Dems v. GOP: it’s electric in here!

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Last night, the Columbia Republicans and Democrats met in Hamilton for a debate on energy policy. Karen Leung has this piquant dispatch (all opinions are her own–read Spec for the bland version).

sdfThe best moments of political analysis at last night’s energy policy debate came from Tedde Tsang, who spoke to no one. Tsang, three rows from the back, laughed quietly to himself whenever either side made a verbal screw-up. He sometimes made the effort to hoot.

At the front, Evan Thomas, CC ’08, and Dan Amrhein, CC ’09, spoke for the Dems. In their opening remarks, they attacked increasing oil dependency and lack of research funding for alternative energy under the Bush administration – their strongest points. They were supported by Thomas’s very active eyebrows.

The Republicans’ Tao Tan, CC ’07, and Dana Newborn, CC ’09, were forced to defend Bush’s track record. Or rather, Tan mostly left Newborn to the (difficult) task. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was her crutch, and both argued for private innovation as an alternative to state policy as a solution for oil dependency.

But the crowd, mostly Dems, wasn’t there for policy analysis. They wanted rhetorical piss and vinegar. One softball to their team – “Is the Bush administration doing enough to counter global warming?” – got a good half-minute of laughter. While substantive arguments were sometimes alluded to – props to Newborn and Amrhein for being the most effective on this – the real focus of the evening was on Thomas’s talking points and verbal barbs, and on Tan’s strange, just strange, outbursts.

Some “gems”:

sdfThomas, condemning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: “the equivalent of putting a rapist in a battered women’s shelter.”

Tan, on the trading of emissions credit caps on emissions: “I don’t see the trading of emissions credit caps as a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s a capitalist issue, we are a capitalist country, I am a capitalist. I like to make money!”

Tan and Newborn might have had a good argument to make about failures in the Democratic record. Their emphasis of the Kyoto Protocol’s death under a Democratic administration was one of the stronger claims. But credibility was a problem for Tan, who culled many points from his personal experience – which might have been okay, if not for his masturbatory references to working for General Electric. The Republicans’ biggest loss was probably on their attempt to defend drilling in Alaska and the Gulf region.

Thomas and Amrhein were the better rhetoricians, generally, and their use of statistics was more credible. But they were successful where it was easy to be successful: attacking Bush. And the grandstanding made their failure to articulate a clear and specific Democratic plan for change less forgivable.

Overall, the speakers monkeyed around the topic of oil dependency, rather than debating it. But their supporters had a good time at the circus, and so did Tedde Tsang.

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  1. hahah  

    i didn't know "masturbatory" was a word........haha

  2. they all  

    did a great job

  3. Disappointed  

    The Democrats came off as well-rehearsed but assholish attack dogs. They did a wonderful job attacking a strawman, but didn't even stop to consider the possibility that the Columbia Republicans might have different positions than those held by the Bush administration.

    As someone who regularly votes Democrat, I'll say that one side of this sham debate was restrained, confident, backed by experience, even nice -- and the other was just screaming what they memorized over the weekend.

    • In defense  

      of the Democratic debaters, they clearly had a better grasp of reality than Tao "nuclear fusion will solve everything" Tan or Dana "Bush knows there is a problem, it's just too hard" Newborn. The real problem was that CPU didn't come up with any substantive policy questions. Conservation? Refinery capacity? CAFE standards? Where were the real issues? Why have a political union if they can only think about ethanol and other things that only the most partisan senators think is a good idea?

      • sigh  

        "the equivalent of putting a rapist in a battered women's shelter."

      • The Democrat  

        debaters had their talking points researched, memorized, and ready to spew. They didn't come prepared to think and consider any points beyond the party line. They came ready to trash Bush. That's not having a firm grip on reality, that's being a parrot.

        I don't want to defend Tao, and I disagree with him most of the time, but he was definitely prepared to come and have a productive discussion on energy issues, not engage in childish back-and-forth on rapists.

