Syria, Climate Change and Free Speech Discussed in College Dem, Repub Debate


College Democrats and Republicans debated the economy, Syria, and free speech in their annual debate. (Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

By Victor Ordonez 

College Democrats and Republicans debated the economy, Syria, and free speech in their annual debate.  (Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)
College Democrats and Republicans debated the economy, Syria, and free speech in their annual debate. (Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

In the midst of the presidential election, College Democrats and College Republicans found themselves on two far ends of the political spectrum during a heated debate.
On November 3rd in the Flom Auditorium, ideologies clashed as Fordham continued to see the polarizing effects of this election cycle. The debate between the clubs lasted nearly two hours as they sparred over a wide range of domestic and international issues.

Father Anderson, associate chair of the department of African American studies, moderated the event.

The debaters spoke to American policy regarding Syria, climate regulation and free speech on college campuses with each topic followed by 10 minutes of questions from the audience.

The first two acts of the debate remained within the time allotted and the level of civility allowed by the moderator.

Republican Jacob Floam, FCRH ’20, and Democrat Kimona Dussard, FCRH’20, argued that it was America’s civic duty to involve itself in Syria’s civil war, which has produced roughly 4.8 million refugees since 2012.

“It goes against the founding values of our nation to stand idly while men, women and children die,” Dussard. “I am not making the claim that we have a perfect and neat solution to this atrocity.”

She recommended America’s implementation of a no-fly zone in the region, which Ali Idrissi, Democrat FCRH ’20, and Sebastian Balasov, Republican GSB ’18, rejected.

“A no-fly zone would lead to more casualties, and worse — a war with Russia,” said Balasov. Not convinced American intervention would help based on America’s past interventions in Iraq, Balasov found that any interaction would cause more harm than good.

Idrissi said that using the loss of life as an excuse to intervene in Syria would be “pure hypocrisy,” similar to the U.S. backing the current Yemen regime which kills its own citizens.

Democrat Daniel Joy, FCRH ’20, and Republican Matthew Johnson, FCRH ’17, debated climate change, which Joy called “unparalleled in human history.” Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates back to 1880, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

Joy described climate change policy as an investment, one that would save the taxpayers money in due time.

Johnson promoted a more conservative solution to climate regulation based on free market capitalism and free market enterprise.

“That is how we promote green and renewable energy,” Johnson said. “We cannot just funnel all of our money into one government policy … we need to trust the free market economy.”

Though agreeing that Johnson’s approach would work over time, Joy argued that it would not change soon enough.

“If we have government backing from the beginning, the free market will have government research and funding,” Joy said, “thus helping the free market develop clean, renewable energy.”

Addressing freedom of speech on college campuses, Republican Representative Alex Johnson, GSB ’18, and Democratic Representative Devin D’Agostino, FCRH ’20, clashed on stage and advocated for their own interpretations of First Amendment rights, exceeding the time allotted.

Johnson perceived that “political correctness” has muddled free speech.

“You being offended doesn’t give you more rights than me,” Johnson said. “The beautiful thing about free speech, is that you’re allowed to say whatever you want, even if someone doesn’t agree. It creates intellectual dialect in a good debate.”

D’Agostino disagreed, arguing that hate speech has no place on a college campus.

“Opinions that can be supported logically are fine,” he said. “However, there is no logic behind hate. Hate speech is said to ostracize and offend a specific group.”
D’Agostino argued that speakers who promote hate should not be allowed to speak on a college campus. “Hate speech promotes intolerance,” said D’Agostino.

Johnson countered with the argument that hate speech, by definition, was too vague. “The waters are very muddied when it comes to hate speech,” said Johnson.
Hate speech in itself, according to Johnson, is a byproduct of political correctness, and that as a left leaning institution, Fordham would have different classifications of hate speech.

“It is not hard to believe that a liberal school like Fordham would say conservative speakers or their ideas [are products of] hate speech,” Johnson said.
D’Agostino rebutted that although hate speech is an attack on someone’s dignity, it should not be generalized and in agreeing with Johnson should be understood on a case by case basis.

This topic personally affected the Fordham community and brought the issue to national attention when Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, condemned the College Republican’s decision to host Anne Coulter back in 2012.

McShane argued in a university wide email that “there are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative.”
Some attendees were confused as to why the debate did not address the current presidential elections.

“I don’t entirely understand why the presidential candidates weren’t topics of discussion,” said Lauren Winn, FCRH ’18, who attended the debate and claimed no party affiliation. However, she found the debate educational, stressing the need to hear student viewpoints different from one’s own.

The omission was intentional. Both club party presidents agreed prior to the debate that neither of the U.S. Presidential candidate would be mentioned and that discourse regarding the two would be avoided entirely.

“We don’t need to talk about the candidates anymore, after a year and two months we want to talk about other issues” said Johnson, who came up with the idea. “At this point, who cares? No one is changing their minds at this point.”

College Democrats President Thomas Palumbo, FCRH ’17, would rather have referenced them. “We are two political clubs five days out from the election,” he told The Fordham Ram. On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

College Republicans did not endorse Trump while the College Democrats have endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton last week.

Trump won the presidential election early Wednesday morning.