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Swarthmore Students Speak Out About Election Issues and the Need for Dialogue

November 8, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, how this campaign appeared to a group of students at Swarthmore College in suburban Philadelphia. Gwen Ifill talked with them last night.

GWEN IFILL: Welcome, everybody. Thank you for joining us.

GROUP: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: I want to start by asking how many of you cast a vote in this year’s midterm elections? Ah, are you satisfied about that, about the choice you had?


PANELIST: Absolutely.

GWEN IFILL: A lot of young people say, “No one is talking about anything that interests me.” Do you hear elected officials actually talking about things in a way that satisfies you?

ANNE KOLKER, Democrat: Yes, actually, in this particular election, I did. I felt that in previous elections there was not as much actual talk about the issues that I cared about, but I think that, in particular after 2004, the youth of America really proved that we have a voice and we will make ourselves heard.

KATIE CASSLING, Democrat: There are all these issues, in Social Security and the deficit. If we’re spending on defense money for our war in Iraq instead of funding education, instead of funding infrastructure, and instead of funding technology, then we’re not investing in the future.

GWEN IFILL: Kasie, what are the issues which affect you the most?

KASIE GROOM, Republican: Well, actually, I’m going to have to disagree with Katie a little bit on this. It’s true, I believe, the war in Iraq is actually one of the foremost issues on the table today, and basically because, if terrorism is allowed to infiltrate our borders, the other issues — the education, the Social Security — are going to become moot points.

Those are all issues that absolutely must depend on the safety of our people first, and that’s why I believe that the war is one of the main issues today.

Partisan divisions amongst youth

GWEN IFILL: When you all disagree on fundamental issues, like the war in Iraq, is there a conversation that takes place on campuses like this, or do you pretty much just stick with the folks who agree with you?

ANNE KOLKER: Swarthmore is a very unusual place in that we have very intense dinner discussions about, like, tax policy. And we think that's insanely fascinating.

GWEN IFILL: That sounds like fun.

ANNE KOLKER: I mean, Iraq tends to be the more interesting when compared to tax policy. You know, a lot of people think that our country is so divided along partisan lines that nobody's ever listening to each other and we're just shouting.

And I think that that's someplace that the youth can really be instrumental in showing that there is actually room for discussion and room for compromise, and we do understand where each other are coming from, and we can have constructive debate, rather than shouting matches.

NATHANIEL PETERS, Independent: It seems to me that politics and that opinions have been reduced to two windbags shouting across a room at each other. Now, those individuals may be very, very intelligent, and they may be very, very articulate, but the fact of the matter is that there are many Americans who exist somewhere in a middle ground.

And what I hope in this election, and what I hope for future elections, is that men and women who can be both open-minded and also can represent more of the center, that those individuals could be elected to power.

Optimistic about politics?

GWEN IFILL: Do you feel that elections like this, that debates like this, whether you agree or disagree with different issues, does any of it make you optimistic about your future? Let's start with you, Katie.

KATIE CASSLING: Absolutely. I think that the key to the future is discussing it, because I generally think that you can't find the right answer or the right balance if you come at it from one extreme or the other.

I think that the only way to really come together and find the right answers that are best for the country is bipartisanship, is coming together and not talking necessarily about politics on the right or on the left, but talking about our shared humanity, our shared cares for our families and our future, which is probably the most idealistic thing I could say, but I believe it fully.

GWEN IFILL: Well, we're not down on idealism.

Charles, are you as idealistic?

CHARLES DECKER, Democrat: This particular election cycle has really made me a lot more optimistic about the future of politics in America, because all of these midterm elections have given the American voters something I don't think they had in the 2004 presidential election, which was a clear, distinct choice between two different ideologies, two different policies, two different ways of thinking how America should be run.

JULIAN HARPER, Democrat: Americans really have as a whole moved away from the administration's policies, and they're making their voices heard in these midterm elections.

GWEN IFILL: Danielle, what do you think?

DANIELLE TOCCHET, Republican: I'm fairly optimistic in the fact that I think that what we do now will have an effect in what we do in the future. But I also believe, too, that, I know sometimes things that come up that are completely out of our control.

I mean, September 11th was something that no one could have predicted, and I think that really alters the course of, you know, our policies and what goes on in the United States and people's main concerns.

Taking action

KASIE GROOM: I'm hearing a lot of idealistic thoughts, and I'm hearing a lot of, "We need to discuss, we need to discuss." We've been discussing for years and years and years.

The point now is that we need to actually act on these discussions, so I'm very encouraged that we have up to 65 percent turnout in the midterm election, but I also need to hear more from the elected officials and from just us as people, actual plans of action and actual things that we need to get done, as opposed to just idealistic banter.

GWEN IFILL: Kristen?

KRISTEN TRABANO, Republican: I agree 100 percent with Kasie. I'm not as optimistic as some of my classmates. I think that the trend toward idealism is very dangerous, and it's kind of a slippery slope.

I know, in this election, voters have really voiced their displeasure with the current administration, and they're very critical. But like Kasie pointed out, there haven't been many plans of action presented to counter what the administration has been doing.

And I think that it's all well and good to talk about the issues, but unless you have clear solutions to them, then talking does no good.

GWEN IFILL: All right. Well, thank you all very much for joining us.

GROUP: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: For the record, that passing reference to turnout was overstated. Final figures aren't available yet.