        The Dems were rabid, almost inexcusably so. The Republicans were calm and confident. Guess who held the intellectual and moral upper hand the entire time?

        • please  

          don't refer to yourself as "the Democrat." Every time there's an article on here about the Democrats, there always happens to be a "democrat," who, though he or she's a Dem, has some problem with what the Dems did. It's getting a little sad.

          Also, the Republicans lost because they couldn't defend their party's record on climate change. It doesn't matter what you say if you have no policy to back it up. The Democrats have real reform ideas, and are already passing reform bills like the Clean Energy Act in the house.

          Jeez, expectations are so low for Republicans on this campus that all they need to do to get a positive comment is to string some sentences together.

  4. Arthur Friend

    I'm happy that a capitalist is leading the College Republicans rather than a hack like Kulawik. At the very least I can negotiate with a capitalist.

    • last i checked  

      Kulawik wrote an article on the importance of free markets and competition as he eulogized Milton Friedman.

    • well  

      Tao & Kulawik are both in the leadership of the College Republicans. Neither of them are party hacks & there is an even greater diversity of political opinions among the other members of the club. Terrific job to Tao & Dana for talking about their own ideas rather than towing the party line like the Evan & Dan.

  5. Passing the  

    buck to Dana on most of the issues where the Bush record came under attack by the Democrats was the only thing that Tao did that was unacceptable. That poor girl was clearly overwhelmed. On everything else, I agree with him, surprisingly. He talked about private sector investment, the power of the free market, and tax benefits for clean energy. The Democrats were much more interesting in assigning blame.

  6. Haha  

    While you are all here arguing, you could be trading emission credits and 1) raking it in, and 2) making the world a better place.



    that the College Republicans had an asian male and jewish woman and the College Dems, two white guys?

  8. wow  

    dan amrhein is hot...

  9. hott for tao tan  

    Tao is HOTT

  10. Seems to me  

    that the main weaknesses of the Republicans and Democrats were shown here: Republicans haven't exactly done the best they can to move forward or admit mistakes, and Democrats are so obsessed with pointing out these mistakes they offer little help in the form of alternatives.

    That said, I feel all 4 speakers did do very well overall on a difficult issue.

  11. Comments are stupid  

    How is it possible that anyone comes to the conclusion that the Republicans were better than the Democrats yesterday? This was supposed to be a DEBATE on energy and not a discussion. All I heard from the Reps side last night was Tao Tan's resume, while the Dems were well prepared and shot back at the Reps after every comment. The debate was a joke, the Reps need to prepare better next time.

    • Stupid?  

      Wow, so anything that isn't an insult-laden back-and-forth doesn't qualify as a useful and interesting experience for you? How sad. Your attitude is what is wrong with this country. I'm a member of the College Dems, but I will say that Tao Tan didn't say anything last night that I could disagree with.

      Meanwhile, I thought our guys were much more eager to attack what they wanted the Republicans to say, rather than what Republicans actually said.

    • Stupid?  

      Between a guy with a resume that can back up his positions with real world experience and insight and a guy who spent the weekend memorizing Wikipedia, the Dems are the ones who needed more preparation.

    • The Republicans  

      didn't cut and copy some blurbs from the Greenpeace website and recite party line. They are Columbia College Republicans - not Bush administration Republicans. If losing means espousing your own opinions and finding positions on which they could compromise - then the Republicans did lose.

  12. addicted to tao tan  

    i may be republican, but i'm way more addicted to tao tan than to oil...

  13. tao tan  

    is the belle jar.

  14. Anonymous

    Did anyone video tape this?

    Democrats spend way too much time defending Kyoto, which is truly financially disastrous to countries like the US, and not so bad for European countries whose GNP isn't nearly as high. From what I gather nobody really talked about it and it was probably for the best.

