Sunday, September 25, 2005

The US and China: Tory Debate No. 3

Thursday, September 8th marked the Tories third debate. Resolved: The US should distance itself from China. The topic was originally planned to coincide with the visit to campus of the so-called “President” of China. His trip to the US was postponed, but some people protesting China’s persecution of the Falun Gong religious movement had set up shop on cross-campus, so the whipsheet still had something to chew on.

I felt very strongly that the US should not be doing any business with China, and so I was prepared to support the affirmative (for the third time in a row). I took the unusual step of thinking about what I might say in advance and finally decided to plan my speech out to the last detail.

I read (as per my newly formed habit) several articles in the Weekly Standard, and began to create a speech that would attack the problem from three different angles. Having figured these out, I lay on my bed, running through my speech in my head, making notes on the back of the weekly whipsheet. I did three run-throughs, so when I finished I thought I’d come up with quite a tidy little product.

I slipped into my battle dress and headed off for the debate, which was to be in the Branford Trumbull room. (It is indeed a curiosity that a residential college would have a common room with the name of another residential college). I showed up a little early and spent a few moments chatting with the former chairman, who had arrived with our box of Tory gear and some refreshments. The chairman presently showed up with the key and we moved in.

The Trumbull room was similar in design to the Athenaeum room where the last debate had been – oak panels from floor to ceiling with some beautifully carved posts at the room’s corners. There was an assortment of leather and cloth couches with some chairs (but no pianos). The chairman and the secretary’s seats once again bordered a table where our paraphernalia would be set up. A new freshman had shown up and I tried to make him as comfortable as the Tories had made me at my first debate.

As Tories filtered in we chatted about Toryhood and the upcoming debate – the former chairman said that he planned to speak in the negative. This came as little surprise to me because he had just spent two months in China studying Chinese. (As it would turn out, a unusually great proportion of the Tories take Chinese, which had the effect of unbalancing the debate). I learned that the provost would be in the affirmative (the first time we’d be on the same side) and we congratulated each other on our depth of perception.

At length the SSCY showed up – wearing pinkish-read pants. It was obvious to see which side of the debate he planned to speak on. Appearing for the second time was a member of the party of the right. (As a little aside here, the current p.o.r. and the Tories were once one party. They split in 1969 when the Tories decided they wanted a group with less of a libertarian and a fascist bent. Since we view ourselves as an extension of the real P.O.R., we use capital letters in referring to the traditional Party of the Right and lower-case letters in referring to the current one).

The chairman called the meeting to order and the secretary read the minutes from the last debate. Each speech was recounted in miniature, leading to the conclusion whereby the resolution (“Give us your huddled masses”) had passed eight to five with two abstentions.

There were no successful changes to the record, so the minutes were approved as read and the secretary was asked to read the topic of tonight’s debate: “Resolved: The US should distance itself from China.”

The chairman asked for speeches in the affirmative and the chief whip was recognized. He walked to the center of the room clutching some notes of his own (several typed pages). Seeing this, one of the Tories made a motion “that the gentleman be allowed to use a prop” which was seconded and passed.

The chief whip made a very perceptive speech, where he argued that sooner or later we were going to end up in a war with China if we let ourselves become weak; we must remain strong enough to fight them whenever the need may arise. They are our enemy, and we should thus not be consorting with them. He yielded to questions. Two or three times during questions sessions that evening the chairman would announce, “I think I shall take the next question.” This was invariably followed by a shout of “tyranny!” from one of the Tories. (The question would be asked, nonetheless).

The former chairman made the first speech in the negative. He argued that China is already democratizing (albeit slowly), and that the way to keep it democratizing is through continuing our relationship with them. He claimed that, were we to pull out of China, the economy would collapse and that would make the Communist leadership seem a beacon of hope to the people. I would later challenge him on this point – it seemed to me as though a collapsed economy would lead to a new government, which is exactly the effect we were looking for.

After the former chairman had answered questions and been thanked for his speech (all speakers are applauded in Tory style after their question session is over) I volunteered to give the second speech in the affirmative. The chairman recognized the provost, however, so I waited for the third round.

The provost gave another very perceptive speech (his role this time would not be a comic one). He noted that China is guilty of very evil practices and great human rights abuses. This is not a country we should be doing business with – we are merely lining our pockets (and the pockets of the corrupt Communist leadership) with money squeezed from the impoverished and abused Chinese worker.

I had agreed heartily with the two affirmative speeches I’d heard; it seemed as if we were in good shape.

The next speech in the negative was given by a Tory of longstanding [Mr. Elrod]. He suggested that we could not afford to separate ourselves from China economically. His speech and question session were cut short, however, as he was due to attend the “Help Can’t Wait” concert that had been organized to benefit the victims of hurricane Katrina.

