Sunday, October 09, 2005

Disaster Relief: Tory Debate No. 5

Wednesday, September 21 marked the fifth Tory debate of the year. It was scheduled to start at 7:30, but I was depending on the habitual half-hour delay (I myself would not show up until around eight o’clock).

I was learning with the Orthodox Rabbi over at the Slifka Center from seven to eight that night. He had very nicely arranged a weekly private shiur for me, and we began Isaiah that evening.

I had installed my jacket and tie beforehand, so as eight o’clock rolled around I was able to make a quick dash direct to the debate. We were in the Branford Trumbull room for a third time in succession.

It was getting dark as I approached the Trumbull room (coming from the Saybrook side) and through the windows I could see the former chairman already on the floor. I hoped I hadn’t missing much.

I opened the door and plunked myself down in the first seat that presented itself. We were still in the “opening announcements” phase that precedes the reading of the minutes; I had just made it. I looked around the room and noticed a rather week showing – a number of regular Tories weren’t there. This suggested that the switch from Thursday to Wednesday created problems for several of our members. Over the course of the evening our strength gradually increased, as Tories wound up their evening commitments and headed to the debate.

The reading of the minutes proceeded uneventfully and they were approved as read. The secretary then stood to read the topic of the night’s debate: “Resolved: Disaster Relief is a Federal Obligation.” This had been a tricky topic for me to decide on – it was not until two days earlier that I decided I would come down in the negative. This would be my first time opposing a resolution.

The first speaker in the affirmative that evening was the provost. I had done some research in advance, mostly concerning the incompetent local and state-level response to Hurricane Katrina, and as I listened to the opening speech I began to glue together ideas for my own speech in my head. The provost argued that local and state government were incapable of handing great natural disasters, and further pointed out that insurance can cover damages but will not take care of evacuating people from rooftops. He tried to demonstrate the need for federal help in case of disasters, but was challenged by the former chairman for not successfully linking one man’s need to another man’s obligation.

As the provost finished answering his questions and was thanked, I was ready to give my speech in the negative, and raised my hand. It was the chief whip whom the chairman recognized, however, and he took the floor to give the opening speech in the negative. Opening speeches, especially the affirmative one, present a great opportunity to the speaker in that he has a chance to define terms that will be used for the rest of the debate. The term “relief” in this resolution, for example, could mean a whole range of things from giving money to providing emergency rescue services. The opening speech, in this case, took relief to include both things mentioned above and therein set the tone for the evening.

The chief whip’s speech in the negative took quite a different tack from the one I was rehearsing in my head. He suggested that when you live in an area that is known to be prone to natural disasters you must accept the consequences. The government cannot tell you that you can’t build your house on a geyser, and in turn you can’t demand that they give you money after it destroys your house. He reminded us of the value of being strong and responsible for one’s own situation (as much as is possible) as opposed to relying on support from any outside source.

I waited for a turn to speak through one more cycle, and ended up giving the third speech in the negative. The chairman recognized me at long last and I rose to give my fifth consecutive speech on the Tory floor:

“The provost pointed out in his opening speech that, while insurance will cover damage to property, the insurance companies will probably not help fly stranded people off of rooftops. This does not mean, though, that this is the responsibility of the federal government. I do believe that there is an obligation to help people in trouble – we can’t leave them to die, obviously – but it is a responsibility that lies with local and state governments.

“There are some states that have been able to handle natural disasters quite capably by themselves. Florida, for example, has had more than her share of hurricanes. Under sturdy leadership, she has dealt with them efficiently and internally.

“In the case of Katrina and New Orleans, which I’m sure is on everyone’s mind, we have an incompetent governor and an incompetent, corrupt, and perhaps illiterate mayor. They combined to fail their state in this disaster – the mayor was so panic-stricken that he did not even call into action the city’s emergency plan. I’m sure many of you have seen the photograph of the 400 or so busses sitting ruined half underwater because the mayor did not release them for evacuation duty. When the mayor finally did sign an emergency evacuation order it was immediately countermanded by the governor, who also refused to call in the National Guard.

