May 1, 2002

C.U. Political Rivals Debate Key Issues

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Last night at Uris Auditorium, Michael Moschella ’02, former president of Cornell Democrats and current vice president of finance of the Student Assembly (S.A.), debated Joseph Sabia, grad, former chancellor of the College Republicans Board of Directors, current chancellor of the Cornell Review and president of the First Amendment Coalition, on a wide array of issues ranging from affirmative action to the merits of Slope Day.

The Final Showdown was organized by the Cornell Political Coalition, a non-partisan campus organization aimed at increasing political awareness.

Opening statements by Moschella and Sabia began the debate, followed by questions from the audience. Both Moschella and Sabia had two minutes to answer each question, as well as time to rebut each other’s comments. Stephen Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs, moderated the debate.

In their initial statements, Moschella and Sabia provided an overview of their political positions and party platforms, with Moschella representing the left and Sabia representing the right of the political spectrum.

Sabia set the stage for an explanation of the difference between the two different sides of the political spectrum. “Liberalism, the most gutless decision, is based on emotion and feeling,” Sabia stated. “Conservatives believe in the principle that individuals should reap the benefits of good choices and suffer the consequences of bad choices.”

Moschella offered a different interpretation of the meaning of liberalism and conservatism.

He said, “We want to move forward and view progress through a human rights standpoint. The left is willing to step up when a problem exists and to use government when necessary [to address the problem].”

On the other hand, he mentioned that some conservative groups act in ways that only benefit the wealthy.

“The right-wing has an overriding interest of the powerful,” Moschella stated.

The first question asked the two speakers which party Jesus Christ would support if He returned today.

Sabia said that he disagreed with those who said that Christ’s “compassion” and ability to “tend to the poor” would make necessarily make him a Democrat.

Instead, he said, “Jesus asked people to reach out into their own pockets and on their own to help their neighbors. He didn’t say ‘give me your property because you’re rich and we will give it to [someone else] because she’s poor.'”

Moschella answered, “based on my understanding, Jesus would work outside of the system and would be somewhere left of the Democrats. He would have wanted to create a fair system.”

Most of the remaining questions, however, were not as theoretical but rather touched upon domestic, international and University policies. Moschella and Sabia disagreed on most issues with the exception that they both opposed Bush’s policy regarding steel tariffs.

Affirmative action was one topic of sharp disagreement. Sabia called affirmative action, “an absolutely racist policy” and “a policy that was totally and morally wrong.”

He said, “I think that people in our generation will be ashamed [of today’s affirmative action policies] in fifty years. I think that I am just ahead of the curve.”

On the other hand, Moschella supported affirmative action policies because of his belief that, “we do not live in a meritocracy.”

As to U.S. foreign policy, Moschella and Sabia also took differing positions. While Sabia argued that, “the United States should act based on its interest,” Moschella disagreed, saying, “this would mean acting in the interest of the oil industry.”

Sabia and Moschella also debated the merits of ethnic study programs, Slope Day and campus politics.

Sabia’s opposition to ethnic study programs angered some Cornell students.

Funa Maduka ’04, minority liaison of the student assembly and undergraduate representative of the Minority Education Committee, was specifically offended by Sabia’s comment that ethnic studies lack scholarship.

“I think that Sabia’s statement is very untrue. There are world renowned scholars in the ethnic studies programs. I think views like these make it harder for these programs,” Maduka said.

Dan Keh ’03 also found some of Sabia’s comments to be insulting, particularly those regarding program houses like Ujamaa. “I expected insults but at the same time, I think that Sabia was expressing a view that many people have [regarding the merits of program houses].”

Members of the audience were mostly pleased with the debate. “This was the first debate I have ever been to. I was impressed to say the least,” said Angie Kim ’03.

Some students thought that there was a “winner” in the debate. “Sabia was more amusing but Moschella gave the most practical arguments and provided statistics,” said Jason Greenberg ’03.

“Sabia kept saying that liberals acted on emotion but he was the one screaming that the left are Marxists and Commies,” said Stephen Blake ’05.

Mike Lepage ’05 disagreed.

“Sabia did a better job lying down the conservative position,” he said, adding, “but then again, I also agree with his position.”

Dan Indiviglio ’02, a student who is not associated with either the Democrat or Republic party disagreed.

“I think that while Sabia was more charismatic both [Moschella and Sabia] really held their own,” he said.

Some other students noted the structure of the debate, such as Sam Merksamer ’02 who said, “it is hard to determine [the better orator] because they are just answering field questions.”

Archived article by Jamie Yonks