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Vol. LXIV, No. 42
 
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
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Debate Highlights Holt, Sipprelle Differences

Ellen Gilbert

The 450-seat Yvonne Theater, Rider University’s largest meeting venue, was filled to capacity last Thursday as 12th Congressional District Democratic incumbent Congressman Rush Holt and Republican challenger Scott Sipprelle met for the first of three scheduled debates.

Moderated by Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics Director Ben Dworkin, who said he was “thrilled” by the turnout, the debate was cosponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area, Hopewell Valley, and Lawrence Township.

After being greeted by a prolonged standing ovation, the candidates had an opportunity to offer two-minute long opening statements.

“I don’t have time to go through all the legislation I have worked on and all the constituents I have helped,” said Mr. Holt, who had won an earlier coin toss and was the first to speak. The key question, he observed is “to whom does the American dream belong — to all of us, or a privileged few?”

“Your choice could not be more stark this year,” said Mr. Sipprelle, claiming that he was running “a family campaign” against those who believe that “government spending makes us a richer nation.” He described — and emphasized several times through the course of the hour-long debate Mr. Holt’s “rigid, party-line support for Nancy Pelosi’s agenda, which is destroying the fabric of America.”

Mr. Sipprelle also frequently returned to his “deep and abiding belief in the free enterprise system,” at one point chiding Mr. Dworkin for asking questions that didn’t seem to relate to these concerns.

While both candidates agreed that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan should come to an end, their respective views on U.S.-Pakistani relations were different. “I don’t think America’s role should be nation-building,” said Mr. Sipprelle. Mr. Holt, who has travelled there in his role as the Chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, described Pakistan’s complexities. He also cited his role in trying to improve the physical and mental health care available to returning veterans, several of whom have committed suicide.

Mr. Sipprelle described the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) as “reckless behavior” on the part of the Federal government and predicted “bigger and bigger” risk-taking by Wall Street firms. Mr. Holt reminded listeners of the country’s “dire situation” in the fall of 2008, the result, he said, of “reckless, greedy behavior. My opponent has made it clear that that’s what he wants to go back to,” he added.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Mr. Holt asserted his belief in allowing gays to serve in the military, citing “humane and national security reasons, as well as individual respect and social benefits.” Creating the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy” was “preposterous in the first place.”

“The primary mission of the military is to be able to act effectively,” said Mr. Sipprelle in response to the same question. “It should be decided by the chain of command.”

Mr. Holt also cited “human dignity” as among the reasons he is cosponsoring legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Comparing it to President Harry S. Truman’s decision to racially integrate the military in the late 1940s (“without waiting for the chain of command”), Mr. Holt said that “it was the right thing to do.”

“It’s a semantic question,” countered Mr. Sipprelle. “Marriage refers to a man and a woman. Civil unions are okay for gay couples.”

Mr. Sipprelle portrayed Mr. Holt as overly sympathetic to Palestinian concerns. Mr. Holt defended his association with J Street, an American organization that endorses a two-state solution, and was unapologetic for supporting humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza.

Health Care

“None of the premises of the bill will become a reality,” said Mr. Sipprelle of the recently passed health care law. “Socialized medicine has failed everywhere it’s been tried.”

“This response is exactly what I’ve been talking about: a restricted view of the American dream,” said Mr. Holt in response. “‘It’s okay if you have money, if not, you’re on your own.’”

In response to Mr. Sipprelle’s comments about “the pernicious implications of this bill,” Mr. Holt quoted the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that “‘You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.’”

“There isn’t enough time in two minutes or two hours to refute these falsehoods,” said Mr. Holt.

The October 14 debate was recorded and can be viewed in its entirety at www.rider.edu/rebovich.

Mr. Holt and Mr. Sipprelle engaged in a second debate on Monday, October 18. A third debate will be taped on Friday, October 29 with Michael Aaron of NJN’s On the Record, It will be broadcast during the weekend of October 30.

Mr. Sipprelle’s campaign website is www.supportscott2010.com. Mr. Holt’s campaign may be followed at www.rushholt.com; his Congressional website is holt.house.gov.

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