On November 8th, in honor of election day, the school hosted an official debate in the auditorium. The debate gave a voice to the opposing political views that exist in the IHS community by pitting eight seniors – four democrats and four republicans – against each other in a battle of ideologies and wits.
This select group of political advocates included some of Irvington’s most well-known and academically talented students. On the liberal side was Emma Derose, Gabe Siegel, Clara Montgomery, and Zoe Mermelstein, and representing the conservatives were Daniel Dematteo, Shivay Parekh, Kieran Sullivan, and Dillon Palmieri.
Daniel Dematteo, formerly a liberal, surprised many IHS students when his name appeared on the conservative roster. During our pre-debate interview, Daniel insisted that he was not a Democrat, and that he would rather not be labelled.
“We’re gonna hit liberalism at its core,” he said prior to the debate. “It’s a weak ideology, Republican conservatism has proven its efficacy. We’ve seen the destruction of America with eight years of Obama.”
The Democrats went into this debate with confidence. “I know my topic well, and I’m a good debater,” said Emma Derose. She worried about the maturity of the spectators, a legitimate fear when facing a crowd of rowdy high schoolers.
The auditorium was decorated with red, white, blue, and polarizing opinions on Tuesday. The lights went on and the representatives took their seats to the sound of applause from the enthusiastic audience.
The debate was split into four topics: fiscal policy, gun control, immigration, and climate change. Irvington’s social studies teacher Dr. Weiselberg acted as the moderator. Sporting an American flag tie, Dr. W announced that there was to be a two-minute opening statement for each side, followed by a one minute rebuttal.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details of each topic, each side had its ups and downs based on the reaction of the audience and student comments following the debate. To declare a “winner” or “loser” is a matter of the subjectivities within each student. That said, Daniel Dematteo’s use of an anecdote of his grandfather’s small business to defend lower minimum wage and Zoe Mermelstein’s statistics on oil consumption and fracking damage in her opening statement on climate change seemed to be the standout moments for each side.
The debate closed by allowing the audience to cast their “votes” for the winning side, and there were no surprises there. The student vote was won by the liberals with 267 for the Democrats to 169 for the Republicans. The teachers also had the opportunity to vote, and once again the Democrats triumphed with 28 out of the 42 possible votes.
The nominal win, however, was not enough to satisfy some of the participating Democrats. “I wish they had given us more time to debate. As it was, there was only time for opening statements and one rebuttal,” said Clara Montgomery. “I was also very very annoyed that they made certain subjects off limits because of a supposed risk of ‘offending’ people, when all the people I talked to from those groups who would be offended were like ‘why aren’t we talking about that’”
“The Republicans in this school don’t even want to stand behind their own party,” added Zoe Mermelstein.
Gay rights, the Black Lives Matter movement, and abortion are all subjects that were key points in the national election, yet did not receive any mention on Tuesday. It should be noted that the Republicans on the opposing side do not have views that reflect their party’s platform on many of these social issues.
Daniel Dematteo did not believe the vote is a fair measure of real debate performance. “We swayed much of the faculty, and Irvington, New York, is a hub for liberalism,” he said. “On economics and immigration [the liberal team] was a joke. I talked to many democrats who said they voted for us because they feel we debated our points better, so I call that a win.”
Hillary Clinton ultimately won New York with a 59% lead this election. The student vote was won by 61% — meaning there was only a two percent margin between the state and school vote. This struck some as a small lead compared to common perception of Irvington as a liberally dominated campus. Evidently that “domination” does not reflect much more than a 10% majority of Democrats.
A certain amount of the closing of the gap can be accounted for by people who judged the debate objectively. Senior Bradley Goldsmith, a liberal, felt the Republicans of Irvington deserved his vote. “They won immigration and fiscal policy,” he said of the conservative team, “and to me those are the subjects that matter most, so I voted for them.”
Ultimately the debate was at least a great platform for the school to recognize the differences in opinion that were stirred up during election season in a civilized fashion — in all likelihood even more civilized than the election itself.