Monday, November 28, 2005

Student political organizations debate opposing party stances

Original Article Here

From their podiums in the front of the room, representatives from opposite sides of the political spectrum debated their party’s views in front of a camera and a crowd of no more than 25 people.

On Wednesday, April 19, the Calvin College Republicans and the Calvin College Democrats and Liberals joined together for the first time in a debate aimed to inform Calvin students of the political views of each party. The mediated debate allowed the representatives from each organization to present the beliefs of their party and then respond to each other in short rebuttals.

The debate began with Republicans President Peter Giessel outlining six points of what Republicans believe. He emphasized that good government is based on the individual, that free enterprise has made our nation great and the difference between liberals and conservatives. “The emphasis of liberalism says, ‘I’m here to help you, you can’t do it without me,’” said Giessel. “Conservatism says, ‘I did it, this is how I did it, I know you can do it too.’”

Austin Stoub, leader of the Democrats and Liberals, introduced a democratic viewpoint. He highlighted that the “cornerstone of the Democratic party” is the belief in social progress in all areas. “We think the government should supply funds to meet the needs of the people as best they can,” he said. And describing the liberal aspect of the Democrats, he said, “You have the right to do what you want, but your actions must not diminish the rights of other people.”

In the rebuttals, the debate turned more toward the issues, bantering back and forth about school vouchers, abortion, Elían Gonzalez, privatization of Social Security and the Test Ban Treaty, but most of the discussion focused on defense and gun control.

Giessel launched statistics, facts and foreign examples regarding gun control at Stoub, who argued primarily that guns “impinge on a person’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” They discussed the constitutionality of school vouchers, Stoub arguing that it violates the separation of church and state, with Giessel firing back asking Stoub to show him the words “separation of church and state” anywhere in the Constitution. Giessel also read the Establishment Clause and explained how a voucher plan would not violate it.

Elían Gonzalez was also a hot topic, one embraced especially by the audience. The arguments of the Republican and Democratic sides pivoted around whether Elían had political asylum or not – whether he was picked up in the water by a fishing boat or the Coast Guard. Directly following was a question from an audience member asking if each side would briefly touch on its views on immigration. Giessel responded that the Republican party welcomes legal immigration, saying, “Illegal immigrants should be stopped just like illegal activity.”

Another hotly debated topic was nuclear weapons and the recently shot down Test Ban Treaty. Giessel put forth that the Test Ban Treaty would not work because it was not enforceable and there was no way to monitor other countries to make sure they would obey the treaty. Stoub fought back saying, “By not signing, we’re only endangering future generations.” He also suggested the treaty outlines three levels of punishment that ultimately led to disarmament.

Throughout the debate, Giessel worked alone while Stoub had two other people backing him – senior Joel Swagman and junior Peter LaGrand. “Giessel did a good job arguing against, at times, three [people],” acknowledged Swagman.

Unfortunatly, the larger team did get cumbersome at times. Thought passed between the backups and Stoub during rebuttals often threw off his concentration and train of thought.

“I really felt like the Democratic side could’ve been represented better,” said freshman Mike DeWitt. “There was a lot of talking in the back and passing of notes, but not much was being said. It didn’t seem like he [Stoub] was well prepared for it. He didn’t seem to have as many examples, and he seemed to draw a blank on some of the issues.”

Another problem surrounding the debate was the moderator. After not being able to secure a non-student moderator, Giessel and Stoub decided that the debate would be co-moderated by two people – one chosen by each side – to eliminate bias. However, the Democrats and Liberals did not try to find someone to act as moderator. According to Stoub, he trusted that Giessel would find someone that would be fair. The task of moderator then rested solely on Justin Grill, next year’s Calvin College Republicans president. “I really didn’t think that the moderator was biased at all,” Stoub said. “He was pretty just on both sides.”

The original goal of the debate to inform Calvin students did not succeed across the board. Many that attended were already familiar with the standard arguments. Others viewed it as a learning experience about their own arguments. “I realized what are the powerful and weak arguments of my position,” said Stoub.

Student response seemed to indicate a need for improvement. “Some topics went on too long, while others weren’t covered,” said sophomore Jordan Adema. “It would be nice if there was a time limit for each person to speak about a particular issue, immediately followed by relevant questions from the audience. As it was, the debate part dragged on for some time, while audience questions were jumbled together at the end.”

There are no tentative plans for another debate, but both organizations’ representatives were positive about how the debate went and hope their successors work to continue to hold bi-partisan forums.

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