Wilson And Sullivan Debate Gay Marriage

For the second time in the last six months, Doug Wilson is debating tonight a nationally-known, politically savvy gay-rights activist over the merits of same-sex marriage.

The Log Cabin Republicans’ R. Clark Cooper rode in a few months ago with an impressive resume and a thorough background in politics; he slunk back home with his R. Clock cleaned — not entirely by his own fault, although he was clearly unprepared, but because Wilson’s rhetorical jiu-jitsu had him in tangles the entire night.

I’ve debated Wilson before (July 2007; you can find it on YouTube).  I’ve asked questions of him in public forums, and I’ve seen him perform in numerous debates and disputatios.  He’s not a master debater.  What he is is a guy who sticks to his script, regardless of where the debate goes, and in doing so, manages to re-frame the entire show as an exercise not in argument, but in doggedly reiterating his point and ignoring challenges to it, with the occasional out-there, irrelevant remark thrown in to keep his opponent off balance.

So, in a debate about, say, the availability of condiments in the public schools, he will begin by reading off pre-scripted remarks about the threat to the Gospel and to social order of relish packets, mustard jugs, and ketchup dispensers in the cafeteria.  If his opponent, then, discusses the benefit to public schools of these and other sandwich toppings such as Miracle Whip and anchovy paste, Wilson won’t expand his argument or respond to his co-debater’s expansion of his own.  He’ll just repeat his arguments, although not by reading from his script.  By this time, he’ll have them well memorized.  Or, he’ll seize on anchovy paste with a commentary on Vietnamese shrimp fishermen’s intrusion on the livelihoods of generations of native Louisianans, leaving his pro-condiment guest looking punch-drunk and befuddled. 

Either way, the night will likely be his because the script, the flow, the venue, the direction and the moderation are all his.  A young NSA protege’, Gabe Rench, “moderated” the Cooper debate.  This time, Wilson’s upped the ante — and secured favor — by tapping the late Christopher Hitchens’ brother, British evangelical and staunch conservative Peter Hitchens.  You’ll remember that Christopher Hitchens and Wilson had a series of debates and discussions about faith and atheism.  In Peter, Wilson has a friend, as well as someone whose own intellectual prowess isn’t as widely recognized as his brother’s.

My point here isn’t to make fun of Wilson, but to observe that he “wins” debates, or at least his debate with the rhetorically-less-agile Cooper, by re-framing them.  A debate should be a two-person stroll through the garden of The Issue At Hand or a dance where one leads, the other responds, and they dance to the same tune all night with their own interpretations.  The audience for my KRFP Moscow debate in ’07 generally believed I did well against him.  If that’s the case, it’s because of the gifts God has given me — gifts that didn’t allow him to wiggle out of a difficult issue or remain so stolidly on point that he stanched the flow of actual debate.  Unfortunately, Wilson seems to view debates as either a game of tag wherein he taps his opponent and then runs off, or an outing to the park where his companion heads boldly down the path, only to have to return to Wilson’s bench in order to hear him repeat his main point. 

That both Cooper and Sullivan are intellectually way out of my league is obvious.  But prevailing against Wilson in a debate isn’t a game of matching wits with him.  Without anticipating his manipulation of both format and flow, even the whip-smart Cooper was reduced to befuddlement. 

I hope Sullivan has done his homework, and I hope to be there tonight to see how he fares.

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