On the evening of Wednesday, October 10th, GUCD faced off against GUCR in the annual Freshman Debate. Walker Miller, Zev Burton, and Casey Gilfillan represented the Democrats while Dalton Nunamaker, Liam Sanderson, and Henry Dai represented the Republicans. Maria Cornell and Jake Lyons, the presidents of GUCD and GUCR respectively, moderated the debate, asking fifteen pre-written questions along with six other questions that audience members tweeted to the hashtag #FreshmanDebate. For over an hour and a half, the freshmen went back and forth on topics including tax cuts, immigration, healthcare, environmental policy, and the trade war.
The economic questions came first, allowing the debaters to display their command of empirical data early on. To defend last year’s tax cuts, Dalton cited tax rates and savings for specific income brackets, prompting Zev’s use of figures from the CBO to argue for fiscal responsibility. In the subsequent question about the proper role of the government in reducing the deficit, Dalton advocated scaling back social welfare funding and cutting taxes on businesses while insisting that military spending was overstated. Walker maintained that supply-side economic theory was flawed and that Republicans would consistently jeopardize Social Security and education spending.
Walker then began a streak, first prescribing a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, then countering arguments from Henry, who critiqued the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In the second healthcare question, concerning the viability of universal healthcare, GUCR revealed their tact in selecting debaters when Liam, who hails from the UK, boosted the Republicans’ ethos with personal experience and a slew of statistics on Britain’s NHS. Zev insisted first that competition in the medical field was still possible and second that competition came second to citizens’ health. He won some chortles from the audience by quipping: “let’s be honest, you can’t pursue life, liberty, and happiness when you’re not alive.”
On the subject of ICE, the Republicans explained its philosophy of merit and rule of law, while the other side of the aisle described the hardships immigrants face in seeking citizenship. Henry affirmed that Republicans opposed family separation and that they were pro-immigration but that immigrants need to use legal means and contribute to the country. Casey conceded that ICE began under Obama; however, there has been a 40% increase in deportations under the Trump administration, along with a lack of a “feasible legal pathway to citizenship” for many immigrants.
The heavy use of empirical data returned in responses to the environmental questions. The Democrats argued for the necessity of the Paris Climate Accord and the institution of a carbon tax, while the Republicans expressed concern for the potential effects on economic growth and energy consumers. Zev and Dalton disagreed on the scale of damage of climate change, producing vastly different cost-benefit evaluations of the Paris Accords. Henry claimed that a carbon tax would disproportionately affect middle and lower class consumers and cited higher emissions in China and India. Walker countered with the fact that the U.S. is the largest per capita emitter and proposed a revenue neutral carbon tax.
Henry’s geopolitical point proved appropriate when the debate’s theme shifted to foreign policy about two thirds of the way through the initial fifteen questions. The parties agreed on general policies and principles and mostly argued over finer points, with the Republican debaters distinguishing their stances from those of the president in some cases while asking the audience give him the benefit of the doubt.
Debaters tackled the trade war first, then shifted away from China to security. Zev and Liam discussed the Trump administration’s response to Russian interference and the North Korean nuclear threat. Regarding the US-Canada-Mexico Agreement, Casey admired the free trade victory but said that Democrats want to see “if this trade deal has teeth.” In response to a question on NATO Article 5 and the degree of U.S. responsibility to defend allies who do not meet economic obligations, Liam pointed out that Greece paid the required 2% of GDP toward NATO despite the severity of its financial crisis.
Several questions related to university policy and common issues for college students. In the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation, Title IX and sexual assault appeared halfway through the fixed questions. Walker pointed out that Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator also serves as the investigator, suggesting that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposals would exacerbate problems with Title IX implementation and reduce public trust of sexual assault survivors. The tweeted questions amplified the college theme, with the first tweet concerning affirmative action. Walker defended the admissions policy with references to statistics and historical Supreme Court decisions (Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, for example, eliminated the use of racial quotas while allowing race as a valid factor in admissions so long as it was not the sole factor). When asked about free speech on Georgetown’s campus, Zev claimed that even if Hoyas for Choice contradicts Jesuit values, the Georgetown administration’s refusal to officially recognize the club contradicted free speech values.
From the start, the coordinators encouraged bipartisanship and civility. The audience was not always restrained; for instance, much of the room laughed at the suggestion that, by not seeking equal treatment at all establishments, LGBTQ patrons could avoid lining the pockets of homophobic service providers. However, for most of the debate the tone remained courteous. The few instances of cross-talk during counterarguments and rebuttals quickly ceased at the moderators’ insistence. As per tweeted request, each debater complimented his or her opponents across the aisle, ended the debate with a levity and friendliness that made the final handshakes seem genuine.
As the midterm elections approach, the political climate can turn anxious and even hectic. Taking time to calmly but earnestly exchange viewpoints across partisan lines defuses the current tension. Uniting as a body of student citizens in a community that strives to embody goodwill shows the superfluity of partisan divisions. The Freshman Debate reminded Georgetown that Democrats and Republicans alike possess the knowledge, optimism, and, above all, respect that enables productive political discourse.