Who doesn’t like a good, clean debate?
May 28, 2008
This past Monday, Toronto’s ROM hosted the inaugural edition of the Munk Debates, an event hosted by Peter Munk and his wife Melanie, and aimed at increasing the quality of public policy debate in Canada. While some were intrigued by the fact that the first debate centered around the US election and hosted no Canadian speakers, you can’t deny that these are still exciting times down south (for those of us who haven’t burnt out already) and it was probably smart to start with a hot topic.
The debate was technically about whether a Republican in the White House would make the world a safer place, but it ended up boiling down to Obama vs. McCain (even former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, an adviser to Hilary Clinton, didn’t really argue with the notion that his candidate’s dreams were dust).
And further, because it was a debate, those in attendance weren’t always witnessing the highest form of political discourse. I love Niall Ferguson the historian, but Niall Ferguson the debater is a bit of a cartoonish fear-monger. Though he made an excellent point about our need to pay more attention to China’s race for resources in Africa (and elsewhere), he spent much of the rest of the debate making wise-cracks and breathing fire-and-brimstone. Holbrooke, on the other side, spent much of his time winking at old political friends in the crowd and trying to flatter our minds into mush.
The two strongest players were no doubt Samantha Power and Charles Krauthammer; the former because she refused to abandon the subtlety of her arguments in the face of the boy’s school debating club atmosphere, and the latter because he made a clear, insightful, and high-minded case for having an experienced hand at the controls.
Before the debates, Peter Munk declared that he wanted an event that would shake people’s closely held opinions. It looks like he got his way. Where only 29% of attendees agreed with the idea that the safety of the world demands a Republican on the way in, 46% agreed on the way out.
I’m not sure whether that speaks to the power of Ferguson and Krauthammer’s debating skills, or to the fickle minds of those in attendance. You decide. Take a listen to the podcast of the event.