Foam fingers, polite partisanship as students watch presidential debate

PAW contributor Christopher Connell ’71 was on campus this week, and during his visit, he sat in on the presidential debate viewing party held at Richardson Auditorium. Below, Connell shares his impressions of the event.
 
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(Photo: John O’Neill ’13)
There were no non-partisans among the 400 Princeton students, faculty, and staff who flocked to Richardson Auditorium Tuesday evening for the second presidential debate — or at least they had a choice to make when they entered Alexander Hall. Only two doors were unlocked and outside one was an archway of red balloons fluttering in the night breeze, with an archway of blue balloons outside the opposite entrance.
 
In the doorway, Republican and Democratic activists took tickets and handed out red or blue foam fingers to those who wanted them.
 
The debate viewing was organized by Whig-Clio, Undergraduate Student Government, College Republicans, College Democrats, and other groups. A pro-Obama professor, Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, and pro-Romney professor, John Londregan *88, warmed up the crowd with their own takes on the election.
 

I got there just as Londregan was finishing with a prediction that “much of this boils down to a four-letter word: Ohio.” The Prince reported that before the professors spoke, there were some boos when College Republican President Jacob Rees ’13 likened this election to 1980 in the era of stagflation when the electorate ousted the inept Jimmy Carter in favor of Ronald Reagan.
 
But to a visitor who remembers the raucous campus political battles of the late 1960s, I was struck by how polite and well-behaved these students were, even if they were wearing their allegiance on their sleeves, as it were, in the guise of those foam fingers. In fact, there was precious little finger-waving throughout the whole 90-minute affair.
 
There was partisanship. Democrats clearly outnumbered Republicans in the audience, at least 2-to-1 and possibly larger. They all liked CNN’s Candy Crowley, a lot, especially when she went mano a mano against the President of the United States and the Republican presidential candidate to try to hold them to the time limits. Each side laughed, applauded, and otherwise expressed support for their candidate, but they didn’t try to drown each other out.
 
Christopher Connell ’71 is a freelance writer in Alexandria, Va., and former assistant chief of the Washington bureau of The Associated Press.

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