Centre College students prepare for their very own debate, during a three-day series focused on “The Rivalry”

Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts will present the touring production of Norman Corwin’s radio-play The Rivalry on Friday, February 10 at 8:00 PM.  As part of this visit by the highly acclaimed LA Theatre Works, the Norton Center and Centre College will offer a number of related activities for community youth, adults and college students, including a moderated debate between the Centre Republicans and Centre Democrats.

Centre Student Debate
moderated by Jody Lassiter, President of the Danville/Boyle County EDP
Thursday, February 9, 2012
11:30 AM | Weisiger Theatre
Admission is free; open to the public

More About the Student Debate
Moderated by Jody Lassiter, President of the Danville/Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, the debate will include Centre sophomore Lucas Wetton, who is a double major in philosophy and government and president of the Centre Republicans, David Miller, a junior history major and president of the Centre Democrats, and Alec Hudson, a sophomore government major/french minor who is also president of Centre Young Democratic Socialists. The one-hour debate will cover topics such as state vs. federal law and the government’s role in education and economics intervention, among others.

Jody Lassiter is an attorney serving as the President/CEO of the EDP since December 2007.  The EDP is a collaborative community alliance coordinating the economic development missions, resources, and initiatives of its partners, including the Danville-Boyle County Chamber Commerce, the Boyle County Industrial Foundation, the Danville-Boyle County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Heart of Danville Main Street Program, Main Street Perryville, as well as the local governments of Boyle County, Kentucky, and the Cities of Danville, Junction City, and Perryville.

The Norton Center asked Lucas Wetton and David Miller to answer some questions about the student debate.  Take a sneak peek at the conversation…

NORTON CENTER (NC): What motivates you to engage in a discourse about our democratic system and participate in this student group?

LUCAS: Having the opportunity to engage in a lively debate is an excellent way to demonstrate the ideals of the Republican Party, and conservatives as a whole. Not only does it allow me to illustrate conservative beliefs, it will hopefully engage students in the political system and generate awareness for some of the serious political issues that are shaping the nation.

DAVID: I am a firm believer in the power of debate, and its success in convincing people one way or another. Without discourse and without student organizations like Centre College Democrats, our republic wouldn’t function as well as it does.

NC: What role do you feel the media plays in live debates?  Does this role have a positive or negative impact on the debate participants?

LUCAS: In modern presidential debates, the media plays a significant role. As shown by the outcome of the iconic Kennedy-Nixon debate, everything changes about politics and the players when they go on live television. Not only must participants be engaged and provide quick, appropriate responses, but they must look the part as well. And while this media coverage affords more Americans the opportunity to know about the politicians they seek to elect, it has serious negative outcomes. Politicians must be “media-friendly,” possessing all the charm and stage-presence that would be expected of a Hollywood starlet. A man like Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of our greatest presidents, could never be elected in modern politics.

DAVID: With regard to the role that the media plays in live debates, they have entirely changed the process. Debates used to be an opportunity for the candidates to travel the country and communicate their positions to voters. Now, debates are restrictive Public Relations festivals that only serve to glorify the science of a 60 second answer, followed by a 30 second response. If we truly want debates to have an impact, they shouldn’t have rules. We should be able to turn on our TVs at a certain predetermined time, and be able to watch two people engage in a battle of wits and ideology for a certain amount of time. The moderator should only ask questions, and the candidates shouldn’t have to worry about a little red light telling them that time is up. At the end of the day, the media can be a powerful force in live debates; however, they just need to embrace their role a little bit better.

I feel that the media’s impact is somewhere between positive and negative. On one hand, you have partisan news networks that don’t contribute in any real way to the advancement of political debate in the United States. In fact, more often than not, they misconstrue the key idea of political debates into whatever will get them the most ratings. That hurts the process. On the other hand, non-partisan news programs and news networks that receive relatively low ratings (i.e. PBS New Hour, Charlie Rose, CNN) have continually assisted the process by avoiding the temptation to turn the political debate into obnoxious hackery. At the end of the day, I would say that the media can be helpful, but you have to do serious investigation into they networks before you can accept their analysis.

