Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Debate Last Night

The debate that I moderated last night between the UGA College Republicans and Young Democrats was an interesting affair. We had the hall for 90 minutes and broke things down in to segments of about 8 minutes each (Well, they were supposed to have been 8 minutes each.). Both sides got two minutes to answer the question posed and that was followed up by about 2-4 minutes of cross talk. As I said yesterday, the intent was to split the event into equal parts foreign policy and domestic affairs. The guy who was moderating, though, was a bit liberal with the time allowed and let it get away from them more often than not. As a result most of the evening was spent discussing issues in the domestic sphere (...much to the chagrin of one of the College Republican panelists who also happened to be an international affairs major. All the moderator could say was, "What do you expect from an Americanist?").

I'll reproduce the question list below, but will tell you that we were able to cover immigration, candidate experience, redistribution of wealth, energy, education, the economy, Iran and checks and balances. I had planned to close by asking who each side thought would win nationally and in Georgia and why/how, but opted to close with the checks and balances question instead. The moderator in me overruled the political strategist on that final question as time waned. Plus, I was likely to have gotten partisan rather than thoughtful responses -- not that the two can't overlap -- which would have lacked any real entertainment value.

It was funny. As the crowd was filing in, I was sitting in the back of the hall going over my notes and got to hear some good lines. Two girls (I hate saying that, but saying college-aged women sounds kind of silly, though, perhaps more accurate.) were talking about how it was like a wedding, having to choose which side to sit on. I had already been thinking about this and, to me, there were more people opting for the left than the right. That seemed to be where the crowd was throughout the evening. Democratic one liners got a better response and edgy Republican comments were vocally derided. [I seriously considered jokingly leading off by revealing, in true moderator fashion, that the audience had been warned about vocal reactions, but thought better of it. There are only so many jokes you can fit in and I already had a Joe the Plumber reference.]

As to the debate itself, I'm sure everyone is interested in my opinion of who won. When my sister asked me this morning, I said me (...because I had not succumbed to stage fright beforehand. How like a politician: setting the bar low before an event.). In all seriousness, though, I think it is probably beyond my pay grade -- to borrow a phrase -- to call out students and critique them on their performances (I do enough of that already.). I thought both sides did well, but like any of the four debates we just witnessed, there was a fair amount of question dodging and reliance on stump speech material. But hey, if the people at the top do it, I can't begrudge any of the panelists for doing the same. [Heck, it wasn't like I was Jim Lehrer up there.] More than anything the night was about information and I'd like to think that the discussion that took place on stage helped to get some additional information out there to students at UGA.

But the evening was enjoyable and I appreciated the University Union contacting me and allowing me to participate.

Below are the questions I used (or would have used had we had more time or a more disciplined moderator). I was able to sneak Rob's socialism/liberalism and conservatism/libertarianism question into the discussion of redistribution. That one got set up better than I had hoped when one of the Republican panelists brought up not only socialism but went beyond that to invoke communism, even quoting Karl Marx. That led to a good exchange.

The only reason that I didn't get to use Daniel's was because it came in after I had already completed the set of questions for the night. That one is on me. I probably should have put a deadline in with the original call for questions.
Debate Questions
I Immigration
One issue that has been lost in the campaign this year is the issue of immigration. That is due in large part to the relative proximity of the two candidates on how to deal with it and McCain's divergence from some within the Republican Party. On the one side is the wall along the United States' southern border with Mexico and on the other is talk of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants. Where do John McCain and Barack Obama fit in on that spectrum and how will each deal with the issue over the course of the next four years?

II Experience
From some of the student questions I received, I saw that experience is still an issue that is on people's minds. Early on, this looked like a race that would potentially be shaped based on the age vs. experience question. Was McCain too old and did Obama lack the experience necessary to deal with the serious problems facing the nation. The Sarah Palin selection added a twist to this discussion, but is this still an issue and how will it affect each after January 20th?

III Redistribution/Socialism
This one comes to us from our good friend Joe the Plumber. Obviously, the McCain campaign has tried to make an issue – whether successful or not – of Obama's response about the idea of redistribution of wealth. At the heart of this is the divide between the two parties on how much and in what ways the federal government should intervene on economic issues. But what does this mean, a redistribution of wealth? What wealth and where will it be redistributed?

Since we're talking government intervention, I'd like to take a step back and talk a little about basic questions of ideology. I often run my 1101 students through the paces on ideology, but I think it would be instructive to give that discussion a potential real world application. To my friends on the right, what is the difference between a conservative and a libertarian? And to the folks on the left, what is the difference between a liberal and a socialist?

IV Energy
Whether its drill baby drill or adding new green collar jobs to our economy, alternative forms of energy are high on the lists of priorities of both John McCain and Barack Obama. What is the most cost-effective combination of these various ideas to deal with the United States' current energy problems.

V Education
I wanted to talk about something related to education. We are at an institution of higher learning after all. And I'd like to confine our discussion to that area. At least some of the folks in this room are facing student loan repayments when they are done at UGA and among the others there are HOPE scholarship recipients whose scholarships – and this may be something faced by future students more than those here in the hall tonight – may be threatened because of the rising cost of higher education. What are each of the major candidate's doing to address the issue of college affordability?

VI Economy
This question was posed to the candidates in all four debates this year and I don't know that the American people got a solid answer to it at any point during any of those affairs. However, I think that we may be able to come up with some ideas tonight. There's always a lot of promises in political campaigns, but in light of the current economic situation, what are some of the things that are most likely going to be on the cutting room floor once one of these two gentlemen assumes the office of the presidency?

VII Iran
Iran. Diplomacy or military intervention? There's been a lot of talk about conditions and pre-conditions for sitting down with certain world leaders, but obviously, the Islamic Republic's development of nuclear technology is a huge consideration in dealing with Iran. But what is the point of no return? At what point in that nation's nuclear development does it become necessary for military intervention to be seriously considered?

VIII Israel
I'm glad Israel came up in that last exchange/I'm surprised Israel didn't come up in that exchange because that is where I'd like to turn now. The Iran question is very much intertwined with the Israel question simply because of their ties to the Palestinians opposite the Israelis on the dispute over the territory in the Holy Land. What should the US role be in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute and how should that approach be tempered by the question of Iran's interest in the issue as well?

IX Trade
Charges of protectionism and unfair trade have been bandied about throughout this campaign – even stretching back to the primary contests in the winter and spring. What can be done to alter the trade regimes currently in place so that they successfully tread the line between the two extremes represented by the charges levied in this contest – protectionism and unfair trade?

X Humanitarian Intervention
The US military is stretched pretty much to its limit currently. Given that reality and its intersection with the economic downturn has the United States' ability to deal with current humanitarian crises and those that may arise in the future been compromised? Like a lot of things, this is a question of degrees. Under what circumstances is it necessary for the US to intervene to create some solution to humanitarian issues?

XI Checks and Balances
I wanted to end on a bit of a broad note. No matter who wins next week, the next president will have to deal with what is projected to be an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. 250 seats in the House and possibly a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the Senate. If McCain wins how will he be able to govern effectively without a wholesale shift toward the left? And if Obama wins, what will he have to do to keep the various factions of the Democratic majority on the same page when dealing with the issues that face the nation?

XII Closing Question
Who is going to win both nationally and here in Georgia and why?

Recent Posts:
The Electoral College Map (10/28/08)

Debate Tonight

The Electoral College Map (10/27/08)

1 comment:

Robert said...

Excellent questions! I should have gone, but I was trying to catch up on things in the office.