As the gentleman concluded, I was recognized by the chairman for the next speech (which would be my longest yet) in the affirmative. I had my notes in my breast pocket, but decided there was something to be gained by giving the appearance of speaking off the cuff. I therefore recited my points from memory:

“It seems to me that there are three parts to this problem, all of which have been touched on in earlier speeches and which I will expand on. We can look at this problem, as I said, from three directions: ideological, economic, and strategic.

“First, the ideological, which should be of dominating consideration. China is a one-party dictatorship. Our provost has already enumerated various horrible human rights abuses that China is guilty of. Added to this, China continues to violate the conventions it has signed concerning human rights and refugees, they have broken and continue to break their promises to the WTO (that is, the World Trade Organization). They proliferate weapons and weapons technology to hostile nations, and they deliberately obstruct our diplomatic dealings with nations such as Iran and North Korea. This is an evil country, and it is not right to continue to do business with them.

“Churchill, in reflecting on Mussolini’s horribly miscalculated decision to join the axis powers, came up with the beautiful and trenchant statement that, ‘it falls to few men to know for certain what is in their interest, but it falls to a great many common folk, every day, to know what is their duty.’ And by duty he means the right thing to do – and doing business with an evil empire is not right.

“Secondly, there is the economic consideration. Our business with China is significant – they are our third largest trading partner in terms of import/export dollars, and they take up about 10% of total US trade. It has been suggested that pulling out of their economy (and pulling them out of ours) would devastate us, but I do not believe this is so. Certainly, in the short term, the prices of things such as those annoying little cheap plastic toys you get in party favors would go up, but in the long run, we would simply sell more goods to other nations, and buy more goods from those nations, and the slack would be taken up. The real danger is if we wait until a point when our economy really is reliant on the Chinese. This would give them a very dangerous weapon to use against us and I think it would be very foolish to let them have it.

“Finally, there is the strategic consideration. Now, when two countries (or two entities, or however many) reach approximately the same power, they have a choice to make about their relationship. They can choose to compete, or to cooperate. I believe it is very clear that China has chosen to compete. Not only is there the economic threat I mentioned before, but I find it very worrying that China is now building a large number of ballistic missile submarines and anti-ship cruise missiles. They claim that they need these weapons to keep Taiwan in check. If we choose not to take China’s claim at face-value, it seems clear to me that they realize that the key to a war with the US would be the destruction of our carrier fleet, just as the destruction of the Japanese carrier fleet at Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

“As China has chosen to compete, we must compete also. When a country cooperates with a country that is competing with it, it is called appeasement, and this hasn’t worked to well in the past.

“If we cooperate with China, we will run headlong into the Taiwan issue, which is of great importance. In 2001, we pledged to provide Taiwan with whatever support she needs to defend herself. But we cannot sit on the fence on this question – we have to take either the Chinese or the Taiwanese side, and if we cooperate with China we will end up going back on our pledge. If we no longer threaten China with retaliation for invading Taiwan, they probably will invade sooner or later. If China controls Taiwan, the entire map of the area is redrawn. Not only will China now have deep-water east-coast submarine bases, they will control the northern entrance to the South China Sea. This means that they will in turn control most of the South China Sea, and in turn all of the nations dependant on it. Then we will be shut out of that region, and we’ll be stuck.

“In 1938, as we discussed earlier, Hitler wanted the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. After all, it was full of German people; it was really part of Germany. It just happened to turn out that the Sudetenland also contained the mountain ranges that were Czechoslovakia’s natural line of defense, and it was consequently easy for Hitler to spill over into Czechoslovakia and the rest of Europe.

“In the modern day, China wants Taiwan. After all, it’s full of Chinese; it’s really part of China. It also just happens to control the entire region – for defensive or offensive purposes. If China gets that control, what makes us think that they will not want to pour back into areas they controlled long ago, such as South and Southeast Asia, and even Siberia? And who will be prepared to stop them?

“In the final analysis therefore, we must not continue doing business with China. Distancing ourselves from them is the safe, the responsible, and the right thing to do. And with that I yield the floor.”

Among the questions I was asked was the inevitable: Why should we be doing business with some “bad countries” and not be doing business with others? Fortunately I was prepared for this point – I had considered addressing it in my speech, but, as it would inevitably become a question, I thought it would be better to make that one less surprise question I’d have to answer:

“I thought this would come up sooner or later. The question inevitably arises, ‘doesn’t it seem like hypocrisy to talk to some evil nations and refuse to talk to others?’ The answer is that we cannot cut ourselves off from all evil nations right away, or all at once. What we can do is to step towards this one at a time, and remove ourselves from as many evil nations as possible.”

