Getting Out the Vote

By Sari Aviv ’01 and Emily Gold / May / June 2000
October 19th, 2007
In an unusual display of ideological diversity, conservative Ralph Reed and liberal Russell Feingold addressed students in Sayles Hall on consecutive March nights as part of a conference on overcoming political apathy among college students. The talks were part of the Stephen Robert ’62 Initiative for the Study of Values.

Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, had the tougher reception. Interrupted three times by protestors chanting "Ralph lies, people die," Reed said he came to Brown because it is "one of the last bastions of liberalism that I haven’t yet visited."

He argued that religious values are "coming back into vogue" in politics, pointing to presidential candidates Al Gore, who declared himself a born-again Christian, and George W. Bush, who said Jesus is the most influential person in his life. "People are hungry for that kind of leadership," Reed asserted.

Reed also outlined his proposals for education and tax reform. If a school fails to educate students, he said, federal money for that school should be turned over to students, who could either remain or go elsewhere. He called for a "flatter, simpler" tax code that would free a family of four earning less than $40,000 from paying any federal income tax.

Such ideas are "very dangerous," Feingold told a much friendlier audience the following evening. A Wisconsin Democratic senator and cosponsor of the Senate’s campaign-finance-reform bill, Feingold argued that money squelches too many political voices. Youth activism, he said, must become the "new currency" in politics, replacing the old one – wealth: "When big money contributions become the price of admission even for young people, something is very wrong. If you spend your currency on dreams, you’ll live a richer life, and we will be a richer nation."

Feingold underscored the importance of voting in the next presidential election. "Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote," he said.

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May / June 2000