We won: California IS the first failed state

Here we are (I’m on the left, Bobby Shriver is in the middle, Sharon Waxman on the right), as the vote comes in, telling us that we “won” last night’s debate against Gray Davis, Lawrence O’Donnell and Van Jones.

The motion, as a reminder, was:

California is the first failed state

and we argued For.

We won because we moved more audience members in our favor.

Before the debate, 31% voted For the motion, 25% Against, and 44% were Undecided.

After the debate, 58% voted For, 37% Against, and only 5% were still Undecided.

I’ll be posting the full video here on Friday (Update: I have now posted the video), but just a few remarks.

First, it was great fun. As soon as the debate was over, we went to dinner together (“we’re living a Woody Allen movie,” somebody said as we descended into the quaint, subterranean New York restaurant) and had a great time. I talked for a long time to Gray Davis and his wife Sharon, and they were much more interested in discussing California (and that recall) than the debate proposition. I learned a lot.

Second, as you will have guessed already if you’re a regular reader of The Hannibal Blog, I was savoring the irony of the evening: I’ve been writing a lot about “good and bad conversations”, both here and in The Economist, and have argued that conversations in which one side tries to win are what Socrates considered “eristic” and thus “bad,” whereas conversations in which all participants are looking for the truth are “dialectic” and thus “good.”

Well, we were all trying to “win” last night, but now that it’s over it’s time to say that this was just a great, fun game. The real way to “win” was to edify and entertain the audience and ourselves, to spar and to learn, and we apparently did that. (If you were in the audience, feel free to agree or disagree below. ;))

So the goddess Eris was there, but she had her tongue in her cheek.

Second, and unrelated: What a difference a year makes! A bit over a year ago, I was telling you how I heroically resisted mile-high connectivity. Well, I’m posting this from the sky, in a Virgin America plane back home. And everybody around me is working on their laptops. We are all now Nomads, as I predicted. Don’t shrug because you’ve already done this, too. Don’t take it for granted yet. Join me, as Albert Einstein would, in wonderment.

I’ll have a thorough post-game analysis of the debate later this week.

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14 thoughts on “We won: California IS the first failed state

    • I watched the debate and liked it very much. Congratulations! Many possible comments but not the time now.

      I’ll say you have been extremely naughty, but I pardon you, and especially won’t be the advocate of my country, a failed culture since the end of the Renaissance, a failed state since when we finally became a state (150 years ago), so used we are to being failed, that in a moment when everybody fails, we might surprise with some successes 😉

      Call it ‘Constitutional Art Of Survival’ (or CAOS, if you prefer).

  1. I was surprised that your side won, because at least two of the people on the other side (Davis and O’Donnell [I hadn’t heard of Jones] ) would have had the greater experience in speaking either in public or in front of a camera, and therefore would be expected to project themselves better to the audience.

    Assuming they did project themselves better (I’ll only know for sure when I see the video), the sheer force and logic of your own side’s arguments must have overcome whatever telegenic advantages the other side had!!!

  2. Yay team!

    I,too, am joining you in soul-quake-ment.

    Debating the big issues, eating at a cool NYC restaurant,
    and logging in at 35 ,000 feet—god, does it get any better?

    Well, you know what I mean.

  3. I’ve perused the transcript of the debate. I thought all of you made excellent points, a few of which I noted:

    Van Jones – California has quadrupled, in the past two years, the amount of venture capital flowing in to the state……..if you have the ability to confront your problems you aren’t a failure.

    Laurence O’ Donnell – California gets back 79 cents for every dollar it sends to the Federal government……..many other of states get by because of the monies from California……is there any other state that spends more on university education than California? …….comparison of medicaid formulas in California and Alabama, shows that California has much the better system.

    Andreas Kluth – A failed state is where the governance can no longer address the problems the state faces…….you have to be honest that a failure has occurred in order to fix it…….comparison of the present university situation with how it was under Pat Brown……..California has the worst credit rating of all 50 states.

    Sharon Waxman – Lack of connection between all the groups eg Koreans, who make up California

    Bobby Shriver – The chicanery behind ballot initiatives.

    I seem to have missed Gray Davis. But he made many of the points the others on his side made.

    I was particularly impressed, Andreas, by how you defined the overall issue, by defining what a failed state is for the purpose of the debate; and by saying that one has to acknowledge a failure – in this case that the Californian state has failed – in order to fix it.

    I felt this was the clincher, which would have persuaded most of the previously undecideds to vote in favour of the motion.

    I liked your quip about the tatami mat. Very droll.

    I think that had the motion been: “That the government of California is the first failed state government“, there might have been less confusion about what exactly was being debated. “State” by itself was too ambiguous.

    • Wow, I’m impressed they transcribed the verbal sparring. Fairly accurately, too.

      It’s so different when you read text as opposed to the verbal back and forth.

      You’re right that the clincher was probably that the three of us, in the end, succeeding in seizing the ability to define the proposition. That’s the rhetorical element in these debates.

  4. This question depends on your definition of a failed state. Is CA in debt yes but so is the nation which encompasses all 50 states. Does CA continue to function and operate as a state ? Yes! Although on credit.
    So is CA a failed state? No! And not ever likely to happen. If CA was a nation within itself it would rank as the 5th largest economy in the world, this is not fiction it is verifiable. It pays more in federal income taxes then any other state. Much of hich is used to fund and support other state programs.
    Hence, this debate “Is CA the 1st Failed State“, in my opinion is based on fiction and unfounded. If CA did not exist this nation would not be the prominent, respected world leader it is today.

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