As the political season heats up, many Fresno State students may find themselves locked in a viewing cycle of negative campaign ads, debates, and mailers that seem more interested in bashing opponents than delivering facts.
But for students of the Smittcamp Family Honors College, Thursday night was marked by presentations and dialogue from both sides of the political spectrum with a focus on spreading information through the art of civil discourse.
“This isn’t a debate; it’s a seminar,” said James Orr, a civil engineer for Fresno County. “We’re taking this opportunity to present information to a group of college students.”
Orr, who made a point to say he wasn’t an official representative of the Democratic Party, represented the progressive or liberal viewpoint in society. Chris Walsh, chairman for the Fresno County Republican Party, represented the traditional, or conservative side.
The seminar allowed both presenters about 20 minutes to give a presentation based in the Smittcamp’s Honors 101 colloquium’s focus this semester: political economics.
Orr began the evening by giving a presentation focused around a broader sense of the role played by American government in personal and economic freedom.
Accompanied by a number of slides with images and data, Orr presented the theme that government is necessary for the promotion of a thriving economy.
“A good modern society must balance a number of interests,” Orr said. “It must promote entrepreneurs, regulate corporations, and provide opportunity so that all Americans can play on a level playing field.”
Orr, who often relied on historical data in his presentation, made his case based on an idea never too far from progressive philosophy—promoting the general welfare.
“A good society must empower and protect equally,” Orr said. “It must work well for everybody.”
Walsh, a prosecutor with the Fresno County district attorney’s office, delivered a presentation that did not stray far from the conservative ideals of smaller government and individual choice.
“What I believe as a Republican is a smaller form of government,” Walsh said. “I believe in a government that isn’t as big and isn’t as involved in people’s lives.”
Walsh, with his own slides of data, argued the theme that higher taxes and more regulations result in the elimination of jobs and revenue.
“You cannot tax your way into prosperity,” Walsh said. “We believe in a simple idea and that is that government does not create wealth. Government does not create jobs. Government does not create free enterprise. It’s the other way around.”
After the presentations were completed, students were encouraged to ask questions.
One student asked both Orr and Walsh about the possibility of a student debt crisis through the issuing of what he called “high-risk loans.”
Walsh agreed there could be a potential problem.
“I think there is a risk,” Walsh said. “You look at what happened with the housing market—an idea which sounds good. You have all these high-risk home loans out there, but most people would agree that caused the meltdown we’re now riding through. There’s a philosophical difference here. The solution is not to keep feeding the problem.”
Orr responded that he would completely eliminate student debt.
“The problem that we’re seeing generally is our society and our taxpayers and our voters have decided that your education and my education is a personal luxury good,” Orr said. “But as I alluded to before, we have looked at education as an economic driver. It’s been important and is important.”
And while both men favored their respective ideologies in charting the nation’s economic course, each acknowledged the role of the other in a productive society.
“In a good society,” Orr said, “public nurtures the private and every citizen must have personal liberty.”
“[Republicans] are not against all government,” Walsh said. “We believe in some government. We believe in limited government. Something that I don’t like is what certain members of even my own party do is class warfare and make it like if you work for the government you’re bad and evil, just like the same way the other side makes it out that if you’re rich and successful you’re bad and evil.
“Both are wrong.”