A few notes on last night’s Great Debate, hosted by the Athens Political Union and featuring representatives from the College Republicans and Young Democrats. THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE’s Brennan Mancil has ably cataloged the formal exchange here, so I will take license to go beyond the back-and-forth of the debate itself.
- The debate took place in a large lecture hall, full to capacity and a little more (there were people sitting in the aisles). The partisans were interspersed throughout the lecture hall, although each party’s members were identifiable based on their dress. They signaled in the normal way — just a touch of New Left grunge for the Democrats, just a touch of Southern prep for the Republicans. Both small ways of saying, “Yes, I’m a part of this or that tribe.”
- The girl sitting to one side of me can be counted on to laugh dryly at every Democrat mishap; the girl to my other side vents hushed disbelief to her friend every time a Republican expresses sympathy for the plight of others. Overall, the Democratic side has the edge in audience reaction. Scarcely a word passes the lips of the poor Republican debaters that audience members — those with just a touch of New Left grunge — begin with the harrumphing and tongue-clucking and tittering.
- Speaking of distractions from the gallery, haven’t we all sat through enough AMC theater announcements to know to silence our damned cell phones before an event such as this? I’m beginning to sympathize with Kevin Williamson — with all the beeping, it sounds like the debate is being staged on the command deck of the starship Enterprise.
- Note to the Republican team: if you are required at any point to explain that “[your] party does not support immigrants dying in the streets,” you have lost an important public relations battle.
- What is it with the hostage-taking rhetoric? The Democratic debaters, Alex Rowell in particular, have taken to the metaphor with gusto (“If you don’t go along with us [the Tea Party], the government gets it”). It seems like only yesterday Democrats were united in condemning — with grave expressions and much solemn nodding — the use of incendiary, violent rhetoric. No one carbon-copied the Young Democrats to that strategy memo, apparently. Nor Alan Greyson.
- Republican debater Nicolette Fedorov makes the cringe-worthiest remark of the night, to the effect that illegal immigrants “are a drain on the economy.” (The titterers and harrumphers — they’re off!) Even accounting for illegal immigrants use of health care, public education and welfare programs, I have not seen evidence to suggest this is true. In fact, illegal immigration is probably a boon to the economy by virtue (vice?) of its illegality — illegal workers undermine the incredibly inefficient minimum wage. The Republican debaters would have been on much stabler ground had they argued that amnesty would depress wages for low-skilled citizen workers.
- Of the debaters, there were two clear standouts: the Democrats’ Mr. Rowell, who rolled out the snappiest lines of the evening, and the Republican’ Max Wallace, whose argumentation was calm and sober-minded, if a bit clunking with the language of bookkeeping and efficiency.
- And the overall winner? Oh, I don’t know. If a gun was held to my head (notify the DNC!), I would pick the Democrats for their more coherent handling of the foreign policy section. If the conversation I eavesdropped on the way out is any indication, however, neither side came off clean. Said a heavy-set boy in a red hoodie to his friend: “It was basically a competition to see who could pander the most to the audience.” …So it was a political event after all.
—M. Blake Seitz is Editor-in-Chief of THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE