Three members of the MTSU Blue Raider Debate Team put their argumentative skills on display for the public recently during a mock presidential debate featuring the top three contenders for the White House.
Student debaters researched and presented the platform positions of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, GOP nominee Donald Trump and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
Representing Clinton was junior Abigail Barnes, an English and communication studies major, while freshman political science major Christopher Cowherd stood in for Trump and Alex Lempin, a senior communication studies major, argued Johnson’s positions. The candidates answered a variety of questions ranging from energy to the economy.
Held Oct. 20 in the State Farm Room in the Business and Aerospace Building, the “Think Before You Vote” event was hosted by the MTSU chapter of the Pi Kappa Delta national speech and debate association and co-hosted by Blue Raider Debate, the League of Women Voters of Murfreesboro/Rutherford County and the MTSU Graduate Student Association.
Debate team coach Patrick Richey said that unlike the real campaigns with the constant name-calling and character assassinations, the mock debate intentionally prohibited the candidates from using such tactics and forced them to focus on real issues.
“We put a lot of work into this debate,” said Lempin. “We’ve written speeches, rehearsed them and practiced this debate a couple of times.”
Lempin said such mock debates can be helpful to voters looking for insights about the candidate’s actual positions rather than the latest poll numbers and the hyper-partisanship and negativity that mainstream media has tended to highlight excessively.
“I think this is what college is all about, in educating the public in a way that everybody can understand and benefit,” he said.
Cody Lester, vice president of the Graduate Student Association, served as moderator, while Drs. Kaylene Gebert, a professor of communication studies and organizational communication, and Robb McDaniel, a political science professor, shared their insights and context after the discussion.
While both pointed to the intense nastiness of the current campaign in relation to modern politics, particularly in regard to the Clinton and Trump camps, the professors reminded the 120-plus attendees that political campaigns in the aftermath of the nation’s founding also had plenty of venom, with duels not unheard of to settle scores.
“Politics has been a pretty rough business and you have to have a pretty thick skin,” Gebert said.
McDaniel pointed out that “voting is about power … not just personalities,” which is why the major political parties put so much time, money and effort into campaigns. It’s critical for voters to stay knowledgeable about issues at election time and beyond, he said.