Great Debate brings lots of entertainment with little answers

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In another round of what has already been a heated semester between the two groups, Berkeley’s partisan clubs politically sparred on Tuesday night at the Undergraduate Political Science Association’s “Great Debate” over the national debt.

On the left was Cal Berkeley Democrats’ Tom Hughes and Matthew Symonds, hitting with “hope” to close corporate loopholes and marginally increase taxes on the rich. And on the right was Berkeley College Republicans’ Andy Nevis and Derek Zhou, striking for spending and entitlement cuts. The referee for the match was the ever popular Professor Alan Ross of the Haas School of Business and, most notably to undergraduates, Poli Sci 179.

Cleverly entitled “One Nation Under Debt,” the debate revolved around a number of subtopics related to the national debt, including unemployment benefits, defense spending, taxes and health care. While this argumentative arrangement certainly made for an educational exposition of the two parties’ politics, at times it seemed as if the debate was about everything but the national debt.

Rather, the discussion instead focused on what the federal government can do to balance the budget. However, any Econ 1 student will tell you that the budget deficit is not the national debt. Whereas the former is the shortage in revenue over over a fiscal year, the latter is the cumulation of all obligations owed. Oddly, the debate completely ignored the latter to focus on the former. Indeed, when asked by an audience member about what ideal debt-to-GDP ratio both sides advocate, each shirked the question as if it were irrelevant — not that it was the whole point of the debate or anything!

But structure aside, both parties held their ground brilliantly, seamlessly answering tough questions from Ross. Indeed, the knowledgeable moderator was by no means mum in the dialogue, relentlessly grilling both sides over their assertions while cracking lighthearted jokes along the way. The stars of the show were definitely Symonds of the Democrats and Nevis of the Republicans, who answered such spontaneous questions with an impressive eloquence. Nevis made an astute observation about Keynesian economics, regarding the political impracticability of politicians to halt spending during surpluses — a critical element of Keynes’ theories that is too often ignored. Lastly, Symonds closed with a rhetorically brilliant quote by Ronald Regan about closing tax loopholes, cleverly using the Gipper’s words against the GOP.

Thus, although the debt itself was barely touched upon, the debate proved to be an entertaining evening nonetheless. Indeed, it appropriately proved to be a parallel to real life partisan politics — beating around the bush with entertaining talking points while completely ignoring the problem at hand. Still fun to watch!