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Gratuitous exaggeration

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, February 27, 2006

According to the Feb. 24 Observer article, “Presidential visit conjures emotion,” Notre Dame College Republicans co-president Jonathan Klingler said something that is most probably a gratuitous exaggeration. Klingler does not need to make wild claims to defend his position. It is essential to Notre Dame’s mission that its students learn to properly engage in rational debates over public issues.

Klingler was responding to a statement by Notre Dame’s Progressive Student Alliance that said President George W. Bush’s Bethel College visit was very costly to the local community’s tax base. It is true that many local police and firefighters prepared for Bush’s visit for two weeks and spent much of the day dedicated to security around Bush’s route and Bethel College.

Klingler defends this significant expenditure of local tax revenues when he states, “The event [brought in] hundreds of thousands of dollars to the community – not only to Mishawaka and South Bend – but to Roseland and Niles as well, through hotel bookings and entertainment for the hundreds of extra people that [were] in the community for the event.”

But the $500-a-plate fundraiser for our local congressman was attended by only 560 people, the vast majority of which come from the local area around his small congressional district. No one who lives in this area would need a hotel, and lunch was provided at Bethel. Those who went out later that night would probably not add much to the local economy, since local people who can afford a $500 lunch (or the optional $4000 photo) often go out for food and entertainment regardless of an afternoon event.

Even if 100 extra people came from out of town (non-local journalists, etc.), each stayed in his or her own hotel room (e.g., husbands and wives attending the fundraiser stayed in separate rooms) costing $100 a day and hotels made a massive 50 percent profit from each room, hotels would receive only $5,000 in profits. Since most hotels (not to mention restaurants) are not locally owned, much of that money would go outside the local area.

Klingler’s claim that the local community reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars from hundreds of outside visitors is likely a significant exaggeration. Most local communities lose money from such presidential visits. However, everything need not be defended on financial terms. We do not need to argue for something’s value by saying that it makes money. Klingler does add that the visit is valuable as a “tremendous honor” that “will be remembered for years come,” but this is an empty cliche. Surely there are more substantial justifications for presidential visits.

Notre Dame students should think before they speak. Klingler is not alone. Many otherwise intelligent students at Notre Dame exaggerate the facts and use cliches to defend their views. This can be seen in Observer articles from every side of the debates over the Queer Film Festival and “The Vagina Monologues.” One of the most basic missions of Notre Dame is to make its students into effective Catholic citizens. This requires that students bring the Catholic tradition into fruitful, rational dialogue with others in public debate. Bad habits of mind are all too common and undermine the Notre Dame mission to bring the Catholic ethos into the public sphere.

Sean Walshgraduate studentFeb. 24