By KATIE MEYER
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
On Thursday of last week, Fordham’s College Democrats and Republicans faced off in Flom Auditorium for their first debate of the semester. The issues under contention were Syrian intervention, current economic policies, possible voter ID laws and the Affordable Care Act. Fr. Bentley Anderson, S.J., associate professor of African and African-American studies at Fordham, moderated the debate.
The debate followed the same format that has been used at Fordham in the past. For each topic, both speakers were allowed two minutes for opening remarks. They then engaged in six minutes of back-and-forth debate, followed by a three-minute period in which the audience was allowed to ask questions. The debate concludes with one minute of closing statements from each representative. Each debate continues for roughly 10 to 15 minutes.
Before the debate started, Anderson made a point of noting that the debate was to be kept friendly at all times.
“We will not imitate television. The debaters, the presenters, the question and answer folks, everyone will be civil,” Anderson said. “If you’re not,” he continued, smiling, “I will cut you off at the knees.”
The participants in the debate generally followed Anderson’s directions, though there were a few heated moments between debaters.
The first topic discussed was whether or not the U.S. should intervene in Syria.
The Republicans, represented by Luke Zaro, FCRH ‘16, president of the College Republicans, argued against intervention, while the Democrats, represented by Anthony Carl, FCRH ’16, argued for it.
The Democrats spoke first. Carl argued that the situation in Syria has escalated to the point that military intervention is quickly becoming the only option. The only reason to launch a military strike, said Carl, is if the Syrian government were using chemical weapons. Since that is the case, Carl argued that a strike is the best course of action.
“The Assad regime has and will continue to use all means possible to keep itself in the seat of power, whether through conventional warfare or chemical warfare,” Carl said. “Intervention is the only way to work for the betterment of the international community, and more importantly, the Syrian people as a whole.”
Zaro responded that the situation in Syria has no “good guys,” saying that while Assad is far from an ideal leader, at least his state was secular. Some of the rebel groups aim to create an Islamist state, which would presumably lead to the persecution of Christians.
Zaro added that it is “impossible to address the use of chemical weapons with merely a military strike. An airstrike would blow up these chemical weapons strongholds, dispersing chemical and nerve agents into the air…causing the very scenario we are so desperately trying to prevent.”
The next topic of the debate switched to voter ID laws. The issue revolved around the recent push for ID to be made mandatory when casting votes, with several states currently pursuing this legislation.
The Republican side, represented by Tim MacDonald, FCRH ’17, first argued in defense of voter ID laws. MacDonald called Democratic opposition to the laws “fear mongering,” saying that ID laws “are not trying to take away anybody’s vote. They’re just trying to…make sure that everyone’s constitutional right is exercised fairly and honestly.” He also noted that the new laws would be nothing close to the Jim Crow laws used to keep African Americans from voting during the late 1800s to mid 1900s.
Next, Thomas Palumbo, FCRH ’17, spoke on behalf of the Democrats. Palumbo began by saying, “sadly, what he [Macdonald] has just said is not the case. What many Republicans have admitted is that these laws are not intended to stop voter fraud, but rather to stop certain Americans from voting.”
He cited one instance last November, when the Republican majority leader in Pennsylvania said, “Voter ID laws will ensure that Governor Romney wins the state of Pennsylvania.”
The next debate centered on the controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Specifically, the debate was about whether it would be more detrimental to allow Obamacare to move forward or to allow for a government shutdown. Michael Billotti, FCRH ’15, president of the College Democrats, argued first.
“It is an absolutely ridiculous concept that we need to be up here debating what is more detrimental to the United States, the government shutdown or allowing Obamacare to move forward,” Billotti said. He called the Republican Party’s actions “absolutely insane,” stating, “They’re willing to put the faith and credit of the U.S. economy, the world’s benchmark currency, at risk simply because they don’t want a piece of legislation to move forward as it’s supposed to…after being pushed through every branch of the government.”
Tom Fink, GSB ‘16, opposed Billotti. Fink countered Billotti’s argument by noting that the average government shutdown is only six days long, with the majority of shutdowns lasting only one to three days. His point was that a government shutdown is not a terrible option; most Americans would be totally unaffected.
He also argued that the new healthcare laws would be detrimental to the average American, saying that recent analyses have shown that Obamacare may result in 670,000 net job losses.
The last debate was centered on the economy. It was kicked off by Kenny Foulks, FCRH ’16, debate chair of the College Republicans. He contended that the economy has sharply declined during Obama’s presidency, saying that employment has not increased despite Obama’s plans and promises, and that 46.5 million people are now living in debt in the U.S., a 16 percent increase under the Obama administration.
Foulks’ opponent was Anisah Assim, FCRH ’16. She argued that, in fact, the Obama administration had done much more good than harm.
“The fact of the matter is, we were in a terrible, terrible economic crisis…but what Obama has done has been the best possible solution to that problem,” Assim said.
Students in attendance were generally pleased with how the debate ran and how the participants argued their issues.
“We were firing on all cylinders on Thursday,” Joe O’Brien, FCRH ’16, treasurer for the College Democrats, said. “The preparation of our debaters was clear with their arguments and grasp. You do well when you do your homework.”
Ben Shull, FCRH ’16, treasurer for the College Republicans, was pleased with the dedication and enthusiasm the debaters brought to the table. “I think it went well,” Shull said. “I was glad to see informed young people take part in an intellectually stimulating event.”