Two-party debate: An exercise in futility

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Two-party debate: An exercise in futility – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Two-party debate

Cartoon Credit: Jackson Turcotte | The Los Angeles Loyolan

By all accounts, Tuesday night’s second U.S. presidential debate was an exciting affair. President Barack Obama showed he had some serious fight left in him. Republican candidate Mitt Romney didn’t back down. Moderator and CNN journalist Candy Crowley did what so many of us have been dying to do and fact-checked Romney on air. Compared to Romney’s dull-as-dirt total knockout in the first debate, this one was absolutely fascinating.

So why am I so unsatisfied?

From an unbiased standpoint, the debate was grand political theatre; at points, it honestly looked like the two candidates were a moment away from coming to blows. However, I’m not an unbiased observer. As an American citizen, a college student who hopes to get a job someday and a gay man who hopes to get married someday, I’m very much biased towards specific agendas, and I care about who wins this election. From that perspective, all the debates have been a bunch of, to borrow a phrase from Vice President Joe Biden, “malarkey.”

This isn’t entirely the fault of the candidates, though. It’s more the fault of the two-party debate format that makes every political battle “he said, he said.” Except for the rare moments when a moderator intervenes (Crowley’s aforementioned fact-check, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz’ relatively aggressive moderation in the Vice Presidential Debate), most of the time, viewers are left to infer whether one candidate or the other is being honest. (That is, of course, something that didn’t used to be an issue when lying in a debate wasn’t so rampant and unapologetic, as Romney has proven to be so far. So remember, it’s still kind of the candidates’ fault.)

While I don’t like the two-party format, I don’t particularly like bringing in a third-party candidate either. What’s so theoretically great about a two-party system is that the extremes are represented, and great debate can spring from the differences. Obviously, that hasn’t happened so far. Like I said, theoretically.

What the debates need is a real-time, fact-checking system. Again, theoretically, the moderator should do this, but between Jim Lehrer’s poor performance as moderator in the first debate and the ridiculous rules the campaigns unsuccessfully tried to enforce on Crowley in the second, the moderator is clearly not serving this function. Under pressure of being fact-checked, the candidates would have to provide real answers, hopefully creating some real discussion and showing the differences in their platforms. In that model, undecided voters could make an informed decision about how to vote. Additionally, policy wonks would be able to hear a real discussion about issues. Imagine that.

While political theatre is great, ultimately it is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and I, for one, think the very biased observers – the American people – deserve a true debate.

Forgive me if I’m not holding out too much hope, though.

Don’t hate the “8”

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Should “8” play?: Don’t hate the “8” – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Graphic Credit: Alberto Gonzalez | The Los Angeles Loyolan

It shouldn’t even be a debate.

I’ll admit – I’m curious as to what fellow contributor Lauren Rockwell’s argument is regarding the LGBT Student Services (LGBTSS) Office’s presentation of “8,” the pro-marriage equality play, at LMU tomorrow night. From my point of view, not as an LGBT individual, nor as someone who is pro-marriage equality, but simply as an LMU student, I fail to see a single valid reason why the play shouldn’t be read on our campus.

Agree or disagree with what the play is arguing, the fact is that the show must go on, not because of the subject matter, but because it is an expression of a faction of students’ opinions. Their voices deserve to be heard.

For those who aren’t familiar with the play, “8” is a dramatic interpretation of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial currently headed for the Supreme Court. The case is about the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the infamous amendment to the California constitution that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Written by Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” “8” is an unabashedly biased and activist look at the trial, but it never pretends to be anything else.

Controversy brewed about the presentation of “8” on LMU’s campus when The Cardinal Newman Society posted an article about this on its blog. The post, which has been picked up by a couple other Catholic blogs but has failed to make a dent in the greater media sphere, argues that LMU is promoting gay “marriage” (complete with incredibly condescending quotation marks) through its production of “8.”

What The Cardinal Newman Society fails to understand is that if LMU were to shut down the production of “8,” the University would be silencing student voices simply because they are at odds with the Catholic Church’s positions – a terrifying proposition, and completely at odds with the Jesuit mission to educate the whole person and encourage learning, as LMU’s mission statement reads.

When asked about “8” in an interview with the Loyolan, ASLMU President Bryan Ruiz said that he believes LMU students’ self-expression “does need to be heard.” LMU and President David Burcham are clearly working with the same mindset, and their refusal to cancel the show is inspiring.

I’m incredibly proud to go to a religiously-affiliated school that is comfortable presenting a pro-marriage equality play on its campus while not fully endorsing it. To endorse the show would indeed be a violation of the Catholic position, something we shouldn’t ask the University to do. But to shut it down would violate our mission. So in truth, President Burcham and his administration have done the only thing they can do without appearing hypocritical to some part of the University’s identity.

You’ll notice I haven’t talked much about why I think “8” is so great and how important the message it will spread to students is. That’s because “8” isn’t great, and I think said important message is something the majority of our student body already supports.

On paper, “8” is a clumsily written play, full of preachy monologues and an unwillingness to portray marriage equality opponents as anything but morons. The marriage equality debate deserves a better dramatic interpretation, and I have no doubt that several years down the road, we’ll see one. But a show being bad isn’t any reason to censor it from running. As the Loyolan’s primary theatre critic for the past two years, I’ve certainly seen shows I didn’t like, but you never once heard me call for their cancellation out of sheer disgust. Besides, the point of “8” isn’t to be great theatre – it’s activist in nature.

The message it is spreading, however, is something I think most students on this campus and across the country already feel: Marriage equality is the right thing for right now. Even among young conservatives in the U.S., support for same-sex marriage is rapidly rising. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from May shows that almost half of young conservatives do indeed support marriage equality – and among young liberals, that number is sky-high. So, I don’t necessarily think a college campus, even a Jesuit one like LMU’s, is the most effective stage for a play like “8.”

What does any of this matter? Simple: It doesn’t. No matter how bad the play is, how repetitive its message may be or how much it may get The Cardinal Newman Society’s panties into a bunch, there is simply no valid reason to cancel “8.” At the end of the day, this is about students’ free expression, and we go to a school that values said expression.

That’s something worth celebrating, not debating.