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.