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Moderating 2017: Views From the Podium

Moderating 2017: Views From the Podium

John Donvan
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Fans of Intelligence Squared U.S.,

Here’s what I want to tell you as we get ready to launch into this new year, and a new season of debates:

I admire you. 

Seriously. In an important way, you’re a rare breed. You’re rare because, in this time of degenerating discourse you show up for our debates, in person or by podcast, and you do the thing debate demands. You listen. You wait to hear the argument. You evaluate. Then, of course, you vote, which means taking sides. But that’s fine. In fact, that’s the point. But you do so by thinking as critically as the debaters on the stage, and you draw your own conclusions after hearing both sides make the best case they can.

That’s the rare part. And yet you do it so well, so often, and so reliably – sometimes, remarkably, changing your minds in the process!

So, fans, I’m a fan of you.

And now, I want to share with you some moments from what I consider the best season we’ve ever put on, which is the one we just finished. Consider this a warmup, as I get ready for our January 16th season kickoff, when we’re going to test some of the vital signs of the U.S. economy. Below, there’s a little note on why I picked them, and then all you do is click. See you on the 16th!



-          Why is Ian Bremmer one of my favorite debaters? Who else can so consistently make serious foreign policy talk sound funny?

-          Finally! A Harry Potter moment! Actually, it was an Emma Watson moment -- she who played Hermione in the Potter films and attended Brown University. Her name came up in our debate “Pay College Athletes,” when the affirmative side argued that if she could get a paycheck for making movies while at college, so should football players. Suddenly, the Emma Watson moment became one of those tangents no debate wants to go down too far. But I liked how the debaters had fun with it, and how Christine Brennan rescued the moment, and got us back on track.

-          Mr. Reasonable strikes again. New York Times columnist David Brooks has a clear tendency, in our debates, to look for the middle ground. It may be why, as he laments jokingly, he came into our December debate – Liberal Hold the Moral High Ground – 0 for 2 in previous outings with us. Well, in his opening, he did it again, making the case that we all need to get along. Personally, I as a moderator found his moderate moment appealing. So did the audience, I guess, because after this debate, Brooks is 1 for 3.

-          This one’s short. It’s Yascha Mounk making his closing argument in the debate where he was arguing for the motion “Western Democracy Is Threatening Suicide.” What appealed to me was his argument that even voting in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate is a civic act nowadays. Listen for it. Listen for the words, “very important.” That’s you he’s talking about.

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