With the theatre at Regent's Communication & Performing Arts Center filled with more than 700 people, it was quickly apparent that this debate would be far from simply an academic exercise in rhetorical ideas. More than mere observers to America's current economic predicament, each speaker in his own way has helped shape the economic policies of Congress and of the last three presidential administrations.
Representing the left were Lawrence H. Summers, who served as director of the White House National Economic Council under President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, and Robert Gibbs, who served as White House press secretary and advisor to President Obama. Representing the right were Alan Simpson, a three-term U.S. senator from Wyoming, and Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush.
Assuming the helm of the debate as moderator, FOX News' distinguished anchor Bret Baier invited the speakers to begin the debate by presenting their opening remarks.
Summers led the way by saying the economy has grown for the last two years, but, "It's not anything what we would like it to be." Simpson stated that in order to fix the economy, people need a willingness to address Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense spending. To put it more simply, "You cannot get there without touching all four of these."
Gibbs widened the discussion by stating that America's economic woes "[aren't] something that started in 2008, but started 10-15 years ago." Rove sharpened the debate by concluding that America is still in an economic crisis, "despite our two-and-a-half-year experiment in spending ourselves to prosperity."
True to any debate concerning economics, numbers flew around the room. Simpson reminded the people that just for today alone, the government borrowed over $4.6 billion. Gibbs remarked on the consensus in the room: "We are on a path that is simply unsustainable," he said. But he added the nation could not simply grow, cut, or tax its way out of this situation. Summer affirmed this by adding, "Everything has to be on the table."
Rove agreed all sides must be willing to compromise, but he also credited President Obama for creating an environment where there cannot be a bi-partisan solution, pointing to the president's recent statement that Republican plans involved having "dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance."
As the debate progressed, the speakers continued to interject new perspective into how to solve America's economic issues. Summers remarked that while America's future depends on fixing the deficit, "It also depends on whether we educate our children." Simpson and Gibbs both touched on the need to have political leadership and the fortitude to get things done. Rove submitted the idea of cutting bills into smaller sizes and thereby avoiding the roadblock that larger bills face today.
Despite the sharp disagreements that arose throughout the debate, many important agreements were expressed. According to Gibbs, "There is not any problem that this country will face, this year or next, or next week, that cannot or will not be solved by the greatest of the people in this land. "Rove remarked that," The country is fundamentally sound because the people are fundamentally sound." Summers echoed these sentiments by concluding that he would rather face America's problems with its citizens, than face any other problem that could be found in the world today. Simpson concluded that much of the issue rests upon the lack of leadership in Washington.
Whether America's financial issues result from an unwillingness to compromise or a philosophical battle about the size of government, the debaters reminded the audience of Regent's Clash of the Titans® that America's crisis is one that demands action and true leadership if America is to avoid a "countdown to collapse."
Cox Communications will rebroadcast the debate in the Hampton Roads area on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 5 p.m. and again on Monday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. on Cox Channel 11.
By Paul Boller '12