Spreading the Grace of God, 400 words a minute
March 19, 2006 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Team debate (or 'policy debate') has been discussed here recently, and the various eschatological rudderings of the American evangelical Christian right wing are discussed here basically every day -- this week, the New York Times Magazine finds the nexus between the two. Meet the Liberty University debate team [NYT link], a pet project of Jerry Falwell's, one of the top debate squads in the nation, coached by Brett O'Donnell, who also coached George W Bush in the 2004 Presidential debates.
posted by greggish (20 comments total)
O'Donnell also appeared on the Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago -- the video is posted on Comedy Central's woeful site, but it doesn't have a unique URL -- you have to go back three or four pages. It's only maybe sorta worth it, just saying.

[this will be the last time i post about policy debate, promise.]
posted by greggish at 7:52 PM on March 19, 2006

I found that article very interesting. I was especially surprised that Liberty will allow it's team to debate both sides of issues that might take "un-Christian" viewpoints- like the privacy debate that brought in abortion.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:03 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

ThePinkSuperhero writes "I was especially surprised that Liberty will allow it's team to debate both sides of issues that might take 'un-Christian' viewpoints- like the privacy debate that brought in abortion."

No surprise. The best way to anticipate your opponents' argument's-- and prepare to refute those arguments -- is to put yourself into the other side's shoes, in hopes of getting into their heads as well.

It's claimed Senator Lindsay Graham prepped Samuel Alito for Alito's confirmation hearings; it's well known that candidates prep with a "sparring partner" playing the role of the opponent.
posted by orthogonality at 8:09 PM on March 19, 2006

That season, by special dispensation, Liberty's debate practice rooms became the only place on campus where students were free to argue in favor of Roe v. Wade.

So what happens if you argue in favor of women's rights in other places? Summary execution or just expulsion?

Also this article is way fucking scary.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:09 PM on March 19, 2006

Indeed, Optimus. What struck me about the Times article was how people seemed not to realize truth and rhetoric are not the same thing. I guess missionaries should be little concerned with the distinction.
posted by mowglisambo at 10:44 PM on March 19, 2006

Yeah, I don't think you get points in real life for talking fast and making nonsensical arguments just because they're left unrebutted. Or hell, maybe you do, now that I think about Rove.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:05 PM on March 19, 2006

Ministers of Debate? I bet someone's original working title was Masters of Debate and it's just a small leap from there.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:50 PM on March 19, 2006

Colbert's interview with O'Donnell freaked me out. That man is systematically preparing an invasion army against Washington, DC. He fully intends to win all arguments, and win them in favour of his church's definitions of morality and justice.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:48 AM on March 20, 2006

So we have MASTER(de)BATORS training DIC(tater)S.
posted by srboisvert at 12:58 AM on March 20, 2006

I can't believe I missed that original thread. As a former 1NR/2AR it wasn't too surprising to see all the misconceptions about college debate that persist due to brief, poor interactions with high school debate as 15-year-olds, though.

Too bad the Lib U kids aren't representative of that crowd at all -- would do them some good.
posted by spiderwire at 1:01 AM on March 20, 2006

Incidentally, that wasn't intended as a derail -- what I should have said was:

I spent a lot of time doing policy debate and those people are, thankfully, not remotely representative of most everyone that debated with and against in high school and college.
posted by spiderwire at 1:10 AM on March 20, 2006

Hey, I prefer to be spread at a normal speed, thanks.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:52 AM on March 20, 2006

Ed Brayton over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has taken apart Lib U's trumped-up claims of being the best team in the nation. He's got another post up now.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 3:36 AM on March 20, 2006

Brayton's posts are good -- i'd noticed the qualifier in the NYT mag article (saying that they focus on JV and novices as much as varsity) but without it (and without an explanation of how the points system works to put Liberty on 'top') the article really does fall apart. It's all still interesting as an innovative, indirect evangelical strategy, though...
posted by greggish at 5:45 AM on March 20, 2006

Patrick Henry College seems to be in the same mold as Lib U.
posted by of strange foe at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2006

Occasionally, though, being at Liberty can present a challenge. After Falwell made incendiary remarks about American immorality causing the 9/11 attacks, the George Mason University team argued that Liberty should lose simply because its chancellor's offensive statements undermined the debate team's credibility. This tactic, described in debate circles as "postmodern," failed to persuade the judge . . . .

This gave me a chuckle as I remembered all the creative-but-ridiculous ways we tried to win rounds when I was a debater. This argument is pretty lame, though.
posted by brain_drain at 8:49 AM on March 20, 2006

Not snarking at you - but in view of the linked and absolutely terrific Brayton posts - WTF is the Times doing writing this stuff?

I mean, the whole justification for the article - and I include the quiet disclaimers in the text - becomes topsy-turvy, doesn't it?

It should be: that despite 5 full-time coaches and a half million budget, Liberty objectively stinks peer to peer at the most senior debating level!

I'm not going to pitch a disingenuous fit and pretend I expect "more honesty" from Falwell's Christian outfit - because the reverse is true.

But it's clear that the entirely misleading interpretation of the points system that Brayton exposes hasn't trickled down to the Liberty students. One is quoted as saying "We're No. one and Harvard is, like, No. four or something."

Which is, in fact, crap.

I have some experience about how news features get commissioned - so I'm not surprised this looked like a hot prospect.

But I'm damned if I can figure out why the unexceptional reality of the cash-flush Liberty debating "factory" and all this ludicrous "speed talking" technique didn't become the story.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:26 AM on March 20, 2006

I'm sorry, I wasn't clear- I'm surprised a college as conservative as Liberty would allow it's team to debate both sides of issues that might take "un-Christian" viewpoints. The article says there are other Christian colleges that don't.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:55 AM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Jody, at first i agreed fully. But though i think he does take that 'we're no. 1' statement a little too credulously, even with the qualifications in mind, the story is still very interesting -- as far as an unusual culture war strategy. Flood the zone. Regardless of whether they win the most important rounds, they still come out on top -- in fact, that makes the story/metaphor even more apt w/r/t the religious right.
posted by greggish at 8:46 PM on March 20, 2006

This story also highlights the stupidity of a system that awards a national school title based in large part on the performance of junior competitors. That always boggled my mind.
posted by brain_drain at 10:09 PM on March 20, 2006

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