I was finally thanked for my speech, and we moved on to the next speaker in the negative, the SSCY.

The SSCY made an absolutely hilarious and yet completely wrong (from my point of view) speech. He contended that America’s purpose was to act in the best interest of Americans – not caring particularly about the rest of the world. If trading with China will make his suits cheaper, why not? Naturally he was well-hissed at by the provost, the chief whip, and myself. He seemed to view America as similar in value to any country that can insure similar security, freedoms, and standards of living (of which there are none, he neglected to mention). This view conflicted so violently with my own that I was prompted to ask the (good-natured) question, “Does the gentleman simply view America as some sort of big fat dumb happy* prosperous bubble that he is somehow parasitically attached to?” (This was worth a good laugh, but of course his answer was in the negative).

When the SSCY had answered the last question, the chairman requested a speaker in the affirmative, but there was none. With the observation “the chair frowns on a one-sided debate” the chairman asked for speeches in the negative, and recognized once again the former chairman.

The former chairman pitched into a lengthy and forceful restatement of his position. In talking the debate over later in the evening it turned out that both the former chairman and I had believed the affirmative position to be doing better than it was. It was for this reason that he made his second speech of the evening – and in turn I decided not to. I would later regret that.

The former chairman’s speech was followed by yet another speech in the negative, by the oriental Englisher. He argued that the US and China agreed fundamentally on the important points – “what is just, what is honorable, and what is worth.” He actually admitted that he was arguing for a sort of moral relativism (this too was well-hissed at). In the final analysis he claimed that the US should be talking to China, exporting our customs and values in a way that we could not do if we cut ourselves off from them.

That having been the final speech of the evening, the acting sergeant at arms was called upon to divide the room (creating amusing little classifications for the affirmative and negative sides of the debate). I was confident that the affirms would make a good showing, but I was decidedly wrong: the vote was 13-3 in the negative, with only the three Tories (myself included) who had spoken in the affirmative on the other side of the room. It was a crushing defeat.

Oh well.

The resolution was recorded as having failed, and the chairman asked for an appropriate motion, “perhaps from the SSCY?”

“I move that we adjourn to Yorkside…”

“As is traditional,” we chimed in.

The debate having thus ended, we milled about in discussion for a few minutes, reexamining the debate and pondering possible topics for the next one. At length, the remaining Tories (who had finished their homework and didn’t have to get up too early the next day) marched over to Yorkside.

We were five at the Pizzeria: the chairman, SSCY, the sergeant at arms, a longstanding but non-office-holding Tory, and myself. We were presently joined by the former chairman, who made a sixth.

While the majority of the Tories were contented with their pepperoni pizza and the chairman was doing his best to work his way through a club sandwich, I had attempted to order something small – “a scoop of ice cream” is what the menu called it. Little did I know that a Yorkside “scoop” amounts to nearly a truckload by classic standards. The chairman, making his meal complete, ordered a glass of orange juice, which he drinks for every meal and snack of the day, believing it to be healthy and hygienic, not to mention tasty.

Our conversation bounced around freely for a time before it settled on the topic of who was taking what language. I was the only Hebrew-speaker at the table, though Russian and Chinese were amply represented. It would seem a general rule that these Yorkside discussions never become too political – such things are no longer in order after 11 o’clock.

After I had waded through as much ice cream as I thought wise, and shown my compatriots the Hebrew spelling for Israeli “Bazooka” bubble-gum, the check arrived and we were free to leave.

As we were on the way out, we ran into the p.o.r., just coming in from their own debate. The brief conversation that thus developed was civilized, and perhaps even amiable; neither party shared the disdain it felt for the other. The p.o.r.’s dress had a wider range to it, running from suits to a few t-shirts. The Tories were clearly in more uniform uniform. We separated ourselves from the p.o.r. on a friendly note and struck out for our dorm rooms.

I finally parted with the chairman as we walked by Saybrook on Elm Street, and covered the last few hundred yards to my dorm by myself. I would be seeing the Tories again at lunch the next day – as is traditional.

* It should be noted that this particular series of words actually appears more-or-less in a dialogue at the end of the movie “The Caine Mutiny.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tories, Chapter 2

I have noticed that liberals commentors on my last piece did not bother to read it. For the next few weeks these pieces will be similar autobiographical essays. If your attention span isn't up to the job, you have my permission to go away.

Thursday, September 1 was the night of the year’s second Tory debate. The Resolution: Give us your huddled masses. (We were to debate the efficacy of continuing to allow immigration).

I had examined my schedule earlier in the day and determined that I would likely have to miss approximately the first half-hour of the debate – all Calhoun freshmen would be attending a mandatory meeting on alcohol, drugs, and such similarly perverse subjects.

