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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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Torricelli speaks to students on democracy

Senator Robert G. Torricelli heralded America's democracy but told Princeton students the debate over the role of the federal government has not changed much in the last 220 years. Citing the chaos from Tuesday's presidential election and also the campaign debates between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush, Torricelli called the problem "a stalemate on the philosophy of federal government, which is leading to little progress." He added: "This is not simply a partisan matter; it is also cultural and geographic."

Torricelli's remarks were made today during an afternoon visit to Dr. Elizabeth Bogan's economics and public policy class in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where he lectured for about 30 minutes before answering questions from students. Later, Torricelli met with several faculty and staff members before departing for other meetings and a book signing at the University Store.

Speaking most passionately on the subject of education reform, Torricelli said that as a Democrat he believes a strong federal role in issues such as education, health care and gun control is critical, while many Republicans support a diminished federal role. He said this philosophical difference appears graphically when viewing the maps of states won by each candidate, which have appeared for days on TV newscasts. Although the debate is an old one, he said, the geographic political landscape clearly has shifted.

"The Democratic party has become an urban and suburban, Northeastern, Great Lakes and California party," Torricelli said. Forty years ago, many states in the South would not even run a Republican candidate, he said, while New Jersey, which once was a Republican stronghold, apparently gave Gore the highest percentage of votes on Tuesday.

Such geographic shifts and differences make a strong case for keeping the Electoral College process, Torricelli said, noting that the system was designed so that "the smallest states would feel an affinity with the largest." Otherwise, he said, candidates only would visit highly populated areas where they could spend less time yet change more minds. "The Electoral College has been an unanticipated genius," Torricelli said. "It has reinforced our sense of union."

Torricelli began his remarks noting that only the United States and Great Britain have had the same forms of government when they entered the 21st century as they had when they entered the 20th century. He said democracy works but that it will take leadership and creative ideas to move the federal government beyond its current gridlock. Quoting Walter Mondale, Torricelli said: "Never let the perfect become the enemy of the good."

Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601

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