    As far as the free market saving the polar bears, there is no financial incentive for corporations to seriously pursue large scale alternative energy sources. Brazil did it decades ago because they had to. The US has huge oil companies that see no need to pursue another resource, especially when their drilling and refining tools are near peak maturity right now. Why would they seriously abandon petrol for... something else, like corn, especially when petrol is a relatively cheap source of energy.

    How are small start ups going to compete in a market place dominated by Exxon, Chevron, and BP? Solar energy collection is still inefficient, ethanol is inefficient and expensive, wind... (I guess we could put sails on our cars), hydrogen hasn't had a strong push in a while. Tax breaks aren't going to help. Opening up ANWAR to drilling is certainly not going to improve the situation. I'm curious how Tao even managed to argue this.

    • Tao didn't  

      really manage to argue that. He took the typical approach of accusing the Democrats of supporting a state-run energy industry, to which Thomas responded that the Democrats support nothing of the sort, but rather wish to use government money to fund research and development in the public and private sectors and boost producers of alternative energy and new technology (must as government has done for oil, coal, and gas for decades).

      Tao's appeals to his resume were pretty absurd, especially when he tried to take on a physicist over nuclear physics to argue that fusion reactions are harmless water spouts. Never mind their complete lack of viability for any purpose but making hydrogen bombs.

      And you're right, this really should be on videotape. Anyone from CPU listening? Videotape the next one--media coverage has done a really poor job of conveying much of what was actually discussed.

      • Wrong  

        Taking physics as an undergraduate at Columbia College does not make one automatically knowledgable about nuclear fusion. As for the record, the waste product of deuterium fusion is harmless (and can't be weaponised, contrary to what our vaunted "physicist" friend claims):


        Perhaps he would like to deny evolution next?

        • Be careful-  

          Tan had implied that all nuclear power was harmless and didn't pose a problem- but obviously the country doesn't run on fusion. And fusion is obviously weaponizable.

        • oh, come on  

          Dan is able to discuss science and politics AND do it gracefully and articulately at that, which is more than can be said about certain other debaters. Don't discount his knowledge and skill based on a contextually questionable statement.

          • Oh stop it  

            Dan was completely blindsided and clearly had no idea what he was talking about. The simple fact of the matter is that you CANNOT weaponise the technologies that would go into such a reactor, and the waste products ARE harmless.

          • just saying  

            if Dan said that the waste products of fusion are dangerous, then maybe he should reconsider his major. but you can't say fusion isn't weaponisable- the process that powers reactors IS the same one that powers hydrogen bombs.

          • I'm no expert  

            in nuclear fusion, but Tan did point out that fusion research was the only major area of nuclear science that the US and the USSR collaborated on, because it was the only aspect that was non-weaponisible.

            To concede that fusion power is safe, while insisting that fusion in general is dangerous because hydrogen bombs are the result of fusion is like arguing that hydroelectric power is safe, while insisting that water in general is dangerous because people can drown in water.

            Especially in science, no issue is so simple that it can be boiled down into O'Reilly-style talking points. Kudos to Tan for standing for science.

          • Wonderful!  

            I'm glad you see the light. Maybe commenter #55 will now retract his/her statement:

            (In re: to fusion)
            "Tao's appeals to his resume were pretty absurd, especially when he tried to take on a physicist over nuclear physics to argue that fusion reactions are harmless water spouts. Never mind their complete lack of viability for any purpose but making hydrogen bombs."

      • tao and co.  

        took the high road and didn't bring in Socialist Hil and her plans to "take away all the [oil] profits."

  15. curious  

    The article mentiones that Tao said "I like to make money," but I can vouch for that fact that this was said (by Tao) at least 4 times. Anyone have an official count of how much Tao Tan wants to make money?

  16. Groupie  

    Evan Thomas is hot.

  17. Anonymous  

    Howdy everyone, it's Evan from the debate.

    Thanks Karen for this awesome, and much needed article – the Spec’s was very disappointing, and bland.

