This is the second piece addressing the ASG presidential debates. Read the recap of Tuesday's debate here. The final presidential debate, hosted by the Coalition of Colors, is tonight at 5 p.m. in Swift Hall 107.
Debate season is in full swing for the ASG elections, but the Northwestern Debate Society has already wound down another successful season. While most of the student body was at home for Spring Break, Northwestern sent three pairs of debaters to Weber State University for the National Debate Tournament, the season’s culminating event. Northwestern finished in second place for the second year in a row, just missing out on adding to their national record of 14 national championships. NBN talked to debaters Peyton Lee, a Weinberg senior, and Rahim Shakoor, a Weinberg freshman, about Tuesday's presidential debate between Weinberg junior Ani Ajith, SESP junior Benison Choi, SESP junior David Harris and Weinberg junior Aaron Zelikovich.
What were your initial thoughts about the debate?
PL: From a debater perspective, they’re terrible at time management. It was really funny because we spend so much time thinking about exactly how long 4 or 5 minutes is. For anybody else who doesn’t have an internal clock, you just need someone sitting in the audience with a big digital clock.
RS: It was kind of funny that David was the one that ran over because I thought he was the best at – when hearing time – finishing off his thought and then sitting down whereas other people just like, bounced. The first couple of times it got Ani by surprise. Substantively, I thought they all did a nice job. From a debate stylistic purpose of public speaking, there are strange restrictions that come with the way that it’s done, and it took them all a little bit to adjust to.
How did you assess the debaters stylistically?
PL: I think the most obvious [candidate] is Benison. It was obviously a very intentional choice about how he was both going to dress and project himself, which was very different from the other ones. I thought [David] was the most politician-like. He and Ani were both very similarly politician-oriented. I think David had a little quirky edge to him, which is kind of fun. They all seemed very comfortable in their styles, which was fun to watch. Benison is obviously a much more approachable, chill approach to how he was going to present himself. Aaron was very sincere. His style I found very earnest and less politician and polished in the way Ani and David were.
RS: It was really hard to distinguish between Ani and David. The only real difference is that Ani seemed slightly more bureaucratic in that he threw out a lot of examples of how he has worked with the administration, what exactly he got done. It was more concrete.
You two are debaters, but you're also Northwestern students. What policy proposals most appealed to you?
PL: I thought that Aaron and Ani did the best job of saying “here is a set of very particular things.” The other two almost certainly have concrete ideas, they just didn’t do a good job of bringing them up. As a sorority person, more lighting in the sorority quad made a difference to me. Fifteen vs. thirty minute [campus loop shuttles] is a very concrete concept. Gender-neutral bathrooms is a very concrete concept, and I thought there were a number of moments for both [Aaron and Ani] that stood out that were precise and easy to latch onto. On the other side, there were very vague references.
RS: [Benison’s] thing about Campus Voice was interesting, but he didn’t really go in-depth so it seems like all of his ideas are surface-level. Same thing with David.
How well did the candidates use evidence and statistics?
PL: The quotes I actually found off-putting because they weren’t concrete enough to be useful. They were just call-outs and I didn’t find them persuasive as evidence… The only thing that I thought was close to a rebuttal moment was the use of the statistic…the only mention of any statistic related to what seems to be the most relevant question, which is what is ASG capable of doing? I really wish there were statistics about what ASG is capable of changing about how CAPS works.
RS: I especially would’ve liked an explanation about where the money could have gone. For me specifically, I like discussions of how we allocate budgets so that’s the most important thing.
PL: It’s a classic move to point out a problem and claim to fix it and then not explain why. There were lots of discussion about things we would like to change and not concrete proposals.
What did you think of the candidate’s responses to the question about what Northwestern would look like in 2020?
PL: The best was Aaron when he pointed out that we are only in office for a year. He was the only one who acknowledged that and it was a very interesting moment. I wish he had done more on that because it jives well with his campaign spiel...It’s kind of bizarre, how many things is ASG going to change in a year that affects how the school runs in 2020? I don’t really know, I imagine not that many things that dramatically alter the fact that the administration controls a lot. But I do think they can change that in the year that they have it and make those changes stick around.
RS: Pretty much every candidate was like “we want students to be happy.” Ani contextualized it to his sister when he [said], “I want my sister to be happy.”
PL: That was an awesome politician move.
RS: For sure. It was kind of funny. They all recognized that all they can do is lay the groundwork. The only thing that I could add is that I liked David’s comment because he was like ‘I like everything about Northwestern. I’m sure that other people do, but there’s a difference between contentment and complacence. Even though things are good now we can make them even better.’
Who was the most persuasive during the debate?
PL: I think Ani and Aaron made the most concrete impression to me in terms of changes I could latch onto. I thought David probably…has the most experience doing concrete things, which makes me think he might be the best candidate in terms of [capability], etc., but I don’t think that projected past the opening statement. Benison seems to be running to introduce a certain set of ideas but I was not convinced he was seriously in contention or thinks of himself as being the president.
RS: Totally agree. My personal opinion is that people who know the political process and aren’t simply just trying to eliminate it are the best sort of political candidates which is why I seemed to shy away from Aaron. It’s really a decision between David and Ani for me, and if I vote I need to seriously look at who has done more and who has more experience.
Out of the four candidates, who would you most like to have on the debate team next year?
PL: Ani. It’s a stylistic thing. Substance aside, it’s very much about how you present yourself and think on your feet, and they each have very powerful components that are useful in different forums. For the kind of debate that we do, he was a little crisper, a little faster and a little less rhetorical in some ways.