I intended to be properly dressed for debate this time, so I put on a tie and jacket before going heading over to Linsly-Chittenden Hall for the freshman meeting. I would thus be able to rush over to the Tories as soon as the safety spiel was over.

As the best-dressed Calhoun freshman, I sat next to one of my roommates in a classroom with about 50 other students. I listened with marked disgust to the various points made by the speakers (which I prefer not to enumerate). It was about half-way through the meeting that I decided I had had enough – I simply grabbed my jacket, got up, and walked out. As I went down the three flights of stairs I bore in mind that I was required to be in the meeting (although the repercussions for not attending were not clear). I therefore half-anticipated someone stopping me and sending me back up, or at the very least threatening me with some harm to my academic record. As luck would have it, I looked much more like an instructor than a student in my suit, and thus had no trouble getting out of the building.

I headed straight for the debate, which was to be held nearby in the Saybrook College Athenaeum Room, and showed up with fifteen minutes to spare. I was welcomed by various Tories, whom I recognized (and who recognized me!) I was, of course, complimented on my snappy and appropriate attire.

I noticed the absence of a few Tories I had seen at the previous debate, and the presence of some with whom I was unfamiliar. I also noticed (as I kept track during the evening) that I was the only freshman there for any substantial amount of time – probably because many were still in their various meetings. In total we were a little short of twenty people at the start.

I admired my surroundings – the Athenaeum Room was slightly smaller than Dwight Library where the last debate had been held. The room was oak-paneled from top to bottom, with beautifully carved panels surrounding and above the fireplace and all the little touches of a noble English common room. In front of the fireplace were the two chairs for the chairman and secretary placed on either side of a low table on which the Tory flag, sword (such as it was), and plaque were set up. Two upright pianos guarded opposing ends of the room. A pair of couches and a few chairs were placed at the edges of the much-paced-upon rug. A bench (also in oak) ran the length of the back wall.

I spent most of the pre-debate evening in conversation with the sometime chairman who had been at Oxford last year, with another longstanding Tory from last week’s debate, and with a graduate student who was an oriental Englisher (with a lovely accent) and who was, above all, a Tory as well. We discussed the upcoming debate slightly, explaining not much more than what our intended positions were. We talked mostly about various random subjects – the construction work being done on Trumbull College across the street for instance. I managed to learn from the Englisher that he was a devotee of the Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister television series (as am I) and he suggested that we might be able to arrange another of our Tory Movie Nights (a tradition that had fallen into desuetude) for the screening of some select episodes.

After I had had a few drinks (of coke) the chairman took his place and asked us to do the same. It was 7:35. The debate began as it had last time with the reading of the minutes. The secretary (a pretty, redheaded upperclassman with a green blouse) read our last resolution and her notes on each speech, noting which were freshmen’s maiden attempts. Following the minutes, there were a number of emendations to the record, including one that softened last week’s faithfully recorded decision (taken in the heat of comedy) that the provost was in fact not a gentleman.

The secretary read the resolution, “Give us your huddled masses,” and the chairman recognized the first speaker in the affirmative, the former chairman. I myself planned to support the affirmative, and agreed with the former chairman’s points. This was in particular interesting because he and I had been on opposite sides of the debate last week. As it would turn out, several Tories from last week’s opposition were now in agreement with me (and the reverse was true as well). It is also the case the Tories will often address pointed questions to members who speak in agreement with them, simply through a desire to reach to the bottom of the question.

I had come to the debate without definite plans for a speech – I figured that if I had anything to say, the opportunity would once again present itself and I would say it. As the former chairman spoke, I began to think of what my speech might sound like should I choose to make it. I had prepared for the debate by reading a half-dozen articles on immigration, but they dealt mostly with the Mexico situation. The question before us tonight was whether we should continue to allow immigration, and to continue to request other nations’ huddled masses to find their way to us. Once again, the resolution succeeded in splitting Tory opinion.

Fortunately the former chairman finished his speech without making any points that I disagreed with. He was asked a number of questions, but there was nothing to seriously challenge our point of view (though I felt it still needed further explanation).

The first speaker in the negative was the provost, who, with restored gentleman status, made a rather unusual argument. He suggested that we should not allow immigration because our own resources were limited and immigrants would make us run into those limits sooner. He paced the floor in a very slightly pigeon-toed manner, making various comments on the water supply and the quick erosion of topsoil in America’s breadbasket. It was a somewhat strange point of view, and I decided that I would make a quick counterargument in a speech later in the evening.

