ERICKSON: The ‘Great Debate’

December 6, 2013 

One of the great honors of my life will always be my recent trip to England. The Oxford Union asked me participate in one of its formal Thursday night debates. The debating society, made up of students at Oxford University, has held formal debates every Thursday night during the school term since 1823.

The speakers have to wear black ties, and the officers of the organization are in white ties and tails. The debates are held in a several hundred-year-old hall in the British Parliamentary system. Twelve British prime ministers have participated in the Oxford Union debates, and those who participate stand by the dispatch boxes used by Winston Churchill during his wartime tenure as British prime minister.

The proposition the union invited me to debate was “positive discrimination is a necessary evil,” or as we would call it, “affirmative action.” The side favorable to the proposition went first and vice versa to the end. Each side had four participants -- one student and three guests. The proponents included both Martin Castro, President Obama’s chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and Ada Meloy of the American Council on Education, along with Carla Buzasi of the Huffington Post and Oxford student Toby Fuller. My side included Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, Heather McGregor of the Financial Times and Oxford student Martine Wauben. Before the final speakers, student spectators are allowed to participate as well.

Everyone told me I should expect to lose. Just the week before, the Oxford Union voted against patriotism. Compounding the matter, the proposition’s side had met ahead of time and coordinated their points. The opposition side -- my side -- did not even know each other until we arrived at the event.

As luck would have it, I was the final speaker of the evening -- closing out the opposition’s side. Intimidated going in because everyone else was so prepared with folders, notes, print outs, etc., I took to the dispatch box without a single piece of paper. All my law school training was nothing compared to two years of talk radio.

I argued that positive discrimination is still discrimination and evil is still evil. Likewise, I pointed out that the United States is 150 years removed from the Gettysburg Address, we have our first black President, and we still have people clamoring for positive discrimination. Further, we cannot trust that those who benefit from positive discrimination will ever say we need no longer have it.

I pointed out that we have had and will always have racism as long as we have sin. A government made up of sinners that claims equality before the law will never, by sanctioning discrimination, be able to get rid of discrimination. Additionally, we do know that many of those negatively affected by positive discrimination will be bitter and those who benefit from it will always be under a lingering doubt that they were chosen as tokens, not on merit.

Going in, I was the only Southerner. Knowing what I know about liberal college students, I apologized to the proposition side for my unfair advantage. Being from the South and able to string sentences together would shock and overwhelm the presuppositions of the college students. It seems that is what happened.

In closing, I told the crowd that if they voted for the proposition, they would be voting both in favor of discrimination and in favor of evil by the proposition’s own wording. With more than 300 people attending, my side won by nine votes, the first conservative victory of the school year.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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