Student Political Debate Characterizes Diplomatic Discourse

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  February 16, 2018

On February 13th, over a hundred students attended the advertised “Political Debate of the Year” hosted by the YU J. Dunner Political Science Society. Four debates took place, each with one student from the College Republicans club and one from the College Democrats club.  In the debates, each student discussed his or her party’s position on topics ranging from climate change to nationalism. Each student had five minutes to present an argument followed by two rebuttals, all moderated by adjunct political science professor on the Wilf campus, Dr. Maria Zaitseva.

The debate follows several students critiquing YU for its “lackluster” political conversation as Elliot Fuchs, YC ‘19, described it to The Commentator in November. Fuchs is the president of the YU chapter of the Young America’s Foundation, which has hosted Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro on the YU campus.“[The lack of debate] was especially problematic for a campus like ours that holds itself to high intellectual standards,” he said.

Beren students agree on the need for more political discussion. “Not debating important topics implies complacency. Any topics that come up should be discussed since that is the only way that change comes about. I would really encourage [more political discussions] for YU students and people in general,” commented Nechama Lowy, Syms ‘20.

The goal of the debate was to educate the crowd by showcasing passionate students invested in their respective party’s view on a topic. For instance, during the healthcare debate, Moshe Gelberman, YC ’18, the democratic representative, spoke about healthcare under a psychological, moral, and constitutional lens. His opponent Elliot Fuchs followed his lead to enlighten the crowd on important points of this nuanced political topic. In another well researched and illuminating debate, Republican representative Phillip Dolitsky, YC ‘20, brought down political theory from George Orwell’s 1984, supreme court cases about political expression, and religious appeals in order to debate religious rights. His opponent Doniel Weinreich, YC ‘20, argued back that denying freedoms to one can eventually lead to denying freedoms to others. Both engaged the audience with subtleties on this charged topic.

Perhaps most inspiring for the audience was the way debaters actually engaged with their topics, instead of taking shots at their opponents’ character and personal lives. Molly Meisels, SCW ‘20, participated in the program as a proud democratic debater, speaking on nationalism. “The debate was on a heated topic and it could have taken a turn for the disrespectful,” she said. “Instead, I believe that [my opponent] Nolan Edmonson and I handled it gracefully.”

In this politically heated climate, even the highest ranked politicians seem to throw insults instead of facts during debates. The last presidential debates between US candidates has been characterized by entertainment in the form of throwing insults instead of debate in the form of factual discourse. This debate, however, was characterized by diplomatic discourse. Fuchs agreed with Meisels, saying “I thought–for the most part–everyone was respectful. I know that my opponent and I had a long friendly chat on a myriad of issues afterward.”

Other than a few jabs about the Young America’s Federation loving to “quote [their] pocket constitutions]” by Gelberman or a joust from two republican candidates about democratic “emotional appeals,” the debate focused on substantive and nuanced discourse. Attendants left the event better educated and proud of the diplomatic exchange of ideas they had witnessed.