    I do have to critique a few points of the article. For one, CPU unfortunately did not ask each side to outline their energy plan. Nonetheless, I completely disagree that the Dems did not have a positive message. Each of our responses included our policy positions, and the closing statement outlined what Democrats hope to do in the next legislative session. I’ve included the text below in case the author missed these points and for the benefit of those that did not attend. I can not agree that we failed “to articulate a clear and specific Democratic plan,” as I hope the text shows.

    Thank you for the complement on my expressions, I had been watching a lot of Jim from NBC’s the Office lately, and it seems it has rubbed off.

    To the point “Columbia Republicans might have different positions than those held by the Bush administration” made by one of the first commenter’s, and for those critiquing our side for abiding by “party lines” and “talking points,” I remind you that last evening was, alas, not the Amazing Evan Thomas Energy Policy Happy Hour, but the College Dem/Republican Energy Policy debate. We, as representatives of clubs affiliated with national parties are responsible for the views, policies, rhetoric, and actions of said parties. I did not outline my personal particularistic views on energy because that is neither the purpose of the debate, nor does it fulfill my responsibility to represent Democratic policy, nor is it fair to the Republican debaters. Likewise, the Republicans must be held to account for the record of their party in office, and the Republican energy policy as established by the national party and senior Republican leaders. Positive policy is great, but College Republicans should not, and were not last night, given a free pass for two terms of failure to live up to their energy commitments. Indeed, Mr./Ms. 10th poster, the Dems did not come to consider policy “beyond the party line” – it was our position and responsibility to faithfully articulate it and argue for it. And for those who like to separate Bush and Republicans: unfortunately on so many levels, the President is the leader of the Republican Party. College Republicans, again, have to be answerable for the administration’s policy, as we will have to be when the Democratic Administration begins in 2009.

    • College Republican  

      "We, as representatives of clubs affiliated with national parties are responsible for the views, policies, rhetoric, and actions of said parties."

      I'm not exactly sure what your club's situation is, Evan, but the College Republicans are not affiliated with the Republican National Committee or the national or the state College or Young Republican organizations.

      It is strictly an organization FOR Republicans at Columbia, nothing more and nothing less.

  18. Anonymous  

    My closing statement: (thanks groupie)
    President Bush said, “Having come far in our historical journey, shall we turn back or finish well? Before history is written down in words, it is written in courage.” It is in this spirit that the Democratic Party is leading congress and the nation in the direction of climate friendly energy independence. Current democratic plans call for the end of tax breaks for oil companies and the renegotiation of agreements with domestic producers that will result in 14 billion dollars in extra revenue over the next ten years. We call for the use of these funds for unprecedented ground-breaking research in next generation wind, solar, bio-diesel and hydrogen power technologies.. Democratic plans in Congress addressing clean production of energy including a carbon Cap and Trade system will make serious progress in our environmental impact and spur investment in pioneering technologies. Large American companies like GE, Alcoa, Caterpillar and DuPont are beginning to see the wisdom of these plans and are now supporting bold Democratic initiatives in these directions. We need to learn from state-led clean energy initiatives including California’s million solar roofs program and establish large-scale public-private partnerships to invest in and manage wind and solar energy farms. We must encourage and make it easier to buy and use alternative fuels and vehicles. We must increase fuel efficiency standards across the board. We need to take away incentives energy companies have to sell the most power they can. We must shift the motivation towards conservation and efficiency. If, in the words of the president, we are to lead freedom’s advance and compete and excel in the global economy, it’s time we join with the speaker of the house and the Democratic Party and declare our Energy independence, and like that first American revolution, this endeavor will usher in a new era of American prosperity, security, success and triumph.
    [Raise fist in triumph or pound table many times, depending on the feel of the room]

    Positive policy proposals during the debate included:

    • The final part of the 100 hour agenda in the house: CLEAN Energy Act passed 264 to 163. The measure would raise about $14 billion over 10 years by repealing the Republican tax breaks and by closing a loophole that allowed royalty-free offshore oil leases. The money would be used to promote energy conservation and develop alternative fuels.

