Friday, May 17, 2013

U.C. Berkeley Debate, Part 2: “On Potts and Spitfires” [SK]

I was asked to repost this from my Facebook page....

Setting--April 8, UC Berkeley: I was debating Malcom Potts, the first International Medical Director for Planned Parenthood (who played a huge role in legalizing abortion in the UK) in front of 600 of his own students, nearly all of whom share his worldview. I like these hostile settings, as I have nothing to lose. It’s at these moments, that I channel my inner Spitfire. For you history buffs, the Spitfire was the plane that saved the West in 1940. England stood alone against Hitler, who was positioned to invade. But first he needed to destroy British air power. Though alone and vastly outnumbered, British Spitfire pilots took to the skies and shot down three invading aircraft for every one of their own that was lost. If you visit my home office, you will see Spitfire pictures prominently displayed along with a gorgeous picture of London. In short, if you are a pro-lifer, you are a Spitfire pilot. You fight no matter the odds.

My goal in these debates is not to convert everyone—that won’t happen—but give my critics something to think about. Maybe when they're 40 they'll change their minds based on something I said.

Both parties agreed to the format in early January. Each speaker would get 22 minutes for an opening, 12- minutes for rebuttal speeches, and 7-minutes for closing statements. The remaining time would be for audience Q&A. Last week, Potts twice tried to change the format. First, he asked that both speakers refrain from using visual aids—an obvious attempt to censor me using a short (55 second) DVD clip depicting abortion. I refused. I would never be so presumptuous as to suggest censoring my opponent’s remarks and I demand the same courtesy from him. Potts backed down. Second, he asked to shorten the formal speeches from 20-minute openings to 15-minute openings, with rebuttal speeches trimmed to 8 minutes and closing statements trimmed to 5 minutes. I rejected that specific proposal, but agreed to 18-minute openings, 10-minute rebuttals, and five minutes for closings. (Believing debates with Potts at Berkeley might become twice-yearly events, I decided to show a little flexibility.)

What Potts really wanted—and I knew this going in—was a non-debate. That is, instead of opening statements and rebuttals, he wanted to mostly skip those things and go right to Q&A from the audience. After all, so his argument went, those listening care more about their own questions than they do what the speakers have to say.

I didn’t fall for that, and neither should any of you that engage public debate. There were reasons Potts wanted to do it that way.

First, I knew from our previous debate that Potts had no formal case, only a series of disconnected assertions. Meanwhile, I had a formal case and he knew it. This was hugely problematic for him. If I lay out a well-reasoned argument for my position and he replies with a series of random assertions and emotional appeals, he’s going to run out of intellectual steam very early in the debate. Second, Potts knows it’s much easier to zing me with one-liners and personal attacks when he doesn’t have to answer my formal case. Third, Potts knows that if I only get two-minutes to answer him in a Q&A format, he can get away with asserting all kinds of things I’ll never get time to refute. The soundbite will carry the day! Thus, I insisted on having time to make my case and refute his.

Sure enough, Potts opened the debate by complaining—about me! “I wanted to have a discussion about this topic, but Scott insisted on turning this into a boxing match.” He spent much of his time throughout the exchange emphatically stating how outraged he was by my arguments—all the while failing to refute even one of them! This is very typical. The same exact thing happened with my debate with Kathryn Kholbert at Lehigh University in 2007. As Prager points out, when the Left doesn’t have arguments, it gets offended. Theater replaces discussion. Potts even stooped so low as to claim I want women to die from illegal abortion to deter women from seeking them! (He partially quoted—completely out of context and with words removed—a passage from my 1999 book “Pro-Lie 101.”) That’s the best he could do. By the Q&A, he was pacing the stage, nearly screaming, interrupting me at every turn. The debate moderators—both students of his—privately apologized to me for his behavior.

I did not respond with similar behavior. I challenged his ideas, but I did not call him names. Two Christian girls from Korea came up during the break and said, "Are you a Christian?" When I said yes, they replied: "We thought so. We’re so glad you are speaking because we're all alone here. We’re praying for you!” They returned after the debate, obviously thrilled I was able to make my case on hostile turf. Sure, some of Potts students cheered for him. That happens when you challenge the secular orthodoxy of the university culture.

In short, I’m glad to be a Spirtfire. Yes, I’m outnumbered and outgunned, but I don’t fly alone. Once airborne, I notice others with courage to enjoin the fight. First, there’s my LTI team—we aren’t afraid to go where the action is—Catholic and Protestant High Schools, Secular Universities, and Bible Colleges. Then, to my right, are Catholic young guns like Trent Horn, RJ McVeigh, and Stephanie Gray. To my left are young evangelicals like Josh Brahm, Daniel Rodger, and Clinton Wilcox. Leading the way, I see air-command represented by Frank Beckwith, Pat Lee, and J.P. Moreland—to name a few.

My fellow pro-lifers, you’re Spitfire pilots. So are those Korean girls at U.C. Berkeley. Put your flight jacket on. We’ve got a spot for you above the clouds.