Campus political groups opt for platforms over party nominees at annual Great Debate

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Micah Carroll/Staff

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Steering clear of the election’s contentious presidential candidates, this year’s Great Debate focused on the party’s issues, rather than the party leaders.

About 160 students gathered in the Valley Life Sciences Building on Tuesday night to hear the Berkeley College Republicans and the Cal Berkeley Democrats face off for their annual Great Debate.

The atmosphere was tense as the moderator, political science and rhetoric professor Nadesan Permaul, corralled debaters and audience members alike — having to forcefully instruct a BCR debater to finish an overrun statement and remind the crowd that snapping would be the only tolerated show of support.

Questions fell into five predetermined areas of policy contention between the respective parties: immigration, national security, climate change, the economy and the Supreme Court. Each side was allotted 90 seconds for an answer and rebuttal.

The five areas were agreed upon by Permaul and representatives of both clubs. Debaters from each club were then informed on topics but not specific questions.

The debaters from BCR were Rudraveer Reddy, Celine Bookin and Naweed Tahmas. They faced off against Cal Dems debaters Olivia McGovern, Divya Vijay and David Olin. Both clubs agreed not to mention the party candidates themselves — instead, debaters were required only to speak on their party’s published platforms.

“In this election, when it’s so vitriolic, I think it’s good that we focus on the issues,” said Bookin.

The Great Debate’s format was modeled after the last presidential debate Oct. 19, according to Permaul. But the campus debate reserved an entire area of discussion to climate change, while the issue was not directly addressed in the national debate.

BCR debaters argued that the Republican Party has been a leader of environmental preservation, noting the growth of the national parks system under President Theodore Roosevelt.

“Early Republicans were on the forefront of the environmental movement, I’m just wondering what happened,” responded Cal Dems debater David Olin.

In further discussing climate change, BCR brought up the bankruptcy of Solyndra — a California-based, federally subsidized solar cell company — arguing that the government should not prop up industries that fail.

In one of the evening’s several audience interjections, a woman in the crowd then shouted “Tesla,” referencing the successful federal subsidization of the electric car company.

Highlighting a more prominent topic of national debate, the teams contended over issues regarding the economy. Cal Dems debater Vijay claimed that the poor and middle classes were recovering well after one of the “biggest economic crash(es) since the Depression.”

“Just looking at the surface, it does look like unemployment has improved,” said BCR debater Tahmas. “(But you) have to look at participation rate in looking for jobs — people are giving up.”

Tahmas was referring to how the unemployment rate is calculated — only people who are unemployed, able to work and actively searching for a job are considered in the unemployment rate.

After the debate, members of both Cal Dems and BCR were pleased with their team’s respective performances.

Despite some heated moments, several Cal Dems said they thought the Great Debate was more successful than the national debate in discussing the issues. According to Cal Dems Development Director Martha Fiehn, the national debate was too focused on the candidates themselves.

“It’s important not to forget the parties behind the candidates,” Fiehn said.

Contact Audrey McNamara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.