October 6, 2004: On the Campus
By David Baumgarten ’06
Seniors Jay Saxon and Evan Baehr have a lot to fight about these days. As presidents of the College Democrats (Saxon) and College Republicans (Baehr), there’s almost nothing in politics they agree on. So in this election year of vicious political attacks, it’s easy to imagine them engaging in some serious fisticuffs in Frist or in an old-fashioned duel on Cannon Green. But to the grave disappointment of campus fight fans, the only place Saxon and Baehr will be going mano-a-mano anytime soon is in the editorial pages of the Daily Princetonian. Unlike John Kerry and George Bush, Jay and Evan actually like each other.
As Jay and Evan see it, they have plenty in common. More than anything else, they both love politics — whether studying, debating, actively participating, or encouraging others to do the same. “We respect each other’s passions and interests,” Evan says. Of course, that doesn’t mean they buy the other side’s arguments. “We both know we’re never going to convince each other,” Jay says, laughing.
Still, even though they’ll never agree, as Evan says, “there’s room for both Republicans and Democrats on this campus. We’re both better off working together.” This fall, working together means doing everything they can to interest and involve the rest of the student body in the election. Jay and Evan are both excited about a weekly series of point-counterpoint editorials they’ll be writing for the Prince that will focus on the issues relevant to students. Their biggest endeavor is a bipartisan voter registration and turnout effort called “Princeton Votes 2004,” which is being spearheaded by the College Democrats and Republicans.
Until last spring, University policy effectively prohibited partisan student groups from registering voters. But after receiving a spate of negative press in the Prince, Princeton last April decided to allow partisan groups to participate in non-partisan registration drives. Within a few days of the reversal, Evan and Jay, with the help of the USG and other student groups, began drawing up plans for the fall. In the months since, various University groups — from the dean’s office to the Pace Center for Community Service — have offered funding and other resources to get “PVotes” going.
The result of all the bipartisanship? Before classes had even started, approximately 250 freshmen had been registered to vote; the focus then turned to registering upperclassmen throughout the rest of September. Once the deadline for voter registration passed October 3, “PVotes” evolved into a get-out-the-vote effort. Also in the works are plans to make it easier for students to travel to swing states to campaign for their candidate of choice over fall break. In other words, “PVotes” is spreading the political love all around campus.
As much as Evan and Jay have fostered friendliness on campus, however, politics wouldn’t be politics without at least a bit of hostility. Take junior Ira Leeds, for example. Ira really doesn’t look all that evil. Clean-cut and well-dressed, polite and friendly, he seems like an all-around good guy, the type of kid any mother would be proud to call her son. And yet, as Ira is aware, a good portion of the students on campus — kids he’s never even met — think badly of him.
The explanation is simple: Once a month, his bow-tie-clad mug shot appears on the inside cover as publisher of the Tory, Princeton’s most famous right-wing publication. This makes his smiling face the symbol of campus conservatives and motivates his fellow students to say things to him like, “You have a black heart.” Ironically — or perhaps expectedly, considering the lessons learned from the odd couple of Jay and Evan — Ira claims most of the malice he faces comes from apolitical moderates, not engaged liberals.
Despite the challenges Ira faces — he cites examples of Tory-hating on the Street and during bicker — he doesn’t let it bother him too much. “Anytime you have a public position, you’re going to be stereotyped,” he says. “But I enjoy being in the political arena.” Besides, once people get to know Ira, they generally decide he doesn’t have a black heart after all. In fact, after two years of complaining that the Tory was ruining his dating prospects, he’s currently dating a rather ardent liberal. See, the political love really is spreading.
David Baumgarten ’06, a politics major, is from Richmond, Va.