“This merely demonstrates that the people must take their responsibility to vote seriously. If they wish to be protected in time of disaster, they should elect competent officials as opposed to Democrats. And with that I yield the floor.”

“Does the gentleman feel that in a case such as hurricane Katrina, where the local and state response is inadequate, that the federal government should turn its back on the people of the affected area?” I was asked.

“No, I’m not suggesting that,” I answered. “In cases such as that the state may ask the federal government to help and the federal government should help, but it does not have an obligation to do so as it is a case of the local and state governments having failed to do something they had the money to do. The federal government should not have an obligation to penalize my wallet thanks to short-sighted planning and allocation of funds in another state.”

The SSCY posed me the next question: “What does the gentleman say to ‘loyal Republicans’ who vote for responsible leaders but happen to live in heavily Democratic areas?”

“They must accept responsibility for choosing to live in a liberal-infested environment and the danger inherent in that choice,” I answered.

Finally, for a well-timed spot of comedy, the chief whip asked me if I could rank all of the parties in the YPU according to their ability to respond to a natural disaster.

“I would be happy to do so,” I said. “Coming in number one is certainly the Tory Party [the room erupted into applause and it was some moments before I could continue] because in 1970 they responded to a disaster and rescued the US flag from desecration. The five other parties are at the bottom.” Applause continued throughout my statement, forcing me to repeat it a couple of times.

I was then pressed by the chairman to give a complete ranking, and so I continued, “First, as I said, is the Tory Party. The p.o.r. comes in second, for their being conservative (which is a good indicator of readiness to handle disaster). Third are the Conservatives, who are not quite conservative enough. Fourth is the Independent Party, as they are liberal; fifth would be the Progressives, who are barely organized enough to have a weekly debate. At the bottom is the Liberal Party, for being very liberal.”

“For a point of information,” said the chief whip, who was recognized. “Is it not in fact the case that the chairman of the Liberal Party is standing right next to me?”

“This is in fact the case,” said the chairman.

“I was quite aware of that, but I thought they might as well know the truth,” I said.

In the same vein, I was asked why I ranked the Conservatives, with their small number of members, above the Independent Party, which has 60 members, in their ability to handle a natural disaster. Don’t the numbers count for anything?

“In the first place,” I answered, “I think one can argue that any collection of 60 liberally-inclined minds is a natural disaster. Aside from that, the Conservative ability to take care of disaster makes one Conservative in a dangerous situation worth any number of members of the IP.”

That was my last question (we had gotten somewhat away from the original point). I was thanked for my speech and I returned to my seat.

The debate continued through two more cycles. The SSCY gave a speech in the negative, arguing rather amusingly that the only money the federal government owes Louisiana is the precise amount to compensate for 7,000 members of their National Guard being in Iraq. He had waded through the National Guard website (having to watch a very cheesy flash movie intro that he could not skip) to find the monetary information, and had calculated that the bill comes to around $180 million (with a chuckle he gave a figure calculated to the dollar).

Finally I could see the debate was rapping up. I had been on the losing side the last two times; equally I had believed during the debate that the reverse was true. This time though, judging from the number of speakers for each side and knowing the allegiances of many other members in the room, I had calculated with some certainty that I would be in the majority. By a final curse of fate though, four or five members of the Liberal Party walked in to our debate just as the last speaker was finishing and they were subsequently allowed to vote without having attended the debate! I was incredulous of course, but it is apparently part of our open-floor policy. I don’t mind an open floor of course, but I think that people who vote should be required to spend some time on it.

In any event, it was time for the sergeant at arms to divide the body. Our official sergeant at arms had not been able to come to any of our debates (for reasons unknown) so each week the chairman selects an acting sergeant at arms to serve in his stead. This time his eye fell on me.

“Mr. Gelernter, why don’t you divide the body?” He asked.

I was delighted to accept, and walked over to pick up the Tory Temporary Sword.

“What can I do with this great and mighty weapon?” I asked.

