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”).


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

That's wonderful Dan. I am glad things started off well for you. Although I am kind of concerned about this sudden influx of Spam your comment box is getting. Anyways, the Tory resolution sounds a lot better than the civil liberties stuff I have to do for policy. I am holding my thumbs for you on you audition with the music guy.


*holding your thumbs is a more british theater term for "I am wishing you good luck". You know those British, they like to make everything sound oh so much more endearing and enduring than things really are. Except for dear DARHling Winston Churchill of course.

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Commander Mike said...

I didn't read this.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger SinaMoravej said...

you're not alone

At 8:53 AM, Blogger allen said...

Brevity's certianly a virtue and sometimes, as in these cases, it's a blessing.

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