Welcome to the Monkey House
Posted by Peter Bouris on October 22, 2010
Yesterday in Kaufmann Auditorium, in a circus of a debate that rivaled that of the New York gubernatorial race, the Cornell Democrats and Cornell Republicans squared off on the Bush tax cuts and the fiscal future of the country. The Forensics Society provided judges.
The debate was broken into three segments: the Bush tax cuts, domestic spending, and defense spending.
To recap, the Dems won tax cuts and defense, while the Republicans won domestic spending. Most of the tax cuts segment was basically a competition between supply-side and Keynesian economic theories. It did not help that the two sides were citing the same CBO report in their discussion. At one point, the two sides squabbled over a table of numbers within the report. The Democrats cited the report saying that things which boost the income of individuals in lower tax brackets is the best stimulus. The Republicans cited the growth to GNP and job numbers that the same report said extending the Bush tax cuts would create. The Dems ultimately won the segment because they were able to hammer home how the Bush tax cuts have produced structural deficits and that extending them would add $700 billion to the deficit by 2020.
The second segment on domestic spending was when the discussion quickly disintegrated into pettiness. The Democrats appeared to have expected the Republicans to quickly advocate the abolition of Social Security and Medicare. When the Republicans expressed a desire to reform the big entitlement programs to make them more sustainable, the Democrats did not appear prepared for such an argument. While the Republicans expressed reforms, the Democrats actually agreed. However, the difference was that the Democrats said both programs could maintain full payouts over the next two decades, and therefore did not suggest that reform was urgent. The Republicans, citing Social Security’s deficit from this year, recommended reforming the programs immediately to bring down overall costs. Because of the general agreement between the two sides, the discussion quickly descended to pot shots. One Republican debater suggested that the Democrats don’t want to touch entitlements because that would mean losing their voter base. The Democrats quickly countered that the Republicans’ plan to bring down costs would only work with a significant reduction in benefits.
On defense spending, the Republicans flew out citing the global benefits of American military hegemony, as well as how military research breakthroughs tend to spill over into the private sector. The Republicans kept articulating how America’s military dominance serves to protect trading partners and allies. The Democrats did not really have an argument besides lower overall defense spending. The argument was not buttressed by entirely cogent reasoning. Instead, they took the form of Glenn Beck, and mostly asked questions. Why do we need a military-industrial complex? Why should defense spending be so high post-Cold War? Why can’t research come from outside the military? Why are we the world police force? They said we could use funds currently put into the military and direct them toward domestic concerns. The judges awarded the defense segment to the Dems on a close 3-2 vote. They essentially said that the Republicans did not answer the Democrats’ questions sufficiently.
Despite the last segment being the best for real debate, the judges probably did their poorest in evaluating it. The overarching Republican argument answered pretty much all of the Dems’ questions, perhaps with the exception of the one about why research can’t occur outside of the military. The GOP panel did a strong job of explaining how the US military not only protects America, but also how it serves the interests of our trading partners and allies. It was asserted that US dominance has made the world safer overall, leading to fewer total wars and casualties over time as it checks the aggression of other military juggernauts such as China. Again, the Democrats mostly lobbed up iconoclastic questions and never thoroughly explained the international consequences of their plan. They were somehow rewarded for this.
Anyway, regardless of the details, it is difficult to convey just how unruly the debate was at certain points in a blog post. You really had to be there, but I can unequivocally say that it was the most entertaining and anti-intellectual debate between the two groups in recent memory.