Steve Forbes answering audience question as other debaters look on.
While the country has had the past 18 months to ponder the question, the six panelists at Regent University's sixth annual Clash of the Titans® had just two hours to debate which party is best suited to lead America.
No election in recent memory has been talked about, parsed, debated or written about as much as this one: the first African-American running as candidate of a major political party; the first woman to run as a Republican candidate for vice president; and the sheer volume of newly registered voters have made this political fascinating to watch—particularly as both parties are running vigorously on platforms of change.
An increasingly unpopular war, an unstable economy, and the very real threat of a world-wide recession are bringing unprecedented numbers of people to the polls—to the extent that citizens are allowed and even encouraged to vote early, to avoid long lines and frustration on November 4. Rarely has the country felt more divided.
It is in that context that the words of Dr. Jay Sekulow as he introduced Regent University President and Chancellor Dr. M. G. "Pat" Robertson rang both true and vital: "the university is committed to intellectual discussion, and to exposing students (and the world) to a diversity of views." Perhaps never before has exposure to the views left and right of center been more critical.
The six debaters chosen to be 2008's "Titans" were introduced by moderator Norah O' Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, and were seated in the following order:
On the right side of the aisle (and on the Regent stage) was Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and 2008 Republican candidate;
On the left, Alan Colmes, host of The Alan Colmes Show and co-host of Hannity & Colmes, both on the FOX network;
On the right, Steve Forbes, chairman and CEO of Forbes, Inc., and Republican candidate for president in 1996 and 2000;
On the left, Donna Brazile, political commentator and chair of the Democratic National Committees Voting Rights Institute;
On the right, Rick Santorum, former U. S. Senator from Pennsylvania and former chair of the Senate Republican Conference; and
On the left, Geraldine Ferraro, Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984 and former member of the House of Representatives from New York.
The debate was divided into four parts: opening statements (5 minutes), round table discussion where the debaters put questions to each other, pre-selected questions from the audience and closing remarks.
In his opening comment, Governor Huckabee brought laughter from the crowd when he said he was grateful for five minutes—"much more than I ever got in the presidential debates." His remarks were focused on domestic/social issues, and concentrated on his pro-life stance.
Alan Colmes also drew a laugh when he described what it's like to be a liberal working for the FOX network. Turning serious, he lamented the ugly tone the current election has taken and expressed his hope that the remaining days of the election would be spent talking about issues, rather than negativity and personal attacks on the candidates, all four of whom he called good people.
Steve Forbes, talking about the current economic crisis, immediately cast blame on the Bush administration for countenancing a weak dollar. He cited the differences between various elements of the Obama and McCain tax plans, and emphasized that the Republicans have the right idea.
The first applause of the debate was earned by Donna Brazile, when she suggested that no matter what the issue—fiscal responsibility, budgetary spending, tax plans, the war in Iraq—the question the candidates need to answer for Americans is, how do we get to the solutions together?
Rick Santorum spoke about the huge differences in the foreign policy platforms of the two candidates. He explained that the jihadists who threaten America are motivated by theology, hating us not because of what we do, but because of who we are. He worried that candidate Obama does not understand the jihadist mindset.
Geraldine Ferraro noted her own process of deciding to endorse the Democratic ticket. A passionate supporter of Hilary Clinton, she had to be persuaded through questioning and study to support Barack Obama. Her conclusion: his intelligence, his thoughtfulness and knowledge, his selection of Senator Biden as his running mate, made him the best choice to lead this country in difficult times.
During the round table discussions, the debaters queried each other, and it was during those exchanges that the most heat was felt. No softball questions, these: they ranged from abortion to tax plans, and from the Cold War to the ones being waged now and being contemplated in the future. Referring to Huckabee's pro-life stance citing the sanctity of life, Colmes challenged his position by asking why it would not also apply to fighting an unnecessary war that has resulted in the needless loss of thousands of lives? Huckabee responded that "protecting innocent people from harm" is different than killing a baby.
Ferraro challenged Forbes on the efficacy of trickle down economics, and argued against his assertion that Reagan era politics resulted in America willing the cold war. Ferraro retorted that we won the cold war because the Russian economy imploded. Santorum queried Brazile about whether capital gains taxes should be increased, even if doing so would not raise revenue, just because in Senator Obama's words, "it's fair."
The most heated exchange was between Ferraro and Santorum. It had to do with America being safer under Bush administration policies since 9/11. Ferraro contended that neither she nor her fellow New Yorkers feel safer, and asked him directly if he still would have voted for the Iraq war if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Santorum predicted that within a few months, "something will happen in Iran," and stated matter-of-factly, "Iran cannot get a nuclear weapon. Period."
The discourse remained civil, but it was apparent that each of the six was prepared to defend firmly held positions. Even as they sparred, the debaters demonstrated that people of good will can and will differ on philosophical and political issues.
It was the audience's turn next. Their questions touched on all the standard campaign topics, and were answered with the same candor and thoughtfulness.
As the debate closed, all six of the "Titans" spoke with the passion that reflects the importance they ascribe to this election:
Santorum declared that if Senator Obama is elected, the country will suffer from the Democrat's inexperience and radical policies.
Ferraro cited health care as one of the major issues facing American voters and noted that McCain's plan could put families in jeopardy of losing coverage altogether.
Huckabee noted the resilience of the American people, and he reiterated the wish that the campaign had been as civil as this debate.
Colmes asked why the voters should reward the political party that had brought America to its current state of crisis.
Forbes focused on McCain's economic plans and called them the only solution to get the country out of those crises.
And Brazile ended by stating that no matter who is elected, he will have to reach out to the other, and to all Americans, as that is how as Americans we face diversity—together.
The last word, fittingly, belonged to moderator O'Donnell and it was heartily received by the audience: "Now go vote!"