The Society convened on January 12 for the first debate of the semester to examine the question Resolved: A politician’s private life is irrelevant.
Mr. Stephano Medina spoke on the affirmation. Mr. Samuel Dulik spoke on the negation.
Mr. Medina began by commentating on the dichotomy of the heroic figures presented in American history classes with the often less than moral lives these men led in private. He continued, bringing up Aristotle’s idea of public and private virtues as two separate and distinct concepts, reminding the Society that the Affirmation still values character. Quoting Machiavelli, he argued that in leadership, some virtues lead to ruin while certain vices can lead to success. Ultimately, he concluded that the confusion between public and private life have held back our progress as a society. Mr. Dulik then admitted that the Affirmation had strong ideas, but ideas that do not hold up in the real world. He presented a thesis that virtue—who we are—is most genuinely manifested in public spheres and cannot be switched on and off from public to private. Summarizing Plato, he argued that virtue is the basis of society and can best be found in the private lives of politician’s. Thus transparency is necessary and a conduct must be relevant.
Mr. Miller began the floor speeches by responding that if we accept virtue as holistic and unable to be switched on and off, then private becomes only that which does not need to be known or seen by others. Ms. Marki, speaking on the Negation, discussed the idea of branding and concluded that when an official steps into public office, s/he sacrifices the right to privacy. Mr. Manchester responded using the example of Christopher Hitchens, an alcoholic still influenced and inspired many with his writing, to show we need to judge people for the job they were appointed to, not irrelevant matters. Mr. Lim reminded everyone that judgment doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it comes from what one feels. Ms. Melendez countered that private life becomes relevant when it becomes public and even without the media selling us scandals, we could still discover truly troubling character flaws through politicians’ records. There followed much argument over whether the debate was normative and if the question was “is” or “should.” Mr. Dulik concluded that it is in the public where we see virtue, or a lack thereof, manifested and that is why it does matter. We need to empower voters by making them privy to the information then allowing them to assign a degree of relevance to the issues. Finally, Mr. Medina argued that by allowing private life to enter into the issues, we exclude those not raised as future senators, those who have made mistakes. After reading Hoover’s letter to Martin Luther King Jr., he pointed out that often, we arrive at wisdom and success through our mistakes.
The best speakers of the evening as selected by the keynoters were Ms. Abigail Smith and Ms. Katie Bolas (COL ’15).
The Society voted 25-57-2 to negate the resolution.
Emily R. Coccia