Moderator John Davan (center) preps the debaters by outlining the evening’s structure. Debaters Timothy Carney (Left) and Ben Domenech (center left) will argue ‘For’ the motion. Debaters Jennifer Rubin (center Right) and Bret Stephens (right) will argue ‘Against’ the motion. Photo by Brandon Gomez
Laughter filled the Kaufman Music Center in the Upper West Side last night when deputy editor of the Editorial Page, Bret Stephens, posed his audience with a short list of questions.
“Who here has been to Europe in the last five years?” Stephens asked. “How many of you have graduate degrees? Generally speaking, Sancerre is white or red wine?”
His questions were first met with laughter followed by hesitantly raised hands as the majority recognized their elite status.
For the past several months, all eyes have turned to the two presidential candidates. With the first of three presidential debates right around the corner, voters are scrutinizing every part of their campaigns. Demanding medical records, tax returns and email logs, the public wants to hold these candidates accountable, same as other presidential candidates before them.
Tuesday’s mock debate was hosted by Intelligence Squared, a nonprofit organization focused on debate and public discourse. And if it was any indication of what is coming, we should all pack our plastic ponchos for the mudslinging about to take place.
The debaters faced off two-against-two. Those ‘For’ the motion sat stage right and those ‘Against’ the motion stage left. Unlike the typical liberal vs. conservative format, this group was made of four conservatives. Over the 90-minute debate the pairs argued if we should “blame the elites for the Trump phenomenon”, while the audience sat safely at an arm’s length away to keep clean.
It quickly became clear none of the debaters were Trump supporters. Stephens later brought about even more laughter when he compared Trump voters to patrons of a strip club.
“Every time he says something dirty, it turn out people want more of it,” he said.
Publisher for The Federalist and host of The Federalist Radio Hour Ben Domenech argued against Stephens, but had some comedic material as well.
“Donald Trump, a man who, as John Mulaney tells us, begins every day by asking himself, ‘What would a cartoon rich person do?’” he said.
John Donvan, a correspondent for ABC News, moderated the debate. He invited the audience to share their verdict, each person holding a small white remote attached to his or her seat by a long red cord. This device was the gavel for this pseudo judge and jury.
Linda Ross of the Upper East Side, Manhattan enjoyed the mock debate and felt that all had their arguments well placed.
“Personally, I hold the voter responsible for the mess we are in.” she said. “How does the old saying go, ‘You get the government you deserve.’’
Attendee David Brunswick of Manhattan acknowledged the tendency for the debaters to point out the many shortcomings of a certain candidate, but also the importance for the voters to do more than simple name-calling.
“I’m surprised that this question has morphed into another question, which is which of the two sides is most stridently anti-Trump,” said Brunswick. He was the first member of the audience to address the debaters.
Brunswick also shared his struggle with the audience’s reactions.
“The speaker or side that seemed the most anti-Trump, garnered the greatest suffrage and popularity and that was not the purpose of the debate,” he said.
Brunswick acknowledged a theme within the 2016 Election – who has the greatest punch line?
Laughter was the default reaction for the majority of Tuesday’s audience. But Donvan reminded us of something very important in his opening comments.
“Who laughed when Donald Trump set out to win the White House?” asked Donvan. “Lots of people. But who got the last laugh and the Republican nomination?”
Supporters display at light up sign for Sanders at the Brooklyn Navy Yard before the Democratic presidential debate yesterday or Sanders. by Leann Garofolo
Bernie Sanders supporters brought a carnival to Brooklyn Navy Yard before yesterday’s Democratic presidential debate. There were homemade light-up signs, a customized “Bernie for President” computer game, a life-sized Bernie Sanders muppet and more.
They came from all over the country to take on the more subdued Hilary Clinton supporters who gathered on the opposite corner carrying the official “I’m With Her” signs. But it was the eclectic array of homemade Sanders campaign gear that stole the show on this chilly spring night.
“I have never come out like this for anybody,” said Kyle Cranston, of South Hampton in Long island, New York. He was decked out in a black “Feel the Bern” t-shirt, topped with a blazer sporting colorful Bernie buttons. His black fitted baseball cap said “Bernie for President,” and he carried a blue sign emblazoned with the same logo.
It was not Cranston’s first time braving the cold for Sanders. In February, he attended the New Hampshire primary, traveled to Boston for Super Tuesday, and has been making phone calls and canvassing for his candidate.
The stakes were high for the democratic candidates who both have roots in New York. Sanders were born in Flatbush, Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants, and Hillary Clinton was the city’s senator for eight years. She calls New York her adopted home.
Liz Sawyers, of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, was the coordinator of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) members who attended the rally. Under her black winter coat was a white t-shirt that said “Bernie is bae”, with a sketch of the candidate’s face inside a red heart.
“Earlier this afternoon, just as the sun was going down, the CWA members marched down the street,” said Sawyers. “We had like, 600 CWA members here. It was great.”
As an independent business owner teaching public speech and rhetoric, Sawyers is passionate about fair labor. Earlier in the week, the CWA began striking back against Verizon after the parties failed to negotiate a fair contract.
Sanders showed his support and solidarity for the workers on Wednesday when he joined a crowd of 2,000 CWA Verizon and Verizon Wireless workers on the picket line in Brooklyn.
“Bernie was on the picket lines with them, as he was has been on the picket lines with labor unions and teacher unions for years,” said Sawyers. “He’s been consistent on these same issues for 31 years.”
But this rally was also interactive.
A Playstation was set up where kids and adults got to play Bernie “jumping” over obstacles to reach the end goal of being elected as president. A virtual Bernie was navigated as he jumped over things such as “Big Oil Problem” and “Dodged Another Bush.”
“You basically jump over corporate interest and Wall Street bulls and try and get to the end and try and get elected,” said the game’s creator, Grayson Earle of the game that was projected on a big screen. He made the game in just about two weeks in his spare time with The Illuminators, a political art project based in N.Y.C. “If you don’t win you just go back to the community and you reorganize and you try again.”
While many came to show their support, others came to rally for other causes that were near and dear to their heart.
Paul Schuberg, of Rockaway, Queens, stopped by with a “War Wagon” to support veterans.
His mobile cart was piled thick with campaign buttons, along with a donation jar adorned with the American flag. His goal was to sell buttons and raise money to donate to homeless vets who need food, shelter, and permanent housing.
While not an actual veteran himself, he called himself a veteran of “the war on poverty, the war on injustice.” Schubert said he votes based on the candidate, not the party.
“I am a voter,” said Schuberg. “I vote for the best person for the job after examining their history, their record, very carefully.”
Evan Siegel, of Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, came to support Sanders while distributing flyers to raise awareness about military spending.
“I think we need to have a conversation about that,” said Siegel as he continued to give out flyers to passerby. According to the flyer’s colorfully coordinated pie chart, 54 percent of federal income tax dollars are spent on the military budget, which Siegel viewed as a problem.
“Bernie at least says that we should freeze the military budget at its current level,” said Siegel. “I’m for protecting whatever is left of social equality in our country.”
A group called Black Men for Bernie also came out to support him.
Still, others at the rally just wanted to get in on the action.
April Brooker, of Sunnyside, Queens, had hopes of getting inside the venue. She carried a puppet of Donald Trump, who she referred to as “Donald J. Tramp.” Despite the puppet, she did not say she wasn’t a Trump supporter or which of the democratic candidates she supported.
“I’m investigating both sides,” said Brooker, mimicking the Trump puppet as though it were the one speaking. “I like a lot of what Bernie Sanders has to say, but I like the experience Hillary has, so that’s why I’m very eager to see how it turns out.”