My Debate Partner

by Joel Young

Chapter 6

Bad Debate. Good Boyfriend.

I have heard that a person's character is developed more by failures than by successes. If that is, in fact, true, my debate partner, David McAndrew, and I had a significant character building experience at our first major tournament of the season during my Junior year of High school. After David and I became lovers the night before, we faced the toughest debate team we would ever meet - Lansing Kettering.

The Kettering Affirmative Team was already in the room when we arrived. They had their materials out and were getting organized. They seemed arrogant to me. David walked directly over to them, extended his hand and introduced himself and then me. They barely acknowledge us but introduced themselves in a perfunctory manner. Their names were Sean and Brandon.

David and I went back to our side of the podium and set about organizing our own materials.

Soon, the judge arrived. He took our names and schools for the speaker evaluations and judging forms and said, "Okay, men. Let's go." Sean, the first Affirmative speaker, rose and went to the podium.

"Slick" is the best word I can use to describe Sean. His style was very serious, polished and organized. He had a rich, commanding voice, and I found myself almost wanting to follow along agreeably. I had to force myself, however, to listen critically to his content.

The debate proceeded along fairly well, and I concluded that in actuality, David and I and Sean and Brandon were evenly skilled. It appeared to me that either side could be declared the winner - that is until Brandon's rebuttal speech. The more aggressive member of the Affirmative team, Brandon went for David's jugular.

David had used a fairly widely known quotation from a former Director of the U.S. Treasury. The quotation was a call for fiscal conservation, and it was used to question the affordability of new federal entitlement programs as proposed by the Affirmative team. It was a powerful quotation employing dramatic, "doomsday" language. Although the man had died three years after leaving office, he was still thought of as an authority in U. S. economics.

I knew something was up when Brandon began his rebuttal by praising the former Director of the US Treasury. He reviewed the man's credentials and called him one of the best minds of the current era. He said the man was a giant who was not afraid to change directions based on new information. He then read another quotation from the same man which he said appeared in a

publication called "The New Paradigms Newsletter." The quotation recanted much of the conservative economic philosophy that had marked the man's governmental career. The quotation said that he had become convinced that the American public had to accept economic risks for social gain. He was quoted as saying that, humbled by his own impending death, he regretted his role in squashing sound social programs for the sake of a few, miserable dollars.

And then came the attack on David's jugular. Brandon accused David of deliberately ignoring new information because the old information better suited his purpose. "Either that," Brandon said, "or my opponent wasn't aware of the latest information simply because he failed to prepare adequately."

That was the first of only two times when I ever saw David's confidence shaken. The devastating quotation would be a difficult obstacle for any debater. In combination with the personal attack, however, it seemed to rattle David's concentration, just as I'm sure it was meant to do. Unless he had a factual counter to the quotation, he would end our part of the debate appearing unethical or unprepared. He looked at me for help, and I knew he didn't have anything factual with which to recover. I wanted to tell him not to get defensive, to put the quotation in perspective, and repeat his stronger arguments. But the rules wouldn't let me talk.

I felt all of David's embarrassment as he fumbled around with his final speech. And I knew in my heart that it was a pathetic attempt at recovery. Later, I realized that he was the victim of his own analytical skills. He knew that to win, he had to produce what he didn't have. He would have been better off to mention the quotation briefly, give it his best shot, and then move on to other issues. Instead, he filled his five minutes talking about the quotation with defensive, confusing mush. I actually had no idea what he tried to say, and it was obvious from watching the judge's face that he was confused as well.

The old phrase about beating a hasty retreat had new meaning for me as we got out of that room as fast as we could when the debate was finally over. David was very upset, and he just kept saying the same word, "Damn!" I took his arm and guided him down a darkened corridor of the school searching for a place to be alone. There really wasn't a good place, but I finally stopped when I thought maybe we were far enough away from the rooms being used in the tournament. We set our cases down. I took him in my arms, and he allowed himself to be comforted. He rested his head on my shoulder and took a deep breath. I told him it was okay.

"Okay for a loser," he said. "If you want a new partner, I'll understand."

I knew his words were a plea for me to do some repair work on his ego, and I was happy to oblige. I felt so much love and concern for him. I desperately wanted to make it all better for him. I didn't care that we had obviously lost the debate; I wanted David to feel better.

I told him how great he'd been all day, how intelligent he was and what a great speaker he was. I called Sean and Brandon a couple of arrogant snobs who got lucky with one lousy quotation from an obscure newsletter. I sensed that my words were helping him regain his composure, and then I told him how much I loved him. The emotional ups and downs of the last 24 hours seemed to well up in David all at once, and he began to cry quietly on my shoulder. I held him for a long time before asking, "Crying good? Or crying bad?"

"Both," he answered. "Bad debate. Good boyfriend."

I had not thought of myself in that capacity before, but I was thrilled that he considered me as his boyfriend.

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