The next speaker in the affirmative was a Tory of longstanding who argued on the basis of our labor needs. She explained that she had recently tried to get a small wall built outside her New York house, and had been informed by a contractor that the price for such a job would amount to approximately one-half the value of her property. She was fortunately able to find an industrious (legal) immigrant who was able to complete the job for her quickly, expertly, and cheaply, which was something no native-born American seemed had seemed willing to do for her. She yielded the floor for questions and was asked if it wouldn’t have been better to give the job to an American, even at a higher price. This was, of course, identified as a socialistic an unacceptable approach. The series of questions expanded on this arbitrary theme – it was asked if it would not have been better to pay the higher price to an American, who could then have afforded to pay another American a higher price to paint his house. Having gotten (as the chairman reminded us) somewhat far away from the philosophical point, the last question was asked and we were able to move onto the next speaker in the negative.

The chief whip, who had been on my side the last time, was recognized by the chair as a speaker in opposition and proceeded to give one of the most interesting speeches of the evening. He worried that we were becoming too weak a nation, through political correctness. We avoided such things as racial profiling to satisfy an abstract (and incorrect) sense of righteousness, and that this made us open to cultural disintegration and perhaps even a takeover by a stronger, infiltrating outside culture. I agreed with all of this, but our solutions were different. He felt that the problem was too great and that there were too many legal holes in our policy; the only thing to do would be to close our borders and start from scratch.

I had asked a number of questions throughout the evening, and was simultaneously preparing a speech, which I now planned to give after the chief whip had concluded his question session. I had decided to make three basic points, which I ran over again and again in my head to make sure that I would not forget the flow of my speech once I was in the process of giving it. I even thought up a good joke to stick in the last point, and arranged the exact words in advance.

The chief whip finished. I volunteered myself for the next speech in the affirmative and was recognized. My speech was very quick, and ran like this:

“First, I would like to remind every American in this room that he is himself an immigrant, or is related to someone who saw America’s promise, and grabbed at it, and was allowed to enter America. I cannot in good conscience deny the privilege that I was allowed to enjoy to another man simply on grounds of his having been born too late in history.

“The provost has said that allowing continued immigration will only make us exhaust our resources more quickly. This may be true. But as an American I am proud to say, ‘what I have is yours to share. Come and share my freedom, my liberties, and even my food.’

“An interesting point in Judaism is the statement that a convert is dearer to God than a natural-born Jew, by virtue of the fact that he had to make a conscious decision to become Jewish that the natural-born Jew did not. I know that there are many Americans who hate America, and do not value our liberties (mostly members of the Progressive Party, I believe). I would rather have an immigrant who actually wants to be here in America than, say, a Progressive; he understands America better, and will work for America.”

I yielded the floor for questions, and was asked by the former chairman if I could tell him where the line between liberties and security was drawn. I simply told him that I could not (it wasn’t the height of rhetorical brilliance, but certainly the most direct answer of the evening).

My answers to the remaining questions were more thoughtful, and I continued to underline the basic point of America’s tradition (something very dear to a Tory) of receiving the world’s huddled masses and allowing them to share our freedoms. After I was through the chief whip came over to tell me that my speech actually made sense, and that he found we were indeed in basic agreement (nevertheless, he still planned vote in the negative).

There were several more speeches to made that evening – among them one in the negative by a longstanding Tory that really turned out to be in the affirmative, and one by an interesting visiting member of the POR, who said that he had arrived intending to speak in the affirmative, but that the wording “give us your huddled masses” made it seem as if we were inviting all the world’s huddled masses to be indiscriminately thrust upon us.

“Would the gentleman feel better if he considered the fact that the poem also contains the words ‘yearning to breath free’?” I asked him.

“Yes I would,” he replied.

At length, our chairman decided to take a speech in the affirmative. He handed the gavel over to our Oxforidan sometime chairman, and the secretary in turn handed her notebook to a temporary replacement. The chairman made an eloquent and brilliant speech in which he pointed out (better than I had) the advantage of America’s freedoms that could not be found anywhere else. We are the only country capable of extending such an offer to the world’s tired, poor, tempest-tost huddled masses. We thus have a duty to keep that offer intact.

The final speech of the evening was given in the negative by the Englisher, who argued that it was better to close our borders for the purpose of exporting our jobs and our culture overseas. I did not believe that our culture was best spread in that manner (and, if it was no longer America’s open-armed society, would it still be worth spreading?) I asked the speaker if he did not concede that there were certain jobs that Americans would continue to refuse to fill, and was it not better that these jobs be filled in America, so that the workers can pay taxes here and directly soak up our culture? He replied that while that was certainly an important point, it was better to move our culture outwards to other nations.

That having been the final speech of the evening, the chairman (who had spent the speech as part of the audience) returned to his official seat and the gavel was returned to him. He asked our sergeant of arms to divide the room for a vote.

