#1062 – Dick Bernard: The "Debates"

Last night I turned off the “telley” at 6:30. I missed the “debates” from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley California.
Not that there is much to miss. The combatants (that’s what they are) are practicing refining their hopefully winning message to a certain subset of the American electorate who will, in a few months, be voting in Republican Primary Elections in some early states, like New Hampshire and Iowa.
Everything is very predictable. Occasionally some surprise happens, as when now-former candidate and Texas Governor Rick Parry, in the 2012 round, declared firmly that he would eliminate three U.S. Cabinet departments…but who, when asked, couldn’t remember the third…. Those things are noticeable. Depth of knowledge apparently is not needed.
We are stuck with the “debates”.
The choice is whether to watch them or not. It is like getting hooked on a “reality” show like “Big Brother” (doubtless borrowing from George Orwell’s “Big Brother” in the book 1984. Big Brother never makes an actual appearance in 1984, but he is omnipresent….)
The debates cause me to think back to 1982 when my Dad and I and four traveling companions met a solo traveler at Laval University in Quebec City. Her name was Mary, and she was from England. We invited her to join us for a day or two of sightseeing.
Mary, I came to learn years later, was the daughter of a prominent Judge in London’s Old Bailey Court, His Honour Alan King-Hamilton, and years later, in October 2001, I was able to meet him in person, still intellectually formidable at age 96.
In 1926-27 he had been President of the Cambridge Union Society.

Cambridge Union Society with  committee and two  guest speakers 8 June, 1927. Debaters in America, Fall 1927:  Alan King-Hamilton and H. L. Elvin, front 4&5th from left; H. M Foot, back, 4th from left.   From King-Hamilton's book, "And Nothing But the Truth".

Cambridge Union Society with committee and two guest speakers 8 June, 1927. Debaters in America, Fall 1927: Alan King-Hamilton and H. L. Elvin, front 4&5th from left; H. M Foot, back, 4th from left. From King-Hamilton’s book, “And Nothing But the Truth”.


Mary took my wife and I around to places to see in London, one of which was for lunch at Middle Temple, a haven for barristers, and in the library I pulled a book from the shelves by her Dad, And Nothing But the Truth. Lo and behold, the first page I opened referred to a 1927 Debate Tour of the United States taken by the Judge and two of his colleagues, H.L Elvin and H. M. Foot, as part of the exchange program of the Institute of International Education (IIE), now commonly referred to as the Fulbright Program.
Over time, I came to learn much about the Debates in 1927. A list of the debates is here (two pages): King-Hamilton et al 1927001. Alan K-H turned 22 near the end of the U.S.-Canada tour.
In 1927, debates were, like the Presidential debates now, spectator sports. In effect, in this case, the U.S. college versus Cambridge!
The teams had to be prepared to argue either the affirmative or the negative of several different issues.
In one memorable debate, at UCBerkeley, there was such a large crowd that they agreed to do two debates simultaneously in two separate halls. This made for some amusement. Judge King-Hamilton recalled in his diary “when I arrived in the second hall, I [found] that their first speaker and Elvin (who spoke first for us) [had] already finished, and Elvin [had] been filling in time by entertaining the audience with his views on America. I [had] to dash back again to the first hall and reply to three speeches, two of which I [hadn’t] heard.” But, all was well: “it [was] a very successful and amusing evening, and we were all in good form.”
After a month and a half in North America, King-Hamilton mused on the United States: “through the Middle West, from North Dakota to Texas, we have encountered religious curiosity which develops into something like intolerance upon the information being given to them. In the East they want to know who your father is, in the Middle West who your God is, and in the far West how much money you’ve got!” In his 1982 book, “And Nothing But The Truth”, Judge King-Hamilton recalls this same question, and asks “I wonder if it is still the same now, more than fifty years later.” (p. 14)
I wonder how the good Judge, deceased at 105 in 2009, would comment on the American “debates” if he were now to witness them.
Personally, I find them as substantive as “let’s make a deal” or similar game shows.
Caveat Emptor….

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