By Jeremy Porter, Staff Writer, The Gettysburgian
On Wednesday evening, the Eisenhower Institute held a campus-wide policy debate. The widely-attended event took place in Mara Auditorium, and was moderated by visiting assistant professor of political science Douglas Page.
The debaters, twelve in total, were representatives for one of the six politically-oriented clubs on campus: the College Republicans, College Democrats, College Independents, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), and Gettysburg Anti-Capitalist Collective (GACC).
The fundamental purpose of the debate was to promote political discourse among Gettysburg students, according to EI discussions chair Marley Dizney Swanson ’18.
As stragglers shuffled into the auditorium and the remaining slices of pizza were snatched, Professor Page opened the floor to the debaters, allotting each pair of representatives two minutes to provide information regarding both their club’s fundamental beliefs and practicalities like when and where they meet.
Page then outlined the format of the debate: he would pose a series of questions, some pre-planned and some generated by the audience, to which the representatives would respond in seat order. Following their responses, they each had the opportunity to rebut the points of another group.
The debate began with a question about President Trump and his actions regarding international trade agreements. Representatives from YAF and YAL agreed that the United States should remain a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a deal of which, in its current form, Trump is not supportive, and that Adam Smith-style free trade is the most logical and efficient economic system.
The College Democrats and College Independents also believe that our country should engage in free trade and stay in NAFTA, but both groups emphasized the importance of balancing international trade with environmental regulations.
Conversely, debaters from both GACC and the College Republicans stressed the necessity to get out of NAFTA and other global trade agreements, but the clubs had different reasoning for their views. The Republicans favor bilateral trade agreements and adopted an “America First” stance, urging President Trump to bring back manufacturing jobs to the US. GACC, however, established its belief that all global trade deals are harmful to the environment and that the capitalist system is inherently flawed.
For the second question of the debate, Professor Page asked the representatives how they thought the Affordable Care Act should be handled by the Trump administration.
GACC and the College Democrats agreed that healthcare is a fundamental human right, but the former thinks a single-payer system, akin to the one currently in place in Canada, is the way to go.
The Independents argued that it would be too difficult to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying that it instead must be reformed by lowering medical procedure costs and malpractice lawsuits.
The general consensus among the remaining three clubs was that the act must be repealed and replaced with a private, more economically competitive system to drive down costs.
The next few questions focused on topics ranging from foreign policy to the judiciary.
When asked their beliefs about the power of the executive and whether or not President Trump has overstepped his boundaries with his executive orders, YAF and the College Republicans argued that Trump’s actions are neither unconstitutional nor unforeseen. They cited the forced return of Haitian refugees from the US under the Bush and Clinton administrations in the 1990s and explained that Trump’s actions are necessary in order to protect Americans.
In opposition, the remaining club representatives denounced the president’s executive orders and asserted that, in the past, such orders have only really been used for governmental “housekeeping.”
In regards to a question concerning the role of torture in American foreign policy, each club condemned the use of torture methods such as waterboarding, but YAF and the Republicans feel that tactics like sleep deprivation should be used in extreme cases when it is clear an attack can be prevented.
On the contrary, YAL emphasized the importance of civil military transparency and the need to close Guantanamo Bay, and the Independents explained that the US needs to act as the global standard of morality and ethics.
Another interesting question posed at the debate was whether or not Senate Democrats should obstruct Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee. Five out of the six clubs, including the College Democrats, argued that the Senate needs to do its job and confirm Gorsuch to avoid the dangers of an incomplete court.
GACC, however, contended that obstruction in the name of justice is perfectly acceptable and an integral part of democracy.
In the final portion of the debate, the panelists answered questions from the audience, which were either hand-written or live-tweeted to the EI Twitter page.
One audience member asked if Trump’s behavior regarding the press is dictatorial. YAF and the Republicans agreed that biased press deserves to be called out if it is perpetuating the falsehoods about the president that are circulating in the American public.
The Democrats and Independents stated that while Trump has the right to argue with the press, he must do so in a modest and professional manner, which he has failed to do so far during his presidency.
YAL and GACC representatives took the question as an opportunity to express their own values: YAL stressed the provisions of freedom of speech and press in the first amendment, and GACC explained how it feels Trump has been oppressive towards women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups.
The second question from the audience was arguably the night’s most contentious: what are the clubs’ views on abortion? The audience temporarily erupted with chatter after the question was read, and Professor Page banged the gavel, calling for silence.
Despite the emotional reaction, the clubs’ answers were fairly predictable. The more conservative groups contended that life starts at conception and abortion is immoral (the Republicans did add that the disparity in healthcare costs for men and women must be reduced), and the more liberal groups advocated for the funding of Planned Parenthood and pro-choice policies.
Representatives from YAL, however, explained how the organization as a whole has not come to a consensus on the issue, and they did not want to argue on behalf of all members.
The evening concluded with a final statement from each club’s representatives. They thanked Swanson and Page, for organizing and moderating the event, respectively. They also expressed their appreciation for the large crowd turnout.
If there was one thing on which all the debaters agreed Wednesday night, it was the importance of listening to others and engaging in open political conversation in an era defined by political polarization and civil cynicism.
This article originally appeared in The Gettysburgian on February 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission; click to view the original article.