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Campus deserves an actual policy debate

By Thresher Editorial Board     11/8/22 11:37pm

If you had stumbled into the Baker Institute on Nov. 7 expecting a showdown between the Rice Democrats and Rice Republicans, you would’ve been sorely disappointed. The debate, a tradition which has not occurred since 2018, was canceled. We are not missing much, though: the debate would have just regurgitated generic and predetermined political party talking points. If we want campus discussions on politics to have an impact beyond elections, we should invite all voices to the table and talk policy on a comprehensive level.

With the hot-button topics originally planned for the debate — the Russia-Ukraine War, healthcare and gun control — the possibility of voters’ opinions being swayed by the debate right before Election Day was slim. Ultimately, a more productive conversation would focus on long-term policy outcomes and not just electoral victory, which is especially useless with a student population that votes majority Democratic. 

More importantly, the debate should bring in other political organizations on campus such as Torch — Rice’s Libertarian student organization — and Rice Left to debate the merits of various policy positions on all dimensions of the political spectrum. 

While it’s true that elections typically end up being between Democrats and Republicans, this is a product of our electoral system, which can be debated in and of itself. But within the two parties on the ticket, there is room to push each more towards the extremes or to the center by focusing on specific policies. These discussions should continue year-round to motivate students to talk to their representatives, participate in primaries and get more involved in politics.

The shallow “debate” that was planned is an affront to what the university stands for. Rice is dedicated to research, conversation and the pursuit of knowledge, not to recycled talking points. We cannot make advancements in public policy if our sole purpose is scoring sound bites. The debate should not simply be an opportunity for self-affirmation. Instead, the goal of political organizations on this campus should be to mobilize students to dedicate their time to advocating for the best policies for the people of Harris County, Texas and the United States. 

Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Ben Baker-Katz, Morgan Gage, Bonnie Zhao, Hajera Naveed, Nayeli Shad, Riya Misra, Michelle Gachelin, Daniel Schrager, Prayag Gordy and Brandon Chen. Editor-in-Chief Ben Baker-Katz recused himself from this editorial due to his reporting on the corresponding story in our news section.

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