George Mason

So we had a great time, our happy band of Screaming Jews (L’CHAIM!!!) at the George Mason tournament this weekend. The tournament ran behind and confusedly, in the way of tournaments that have outgrown their host site and a reasonable schedule. The judging was a bit…interesting, and the breaks were difficult, but our kids did OK anyway. I was exhausted by the schedule — three straight days of waking up at 6:30, going to bed at 11 or so, on top of that vaguely tired sense one always gets at tournaments, that comes of ten straight hours of uncomfortable furniture and too much ambient noise. But at the same time, we had fun, laughed a lot, won a lot. It’s a good campus for a tournament, and there were a lot of people there, and the food spreads were enough to make a Yalie weep.

We also managed to completely smash three trophies; we de-winged a pair of eagles and one smiling George Mason head is now in several pieces due to some grand klutzitude. We’re speechies, not athletes; who expects us to be coordinated? I told the kids that it’s simply a demonstration that at Newton South, it’s about the education not the trophies.

Who gives porcelain speech trophies anyway? At a travel tournament, even? Crazy.

So, we also cleaned house; everyone finaled, we won both round robins, and 1st in HI, 6th in Prose, 3rd in Extemp, and three semifinalist spots. People were looking at us like I should be in coaching nirvana. Really I was much happier that evening laughing and carousing at a stupid PF Chang’s with the kids.

And now as I recover another MFL controversy flairs up over details. Already I can tell that people care too much about the particular point afoot to have a calm rational discussion about it, and we’ll end up watering down the original intent through a series of late compromises. So far, that’s one of my flaws in leading this league; I am generally apathetic to the nuts and bolts of tournaments and rules and leagues, and so I expect others to be as well; and when someone works themselves into tears as to whether we should offer radio, I never see it coming. When we have a virtual shouting match that includes willful misunderstandings and whisper campaigns and agendas, well, it’s enough to again make me question what good, if any, I’m doing this league. Or doing myself, for that matter.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself ever more comfortable in my original home of debate, not speech; debaters don’t mess with rules and procedures nearly as much, and at least the controversies about kritiks and such are within the context of the activity. Sure, the process of handing out TOC bids is probably one of the most corrupt and backhanded imaginable, but for a local shlub like me, that’s easily ignored.

I need to find a hobby that is not full of adults obsessed with the competitive success of children. I care if my kids come out smarter, and am happy if they win. Most others in this line care if their kids win, and are happy if they come out smarter. That’s human nature, I suppose, when placed in a competition: you want foremost to win it. I have the advantage that this isn’t my job, my life, or my primary focus; external sources of ego help out a lot. But that doesn’t make it any more excusable for those wrapped up in it.

Michael Bacon

 Michael Bacon died over the weekend, apparently of suicide.   I didn’t know him superbly well, but he always struck me as one of the good guys.   We talked a bit at the TOC last year; he was a sharp, insightful guy; one of the unsung heroes that skirts around the edges of the activity, and probably does the most to keep it going.

Debate is made the lesser for this loss.

A mixed advantage

So this public forum topic, which is the first one we’ve really sunk our teeth into, is ideally suited to an extemp squad turned public forum team. It’s a good topic for us, because we’re likely one of the few squads that’s capable of understanding it. We’ve gone over macroeconomics numerous times, discussed deficits, inflationary spending, full employment, and the works.

So we’re poised to recognize what the topic is about. It asks if the US should prioritize eliminating the deficit or further domestic spending. Basically the first order consequence is arguing whether running a deficit is good for an economy. That seems tilted, but you’d be surprised; the consensus is by no means there. If you run a deficit, you expand employment, reduce wealth gaps, and spur more jobs and growth by stimulating demand. This is the playbook of John Maynard Keynes, who inspired the New Deal. The New Deal didn’t end the Depression, but then World War 2 took his ideas much further, and that sure worked economically, for all it’s other vast ills.

However, you also encourage inflation, unstable investment climates, and other negative consequences when you gun for full employment. Run deficits too long, and soon the government is borrowing all the money; there won’t be any left for mortgages and loans for new business. Because of these things, our economy is no longer run with full employment as the goal. Surprised?

And that startling little tidbit reveals that this topic encourages a fascinating debate on the nature of economic society. If you run deficits and aim for full employment, you strengthen the lower reaches of society, encourage equality, and the like. But you also disfavor investment, which if done too much, mean that allocation decisions are being made ineffectively. Make inflation the sole obsession of fiscal policy (as has been done since 1980, not coincidentally the same year that American real wages ceased to grow) and you encourage investment, but also wealth gaps and stagnant growth at the bottom. Wall Street becomes more dynamic, but Main Street suffers for it.

But we’re running deficits now you say? Ah, but those deficits are going into defense and Iraq, not domestic spending; whatever the merits of defense and foreign spending, it has lessened impact on the domestic economy; infrastructure, schools, R&D spending, and the like all create far more domestic economic benefits since, well, they’re here.

It’s the tension between the political left and the right in a nutshell, a vast sweeping statement about how a simple economic policy can affect society and equality and everything else. Liberals, roughly speaking, operate on the principle of compassion and concern for those at the bottom; recognizing that many people are there despite hard work and effort, simply due to luck. Human dignity demands that the lowest standard of living be a good one.

Right wingers think without the fear of the low standard of living, people won’t strive to improve, pushing themselves, society and human knowledge forward. Without that spur, we’re less well off; even the lowest rungs of society do benefit from social advances, and we need that energy to achieve those social advances.

So that’s the debate. Too bad that 95% of the debaters don’t realize it. If you start talking about specific economic programs that you like on negative, you’ve already missed the point: those can be funded by taxes just as much as by deficit spending, and therefore it’s non-resolutional and non-unique. If you talk about government waste and other bugaboos on aff, you’ve also missed the point. The point is how we finance our spending, and what kind of society that makes us. Prime debate stuff there. I wonder if the topic writers had any idea.


So I’m a debate coach again, which is funny, since that’s where I began with this whole mess about 15 years ago now. Which is great, since I missed this facet of forensics, and it’s fun to teach kids what overviews and claims and warrants are.

On the other hand it does mean that I have students coming to Little Lex and Big Lex and the other debate only tournaments that I’ve gone to for a little while now. I enjoyed them partly because I don’t have any horses in the race, kids to take care of, reasons not to swear in public, and the like. It’s kind of fun to be the only guy in the room who speaks debater language, and that’s probably going to end at some point soon on my team. Ah well, I guess I have to rejoin society.

But the latest PF topic is somewhat interesting to me. I seriously wonder if the topic can be handled by a typical debate team well. It’s seated around Keynesian economics, and asks students to weigh the relative merits of different approaches to public finance. That’s a rather esoteric argument, and far from the usual run of the mill LD social contract disputes. It’s also a pretty complex and second-order topic to attack for only a month. I wonder if in the end folks will just oversimplify it a bunch, and debate the wrong resolution. That’s something debaters in particular are careful not to do, usually, but with this topic, something much more familiar to extempers, it might just happen.

I like Public Forum so far, though part of me still misses the established routine of LD, that PF has yet to acquire. But I do find myself disliking this new topic per month deal; just as the kids start to sink their teeth into a topic and see how things are really working, boom! Next topic. I also am curious as to how the topics are formed; I don’t know if they do the whole LD write & vote thing; I suspect they do. If so I have to figure out how to get a ballot.