Even a self-diagnosed political junkie such as myself got tired of the exploits of the democrats and republicans following the fall elections. For the past few months, the thought of politics was comparable to the smell of stale beer after a night of heavy drinking: in a word, sickening.
Lately, however, I’ve been trying to build up a tolerance and get back in the game. So, when I went to the College Democrats and Republicans debate on Tuesday night, I was hoping I’d be able to handle it, and perhaps even enjoy it.
I think I jumped the gun.
Before I get cranky, I want to point out that I was very happy to see a classroom full of students who seemed genuinely interested in the nuances of modern politics. The leaders of the College Democrats and Republicans should be commended for getting a sizeable turnout from our notoriously apathetic student body.
As for the debate, the students who argued on behalf of either party were well-read and well-spoken for the extemporaneous style that was required of the debates. Each side had their positions straight and understood the ins and outs of issues ranging from stem-cell research to gay marriage to tax policy.
However, I felt as though when it actually came to the best element of any debate, the ideological clash, both sides were lacking.
In order to prepare for debate, one of the keys to beating your opponent is to understand their position better than they do.
It seemed to me that the College Republicans had been reading way too much National Review and the Democrats too much of The New Republic. Many of the arguments posed by either side were presented in an intellectual vacuum with little challenge posed by their opposition.
The kind of speeches presented would have been fine for such insular venues as the Republican or Democratic National Conventions, or perhaps even a Presidential debate. You may call what happened on Tuesday night “spin” – opportunities for either side to get their message out to the people. Do not, however, call it debate.
I think maybe the college dems and repubs forgot what a debate actually is. For instance, comparing your opponents to communists is not a valid rebuttal. Nor is a snide, mocking reference to the No Child Left Behind Act. There are no absolute, multi-purpose rebuttals in political debate within a democratic society; hell, some people do think communism works.
I think that the style of debate chosen might be the source of their problems. Maybe they should consider switching to Lincoln-Douglas (LD), the format made famous by the storied run-ins between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas when they ran for Illinois senate in 1858. This would allow for a cross-examination period which would force debaters to reconcile the holes in the logic of both sides of the argument.
In the meantime, everyone who spoke should switch reading material. To the republicans: the New Deal wasn’t all that bad, and you should pick up The New York Times once in a while. And Democrats: there might be something to lowering taxes, and while you’re reading the op-ed pages of The Times, don’t gloss over David Brooks’ column like you normally do. It will make for a better debate.