolish the department of education.” Sipprelle did not respond to Holt’s remark in his opening statement.
With the unemployment rate in New Jersey — 9.4 percent as of August 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — getting or holding onto a job is a major concern for those in the state. However, Sipprelle believes that the government cannot help most people.
“Government does not create private-sector jobs,” he said. “Government creates government jobs.”
Holt countered that government needs “to stop the bleeding.” He also said incentives must be given to private employers in order to create jobs. According to Holt, expanding education is the key to creating jobs.
Regarding health care, Sipprelle wants the federal government to stay out of it.
“Socialized medicine has failed everywhere it’s been tried,” he said.
Holt, however, claimed that health care would be like Medicare, offering equal treatment for everyone.
In his closing statement, Sipprelle asked, “Where are America’s heroes?” He gave anecdotes of people asking him to reform America’s “broken political system.”
Holt, in his closing remarks, thanked Sipprelle for debating and said that the choice between him and Sipprelle was clear by adding that Sipprelle’s view of the American Dream was “constrained.”
Dworkin was pleased with the debate as a whole.
“I thought it was great,” he said.