NC: How do you (or your side of the argument) plan to prepare for the debate?

LUCAS: In preparing for the debate, I have worked with a number of people to collect information, statistics, etc. as well as pulled together some lists on conservative positions for many major topics. Just as in the Democratic Party, there are a number of views and a spectrum of beliefs. I will plan on having ample resources to defend our own stances, while illustrating some of the critical issues in the views of my opponents. One thing that should be noted is that I will have a significantly larger amount of work to do, as the Social Democrats who will be participating are not a major political faction in the United States, and will align with the Democrats on many issues. It is my hope that I will be able to counter both groups effectively.

DAVID: Without giving too much away, prep for this debate will consist of the Executive Board of Centre College Democrats discussing a variety of issues and determining positions for the group to take. This will be an effort on behalf of the whole group, and we will make sure that the spokesperson’s ideology will not trump the beliefs of the group.

NC: What do you hope the audience learns or takes-away from this debate?

LUCAS: I hope that the audience is able to come away from this debate with a healthy understanding of the issues and what it means for them personally. The ultimate goal of a debate, unlike an argument, is education: I want Centre students to learn something new, and make rational decisions in regards to their own beliefs.

DAVID: Honestly, I’d just like to have students feeling better about the political process. If they can see that honest and straightforward debate can work, and if they feel a little more inclined to participate in the process,  that would be a “win” for our group.

NC: What do you think has most changed in debate tactics since the time of the Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debates?

LUCAS: The biggest change since the Lincoln-Douglas debates has come in the form of televised media coverage. However, other significant changes have arisen; modern politicians rely largely on statistics and information. Additionally, they spend a great deal of time researching statements by their opponents as published in speeches, books, etc. Often times modern presidential debates turn into a “he-said, she-said” ordeal.

DAVID: The incorporation of rules into the debate process has seriously changed the way debates are prepared for, and how they are played out.

NC: What do you think are the biggest issues surrounding state versus federal law today?

LUCAS: There are many issues concerning state and federal law today; among them are immigration, health care, economic regulation, etc. However beneath all these struggles lies a more important issue: the power and reach of the federal government. America is at a turning point where it must fundamentally question the power held by the federal government; since the time of our founding fathers the federal United States leadership has assumed a great deal more power than it originally had, and unfairly coaxes states into submitting to its will.

DAVID: Without a doubt, the biggest issue is whether or not the federal government can mandate individual citizens to participate in something. Specifically, I’m referring to the federal government’s passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In this piece of legislation it says that all individuals without health insurance must purchase it, unless they are a member of a religion that prohibits medicine, deemed exempt by the IRS, or are financially unable to purchase it. As of this point, 28 states have filed suit against the federal government regarding their individual mandate, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. The outcome of that case will be a statement on the power of the federal government, and whether or not the states can challenge that power. Without a doubt, this is the most important issue before us.

A History of Debating at Centre College
Centre has a well-established history as an ideal place for debates to be held. In 2000, the College made history as the smallest institution ever to host a general election debate. The two vice presidential candidates at the time, Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, faced one another in the Norton Center’s Newlin Hall. The event, dubbed the “Thrill in the ’Ville,” was a tremendous success, being heralded by former CBS news anchor Dan Rather as “the best vice presidential debate ever held.” After the 2000 debate concluded, Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, said that “Centre has set the standard by which future debates will be judged.”

This year, Centre is again selected to host a general election debate, which will take place at the Norton Center on October 11, 2012. 

We hope you will join us on Thursday, February 9 in the Weisiger Theatre as Centre students prepare for this special debate, which will no-doubt be a memorable precursor to the events this fall.

The student debate, along with other activities including lectures, symposia, post-performance talk backs, are open to the public and free of charge, however some events may require registration in advance.  Click here for a complete list of activities.



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