The sergeant of arms picked up our “sword” and faced the room. “What can I do with this small sword? I will divide the room into the Mayflowerians and the later immigrants. Those in the affirmative on the right, those in the negative on the left, and those abstaining in the middle.”

Everyone took his appropriate stand and the votes were tallied: eight in the affirmative, five in the negative with two abstentions. The vote was recorded and the resolution signified as being passed with a rap of the gavel. Finally, the chair made a motion to close the debate, which was seconded and passed, and the chairman announced that we would now adjourn to Yorkside Pizzeria and all the Tories added in unison “as is traditional.” It was now after 10:30.

After some post-debate conversation in the Athenaeum Room, there were about eight Tories remaining for our traditional late-night snack. The chairman commanded “To Yorkside!” (a number of times before we were finally on our way). I had offered to carry our logbooks and the box containing the Tory paraphernalia for the secretary and was accepted (it’s part of a gentleman’s job, after all).

The chairman told me on the way over that he had enjoyed my speech, and it seemed as if I grasped the parliamentary debate format quite naturally. I attributed this to the Yes Minister series and a set of LP recordings of Churchill’s speeches that I was fond of listening to.

We arrived at Yorkside in a couple of minutes and some tables were pushed together for us in the back. I spend the rest of the evening in a comfortable firearms-related discussion with the chairman who sat opposite me. He had shot skeet in high school but had also failed to find shooting sports at Yale, and I suggested that if there was indeed no way to shoot around here it might be a good idea to arrange a Tory daytrip to my own shooting club, not far from campus. I tried valiantly to finish my tasty but oversized milkshake, but it proved a hopeless case (besides, having a milkshake after eleven o’clock when one has classes in the morning can only be regarded as sheer folly). The conversation occasionally adopted a more academic flavor, when we switched to discussion of the well-known Directed Studies program (an intense study of the Western cannon) but soon we moved to engineering, then to Legos and finally back to guns again.

The evening drew to a close when the check showed up (and I was allowed to participate in paying the bill this time). I shook hands once more with the remaining Tories and said goodnight – I would meet them again the next day for their weekly lunch at Mory’s.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Tory Debate No. 1

I discovered on my second day at Yale that all three of the conservative political groups were out canvassing supporters. The Tories (the group that I was interested in) had shown up at my suite to announce that their first debate would take place later that day, but I had been wandering around campus at the time and missed their announcement. My suitemate informed me that the Tories had visited, but the flier stating the time and location of their debate had disappeared. I thus launched myself on a campus-wide search for Tory-relevant information (steadfastly refusing to use my computer on Shabbos). I scanned the bulletin boards on Old Campus, Cross-Campus, and beyond, finally locating a flier intact in the suite across the hallway from my own. The debate would be at 7:00, in Dwight Hall Library.

That day’s tour of Calhoun – my residential college – finished just in time for me to dash back to my dorm at Bingham Hall, slip on my dress shoes, and head over to Dwight. I quickly found the library, which was a small room containing three sofas, not quite two dozen chairs, and very few books. I was slightly underdressed (not wearing a jacket) but I did better than the rest of the freshmen who trickled in. I was introduced the regular Tories (Chairman, Secretary, Chief Whip, Provost, and various other longtime members and sometime chairmen*). I found myself for the first time on campus completely surround by conservatives, and was comfortable (albeit nervous).

After milling about for half-an-hour there were around 30 people in the room (four of them women) and we were ready to get the debate underway. I picked a chair along the rear wall, separated from the center of the room only by a burgundy-colored leather sofa. The chairman and secretary were seated across the room on either side of a low table on which were placed the Chairman’s gavel, the Tory Plaque, and the Tory Flag (an American flag with a Union Jack instead of the starred blue field). Missing from the table was the Tory Sword, which I later learned had been confiscated some years ago by the Master of Branford, who believed it to be a dangerous weapon. By the time the Tories had successfully negotiated the sword’s release, the Branford Master discovered that he had misplaced it. (We feel this to be a good example of liberalism in action). Taking the place of the regular sword was the Tory Temporary Sword, a four-inch long letter opener with the word “Excalibur” stamped into it.

The chairman banged his gavel, calling the debate to order and once again reminding the new freshmen that we should fell free to participate. The secretary read the minutes from the last debate, after which the chairman called for amendments or corrections. The record was successfully amended to insert the title “professor” in front of the name of one of the Tories (who didn’t happen to be a professor). An amendment requested by one member to explain that the minutes had completely failed to capture the point of his speech in the last debate was not passed as no one would second his request.