    • Independence from Mideast oil in 10 years. [House leadership] v President’s 75% reduction by 2025.
    • Increase fuel efficiency standards across the board
    • Plans call for a Strategic Energy Fund to support new research, funded through windfall oil profits
    • Double tax breaks for hybrids and other advance cars
    • Tax incentives for buying efficient fleets
    • Tax break for trading in old inefficient cars
    Ethanol Policy
    • Tax credit for the installation of flex fuel - $100
    • 35 cents subsidy for every gallon of ethanol
    • Loans for cellulosic ethanol production
    • Tax credits for installing ethanol pumps
    • Forcing big oil to build ethanol pumps at all their stations

  19. is anyone else

    disturbed by the fact that spec referred to the debate as a nuclear war on the front page?

  20. Going Nuclear...

    "Tao's appeals to his resume were pretty absurd, especially when he tried to take on a physicist over nuclear physics to argue that fusion reactions are harmless water spouts. Never mind their complete lack of viability for any purpose but making hydrogen bombs."

    It's amazing that the Democrats could in one breath praise the EU's emissions trading and in the next attack the idea of using "poisonous" nuclear energy. Have any of them been to France lately? You can easily see how they're cutting back on emissions -- the latest estimate shows that 76% of French energy is nuclear these days; in the U.S., that figure is 20%. The difference there is a lot of really poisonous, imported fossil fuels.

    I'm not saying we should go all nuclear, but we can't have our cake and eat it too. We can't praise the EU's efforts to cut emissions, and rule out the greatest effort they've made to reach those targets. To say that nuclear reactors are not viable is simply inaccurate, and Tao was right on.

    Of course, most reactors are fission reactors, and, since I wasn't at the debate, I can't say whether Tao refered to fission or fusion ones. However, a six party consortium (the EU, US, Russia, Japan, South Korea, & China) have agreed to spend 10 Billion Euro to develop a fusion reactor in France -- and they clearly agree with Tao that the project will be viable to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use. They agree so much with Tao that they've put their money where their mouth is.

    If the Dems really want to emulate the EU, they can't just trade emissions caps or throw pot shots at people over ANWAR. They need a real solution to ever growing energy demands. And that might just, as Tao suggests, entail going nuclear.


    • All reactors  

      are fission reactors. Fusion reactors in their current form do not create energy, they consume massive amounts of it. Tao Tan is living a pipe dream if he thinks that will change in time to do anything about oil dependency.

      The real shortfall of this debate was the failure to mention conservation, which is both less expensive and less dangerous than any energy option--alternative or fossil fuel.

      • My 2 cents  

        I thought it was the Republicans who were supposed to accuse Democrats of walking around with their heads in the clouds for miracle technologies, not the other way around...

        Fusion is one of our best chances for completely clean energy, my good man. So instead of trashing a science and a technology you clearly don't understand past talking points that were probably made up just now because the Dems have never been hit with anything like this before, go to the AP/AM department in Mudd and ask about the CNT and the ITER. I guarantee you will come away excited and enlightened. The world needs far more rational and good people like Tao Tan who are genuinely interested in improving things, and far fewer political hacks like those who have made their presence on this page so well known.

  21. Err  

    Commenter #34. Brain fart. It's 2 AM.

  22. Anonymous  

    it seems that epic soundbytes win hearts and minds more effectively than, well, policy. now, if only such creativity were a force in shaping policy. simultaneous to "putting a rapist in a battered women's shelter," are we artificially inseminating democracy, without consent, in places we currently rely on energy? if we'd only remember that the fertile crescent actually does cradle civilizations...

  23. hmm  

    What coolant would be used in these fusion reactors? If it's water, then doesn't that pose environmental harms to the local ecosystems? I'm not talking about radioactive leakage, but just raising the temperature to cause algae blooms, etc.

  24. nuh uh  

    That wasnt the real Tao Tan there at the debate, that was a BWOG posting imposter.

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