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Thoughts From the Lectern

Thoughts From the Lectern

John Donvan
Friday, October 6, 2017
And so, minds were changed last Tuesday night, about the prospects for democracy in these times we live in. This was really one of our fiercest and smartest debates ever, framed, as it was, against the politics of the moment, and argued, quite brilliantly all around, by four truly insightful – and also skillful – debaters.
 
And when I say that minds were changed, I’ve got the numbers to back it up.  Our data shows that 8 percent of our audience changed from being FOR the motion – “Western Democracy is Threatening Suicide” – to AGAINST, and that the reverse was also true: 8 percent started out AGAINST, and switched to FOR. We also saw that a big part of our audience, 28 percent, started out undecided on the motion, but that their numbers shrunk to 6 percent by the time the debate was over. The FOR side got most of those votes to swing its way, and was therefore named the night’s winner.  
 
And how do debaters make those swings happen?  By arguing well, and laying on some charm too. Take a look at a couple of excerpts, and let me know in the comments whom you found more persuasive, and if you could see changing your mind of this provocative resolution of ours.
 
First, consider this exchange sparked by the Hoover Institution’s Kori Schake, who was arguing strenuously that the core institutions of western democracy are resilient, and that the eruption of populism evidenced in votes like that for Brexit, or the electoral college win by Donald Trump, signal no sort of existential challenge to those institutions. The question was aimed at French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levi, who considers Western democracy to be in serious trouble.
 
And one more, to reflect the way the Trump election was a thread throughout the debate. Here’s a clash between Clive Crook, of Bloomberg View (AGAINST) and Harvard’s Yascha Mounk (FOR).
 
The whole debate is available to watch. Again, I’d love to hear what you think about this one – and also whether the persuadable you was, in fact, persuaded. Meanwhile, I’m already prepping for our October 24th debate: Pay College Athletes. Good one, eh?

 

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