There being no further requests for modification of the minutes of the last debate, the secretary was asked to read the topic of tonight’s debate.

Resolved: The Bush Doctrine is Conservative

It seemed clear to me that the affirmative view was correct (and that no one in the room could possibly disagree). The purpose of the Tories’ debate topics, however, is to split conservative opinion. It was clear, three hours later, that the resolution of the night had succeeded admirably.

The chairman asked for a first speech in the affirmative, which was given by a Yale senior now in her fourth year as a Tory. She defined Conservatism as preserving the status quo while extending our liberties to the rest of the world. She continued for some fifteen minutes, discussing the war in Iraq, successfully launched under conservative policy, and made numerous and amusing references to the defective handling of duty and policy by nations such as France in modern times and Gaul (France) in ancient history. Supporters would celebrate a strong point by banging their hands on a desk or chair, while opponents would hiss mildly at the speaker. As she spoke, a book was passed around for everyone present at the debate to sign – the chief whip was happy to return the book to me for my signature after sundown (when Shabbos had ended).

After the first speaker finished, she announced that she would yield for questions, and was challenged on various points by Tories who would first be recognized by the chair, and stand to ask their question, addressing the point to the chair and referring the speaker in the third person – (“Does the lady suggest…” etc.). The questions and answers were thoughtful though amusing (and sometimes very funny). After a question’s rebuttal a request would sometimes be made for a “quick follow-up question,” which was regularly granted. At length the chairman asked for the penultimate and then the final question, and we were ready to hear the opposing view.

The first speaker in the negative was the former chairman, who claimed that Conservatism was driven by realism, that American excpetionalism was not Conservative, and that the United States could not claim moral superiority. He stated in the final analysis that Bush’s doctrine was not based on realism, and was therefore not conservative. He finished, referring to a John Adams quotation that seemed to suggest that no nation could be viewed as morally superior, and declaring that the United States had no right to replace Hussein’s form of government in Iraq with our own. (This was indeed a surprising speech for a conservative to make, but I discovered that Tories come in many flavors). As the former chairman opened himself to questions, I was recognized by the chair as the first freshman to ask a one – “May I remind the gentleman that John Adams also said ‘Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people’ and does the gentleman not believe that our government is in fact morally superior to Saddam Hussein’s?” My question won me a quiet complement from the chief whip (standing next to me) though I was simultaneously so nervous and so buoyed by the experience that it was several minutes before I could again concentrate on the particulars of the debate (and the answer made to my question).

When the first speaker in the negative had answered his last question, we returned to an affirmative speaker. The cycle continued, with the next speaker in the negative being the provost, who appeared to approach the problem with the purpose of providing comic relief. It was during his speech that I met a new bit of floor-etiquette – an interruption “for a point of information.” This was made first by the secretary, who reminded the provost, “is it not in fact the case that only language fit for the Queen may be used on the Tory floor?” To which the chairman agreed, signaling the admission of this point with a tap of his gavel. The regular Tories then took to interrupting the provost with additional “points of information” every twenty seconds or so, culminating with “is it not in fact the case that the provost is not a gentleman?” At this point the whole room was laughing, eventually called back to order by the chair.

We were ready to move on to the next affirmative speaker, and the chair requested a freshman volunteer. A young man sitting to my left was recognized by the chair, and spoke in an impressively easy manner. After he finished his point and fielded questions, one of the Tories proposed a motion: “that the Tory Party thank the gentleman for his eloquent maiden speech on the Tory floor.” The motion was seconded and passed, whereupon the veteran Tories rose from their seats to shake the speaker’s hand. The custom struck me as both classy and appropriate, and I thought that sooner or later I should like to be indoctrinated in a similar manner.

It was now getting late and the number of people in the room had dropped precipitously to less than 20.

The next speaker in the negative was the SSCY, who had just returned from a year at Oxford. He most eloquently attempted to demonstrate that the Bush Doctrine is not conservative, and was appropriately interrupted for a point of information from the first speaker of the evening: “is it not in fact the case that the gentleman has become much more liberal since attending Oxford?” This statement was riotously applauded by those of us defending the affirmative – I had long since gotten into the act, banging the arm of my chair when appropriate.

After a number of such affirmative-negative cycles, the chairman, citing “the growing lateness of the hour” attempted to limit the debate to one more speaker for each side, and was promptly reminded by the secretary that it was Tory policy never to limit debate and that such a motion was never in order on the Tory floor.