“Open a letter,” ventured the chief whip.

“True, but I can also divide the body. Those who can take care of themselves on my right and those who need the government to hold their hands on my left. Once again, negatives on my right, affirmatives on my left.”

To my horror, I saw the affirmative side of the floor being artificially inflated by the liberal latecomers.

I made a careful count of both sides. I was then to add my own vote to the tally and report the result to the secretary, who would add himself to the vote as well, and report to the chairman (the chairman will only vote if he will change the outcome).

I saw nine in the affirmative, six in the negative, and one abstention. With my own vote, we were up to seven, and the secretary added her vote in the negative to make eight. Still this was not enough.

The final act of the evening, in retrospect, has become the subject of some controversy. The motion was declared as passed by the chairman, and has been so recorded in the minutes. After the debate however, I was recounting this outcome to another freshman who had just shown up and he stated that he believed our constitution required a majority to pass a resolution. As the vote of the evening had had only a plurality of 50% in the affirmative, the resolution should have failed, even though there was one less vote in the negative than in the affirmative. As I write this, the issue is still being investigated – I hope that the decision to record the resolution as passing may be overturned in our next debate.

After the traditional motion of adjournment was passed, the former chairman took me over and introduced me to the chairman of the Liberals, and to the other Libs who had just shown up. The former chairman declared that we traditionally enjoy a friendly sort of relationship with the Libs. I of course, was perfectly happy to cooperate, provided I would be allowed to make fun of them occasionally (I have no doubt that the Tories are occasionally “discussed” on the floor the Liberal Party). We had an amicable but brief conversation with the Libs and I promised to attend one of their debates (at some point).

It was quite late (almost 11 o’clock) when we cleared the Trumbull room out and locked it up, but I did not plan to set a precedent in missing a post-debate adjournment to Yorkside. I closed off my evening with a relaxing conversation with the five Tories who remained.


At 10:29 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

Once more, I am impressed with your impeccable timing. I've wanted to actually comment and contribute to what you've said for a while, but the first seven weeks of school have prevented me from thinking about anything other than school.

I myself strongly rest in the negative with you on this one. I think the inability for local, state and federal governments to react quickly is the perfect reason why the federal government shouldn't be required to provide disaster relief. Considering the definition held up in your debate, I would say I couldn't even partially agree. The state governments should be strong enough to support themselves. In the case of Katrina, when several states were affected, there was severe damage done, not just to the states that were hit but economically and indirectly taxing on other states, like Texas, who took in refugees. When something like that occurs, I believe it is in the Fed. gov's best interest to help provide leadership and relief by facilitating cooperation between affected states and providing extra services in the face of an economic crisis. I think it must be mentioned, that just because a state government fails to fufill a responsibility, that doesn't excuse them or hand that responsibility over to the federal government.

I love the book of Isaiah, but Esther always has, and always will be my favorite.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Rebecca said...

I read about you in a book I was reading and so looked up your article about being a republican in Connecticut. I am also in CT, my family are all liberals too. It is tough when people refuse to listen to reason. The problem in this country is our children being indoctinated at such a young age. Like you wondered, what will happen to us when kids are being taught to hate America. It is very frustrating to me.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger Janelle said...

What will happen to us when kids are being taught to hate America?

We will all die. (more or less)

Rebecca, I know the feeling. I am in the bible belt of California however, and only have to deal with liberal teachers ;)

Fortunately, there are ways to combat early indoctrination (is that even a word?), it seems like you managed to (you're a conservative in a LIBERAL family, bless you). It is time for us to take our education by the horns, so to speak, and start spekaing out against a biased system. I have a friend who doesn't have any hope for public schools, I look at public schools and see the chance for the future. We can't ignore what is happening in our classrooms, with our tax money, and with our children, or in my case brothers. Us conservatives must stick together!

Dan has an article about it somewhere, I forget where. You could ask him, I am sure he knows.

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At 3:58 AM, Blogger Online Degree Adviser said...

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Best wishes,

Hurricane Katrina and pictures


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