By Lorenzo Holt, News Correspondent
The Northeastern College Republicans and College Democrats clashed Friday, Oct. 19 in Blackman Auditorium in a debate on President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package, hosted by Northeastern’s Economics Society.
The bill in question was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Democrats took a position in support of the act while Republicans argued the opposition perspective. The statistics and facts used by both sides had been previously fact checked by the Economics Society, so the arguments were as factual as possible.
“I thought the debate went well, the speakers were pretty prepared and knew the format of the debate well,” Charlie Pioli, the organizer of the event said. “A couple [debaters] got a little nervous, and I had to quiet down the crowd once or twice, but on the whole it went real smoothly. The biggest challenge was organizing both sides of the debate. The Republicans and Democrats were both very willing, but getting the whole thing synchronized was a little difficult. Also, they would only let me book the auditorium on Friday night, which was a shame.”
Smooth jazz greeted the crowd of 129 as they took their seats, still trickling in by 6:30 p.m. Annie Akhtar, the president of Economics Society spoke the opening words, thanking everyone for attendance and introducing Pioli. He in turn introduced the six debaters: Shakeir Gregory, CJ Jepsen and Blaise Bark for the Democrats and John Trakas, JT Kelly and Brent Kisby for the Republicans.
Held in Karl Popper format, the debate was very different from the presidential ones shown on TV. Following this style, one debater from the Democratic side put forth an argument and was then cross-examined by the Republicans. The Republicans then had their chance to speak and in turn were cross-examined by the Democrats, until each side’s three members had spoken. There was no formal winner or judge, leaving the outcome of the debate to be decided by the audience.
The event started with little preamble. Gregory opened for the Democratic side, talking quickly and smoothly, listing often heard facts about job growth and the recession that was “stopped in its tracks.” His main argument was that the stimulus package had succeeded in reviving the economy and had averted the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He was met with applause, particularly from the left side of the room.
“The debate went well,” Gregory said. “We stayed on the facts and made some good points. The Republicans criticized Obama more than they did the stimulus, so I think that showed. On the whole I’d say we won.”
Next came the first Republican debater, Trakas, who spoke articulately and loudly and attempted to counter the arguments used by the Democrats, setting the key point of the Republican argument: Obama’s stimulus package had failed by the standards that he himself set. This was the core of the Republicans’ argument, and they cited employment rates that were not met, as well as failed firms that the Obama administration invested in.
The other four speakers made arguments that varied little from their party’s position.
After each speaker had his say there was a cross-examination, and then the debate took on a different atmosphere. Instead of turning to the audience, the debaters looked each other in the eyes and their tones turned from persuasive to contentious.
The cross-examiner asked questions intended to confuse the speakers and detract from the credibility of their arguments. Usually this was used to put statistics or facts into perspective by showing another side of them, such as job creation numbers.
Without a composed speech in front of them, the speakers on both sides were often visibly under pressure by the cross-examiner.
When the Democratic side brought up the point that only a small percentage of the jobs Obama invested in failed, the Republicans were not able to present a strong rebuttal because of the immediacy with which they had to respond.
Both groups argued heatedly, and stranger questions began to arise such as “do you think the president is psychic?”
The debate ended with an off-topic speech by Kisby, who alluded to the importance of the coming election and chastised the Democratic side for calling a debater “ignorant” during a cross-examination.
The crowd began to talk loudly before Pioli could formally conclude the debate, and people rose to leave as the last words were being spoken. His last words to the departing audience were “I hope you all vote, that was the whole point.”
Responses to the outcome of the debate were varied.
“I thought the Democrats won,” Peter Smith, a 21-year-old biology major, said. “They both had some pretty good points but I agree with the Democrats that Obama’s plan succeeded. I’m not sure if the debate convinced me of that though.”
Stephen Price, a 19-year-old finance and accounting major and member of debate club, had a different opinion.
“Political views aside, I thought the Republicans swept the floor with the Democrats. They presented a standard measure of success and stuck to it, while the Democrats didn’t touch that,” he said. “The question was whether or not the stimulus succeeded, and the Republicans were the only ones that answered that question.”