You may not need to wait until September to watch the liberals and conservatives go head to head over issues like gun control, immigration or energy policy. Thursday, Feb. 11, the Vassar College Libertarian Union (VCLU) and the Vassar Democrats will meet in Rocky to discuss those issues in an hour-long debate.
In any debate, equality is crucial. VCLU Treasurer Pieter Block ’18 who coordinated the event said “Especially in this election year, we think that it’s important that students have two fair perspectives, at least.” With the debate, the two orgs will have a chance to present their respective views. “Obviously our parties are more complex than ‘right and left,’ but hopefully we’ll get into some dialogue about important issues that people care about,” Block said.
Communications Director for the Vassar Dems, Conor Flanagan ’17, mentioned that the Vassar Dems were excited for some stimulating conversation. “We’re looking forward to the discussion and we think it’s going to be a good, substantive event,” he said.
The debate will follow a strict schedule with three topics, each taking about twenty minutes with two debators on either side. As the larger club, the Dems will have different representatives for each topic, while the team of Block and Spencer Virtue ’16 of VCLU will take on all three topics.
President of VCLU Pietro Geraci ’18 spoke for this potential disadvantage for his club. “This means that they will have to put in more work, but I’m confident they will do a great job regardless and present many right-of-center ideas for the Vassar community to consider,” he said.
Flanagan added that every topic will have its own moderator and there is a professor for every two students.
For the debate, Professor of Political Science Richard Born will moderate immigration, Wesley Sheffield ’19, a member of both the Vassar Dems and VCLU, will moderate the debate on guns, and Joshua Sherman ’16 will moderate energy policy. Flannagan began the preparation process by making sure each moderator could be in charge of creating questions for their topic. He stressed the importance of moving the discussion along during the debate.
Block is a participant in this debate, and has his own code of ethics when it comes to verbal competition. “I’m going from the perspective of the candidate that I’m best versed with, I know the most, I trust the most,” he said.
Block first represents his own values as a Republican not necessarily the collective values of the VCLU. “I don’t want to go up there and talk about stuff that I don’t agree with. I want to go up there and give an accurate representation of why I’m a republican and why I believe the our values are better,” he said.
Geraci explained that despite it’s small size, VCLU may have some advantages over the Vassar Dems. “I have largely left our debaters to their own devices. I’m not really sure how they’re preparing, but they’ve certainly been given a boost by constantly debating the Democrats who show up to VCLU meetings,” he said. He added, “This is a great advantage to them, an asset I’m not sure exists for the College Democrats.”
Flannigan will be debating both Immigration and Gun Control. He informed us that the Vassar Dems are preparing for the debate by generating arguments and counterarguments about the issues of energy polic, immigration, and gun-control.
The Vassar Dems aren’t limiting their preparations to speculation however. In two meetings before the Debate, the Dems plan to use stage mock debates.“Some of our members will pose as the VCLU debaters and go up against the members that are planning to actually debate next week,” Flanagan explained.
“There’s obviously a pretty broad range of things to discuss in each of those realms, so the moderators will be trying to narrow the discussion down,” Flanagan went on. “Until then, we’re preparing for the topics to go in any possible direction.”
While the majority of the school does not necessarily follow along with the members of VCLU’s ideology, the debaters hope both sides will have an opportunity to be heard. Block said, “Hopefully in the debate I’ll be able to put my best foot forward about why I’m republican and hopefully convert a couple of the people maybe on the fence. Because there’s an impression about the Republican party that a lot of young people have. And it’s not a good one.” The audience’s reaction seems to be an obvious concern for the group, who hopes to have a fair and equitable debate.
Through anecdote, Block brought up some of the underlying similarities between these divisive parties. “I had a chance to meet these twenty year olds and thirty year olds and forty year olds who were married, had kids, normal looking people, and they’re Republicans, too. And it was sort of a wakeup like, okay, we’re really not all that different.”
Block went on, “I do believe that the values I hold very close to me, that make me in large part a Republican, are values that I wish more people would take seriously. And I’m going to attempt to explain that with those three issues.”
VCLU and the Vassar Dems are no strangers to each other. In the past, they staged multiple debates each year.
These debates were sponsored by the Debate Society. Geraci went on to say that it was through the efforts of Block that the debate is once again happening this year. “For whatever reason, these debates stopped happening. This year VCLU members really wanted to have a debate, so Pieter stepped up and coordinated one with the College Democrats. Hopefully we can once again make this an annual event,” Geraci said.
Flanagan added, “The 2015 local elections caused some delays on our end, but our groups have been planning the event since November of last year and we’re all excited to see it finally happen.”
VCLU even has members of both political parties. Block explained, “VCLU has a lot of democrats and progressives, and they really like it there because they feel like it really stimulates them.”
Stimulating is something both the Vassar Dems and VCLU hope will be the main takeaway from the debate. Geraci said, “I am very excited about this debate. This is a chance for Vassar students to hear ideas they usually don’t encounter on campus, which will allow them to engage in true critical thinking when formulating their opinions about the issues.”
Speaking towards his own experiences and what he hopes are the experiences of the audience, Block concluded, “People are looking to interact with people who represent the other half of this country. And there are two halves, and they do exist, and a lot of times people refuse to acknowledge that. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should at least hear them out.”