It was around 9:30, and I had asked many questions and listened to a dozen speeches, a few of which had been delivered by freshman such as myself. I had volunteered to speak in the last two cycles, but had not yet been recognized. I therefore got a chance to deliver the closing speech of the night (which ended up being in the affirmative because no additional speaker volunteered in the negative). I was recognized by the chair and invited to the center of room, where I delivered my first speech on the Tory floor, which I had roughly laid out in advance in my head, and that ran something like this:

“I would like to return to the definition of conservatism, which is the central issue of this debate. It has been assumed for some time the conservatism is based on realism. Nevertheless, the right honorable gentleman who first spoke in the negative has helped to demonstrate that a system that conserves everything, irrespective of merit, that conserves perhaps communism or slavery [both of which had been discussed earlier] is not a conservative system. We must therefore consider how we chose what to conserve. How did we know that slavery was bad? The answer is that we approached this problem from a Juedo-Christian ideology, conserving what was morally appropriate. It is therefore not the case that conservatism excludes consideration of ideology – in point of fact it mandates it. This means that one cannot suggest that the Bush doctrine is not conservative on the grounds that it is based on ideology.”

I paced the room while I spoke, noting with delight the smiles on several Tory faces.

Having finished I declared myself open for questions, but no one moved for several seconds. The chair was in the middle of observing that I had stumped the opposition when the former chairman raised his hand and was recognized.

He asked me if ideology always took precedence, even in such cases as the decision to fight the war on poverty in the 60s or in the fight to extend freedom to the entire globe. It was a clever question in that it had lumped together both failed and successful policies, so I avoided the referring to either of them in my answer, simply stating that ideology, properly applied, always takes precedence because a system that takes cold, non-ideological decisions isn’t worth conserving.

I was then asked by the Oxfordian SSCY if I would acknowledge the existence of two differing opinions within the Judeo-Christian framework. For example, did not many Southern slaveholders consider themselves good Christians? I explained in reply that, in this case, as in many cases, there may be two differing points of view, and, once again, in this case as in many other cases, one of those opinions will be wrong. One will be based on a misunderstanding.

A quick follow-up question: “And who is the arbiter? Who decides which is the right opinion?”

We decide that when we vote,” I answered.

I was then put in the most difficult spot of the evening by the former chairman, who cited an historical example of a Christian-driven system that functioned in a communistic manner (an example with which I was unfamiliar). Rather than question the existence of the system he described, I claimed (affecting while in reality inventing knowledge of his example) that it did not represent a Judeo-Christian system because it had no emphasis on Judaism. The answer was somewhat weak, and another Tory asked me to explain how an emphasis on Judaism would conflict with a communistic system.

“Judaism,” I explained, “places an emphasis on the individual that Christianity alone does not. As it says in Pirkei Avos, ‘bemakom sh’ayn anashim, hishtadel lihiot ish’: ‘in a place where there are no men, try to be a man.’ The emphasis is on individualism as opposed to collectivism, and a proper Judeo-Christian system is therefore inherently un-communistic.”

The truth of the matter is that the quotation above is one of a few I know that seem to be useful in illustrating a wide variety of points. I was delighted that an opportunity for its use had presented itself. There were no more questions.

After I too had been thanked by the Tories and shaken hands with each of them, the chairman asked for additional speakers, but everyone who had something to say had already said it.

That being the case, the chairman, once again remarking on the lateness of the hour, asked the sergeant of arms to take the Tory Temporary Sword and divide the room into affirmative and negative sides. The whole process was conducted with a dignity notwithstanding the fact that the sight of our sergeant at arms brandishing a tiny letter opener was singularly unimpressive. Unfortunately for the affirmatives, several of our votes had left within the last half-hour (uncertain when the debate would end) and we were left with a defeat by a few votes. The chairman then announced that the first resolution of the year had failed, sealing the decision with another bang of the gavel.

I thought at this point that my evening was over (all the other freshman except one had now gone). I continued to discuss the debate (and the Tories) along with the one other freshman, and we were soon invited to continue our discussion over at the Yorkside Pizzeria (an invitation that I gladly accepted).

We were promptly recognized as the Tories upon our arrival and were seated at the back (several tables having been pushed together for us). We spent the next 45 minutes talking over a pizza, switching away from politics to talk about secret passages on campus or the fact that my father had been a Tory (of which everyone seemed aware) or about music (it transpired that the freshman sitting next to me was a French horn player). By the time the bill had been paid it seemed as though I had been part of their weekly outings for as many years as the senior sitting next to me. I promised to show up at the Freshman Bazaar the next day to find out how to launch my petition for entry into the Tories, which I was assured would be granted.

This was my introduction to political debate at Yale, and to the Tories, who continue the tradition of thinking, which is often hard to find – especially at a university.

* The chairman from the previous term is known as the “former chairman” and all chairs previous to him are referred to as “sometime chairman” with the exception of the most senior chair, who is the SSCY (“Senior Sometime Chairman at Yale”).