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The Richie and Steve Show

How not to moderate a debate

By Michael B. Broukhim

Neeraj “Richie” Banerji ’06 and Steve Y. Lee ’06 took center stage at Wednesday night’s Undergraduate Council (UC) debate. They were funny, charming, and biting with their criticisms. We learned all about their views on Harvard and the UC.

Banerji doesn’t like Final Clubs and thinks being UC president is “cool.” He also has experience (“Magnus, let me cut in, I was communications director.”) Lee thinks that outside candidates stand no chance of being elected and that Crimson photographers will “steal your souls.” Lee “dislikes the UC but thinks its funny,” while Banerji “does not, on both counts.” Lee also thinks that “‘Tom’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘done,’” but fails to recognize that with a Norwegian accent, it could.

Yes, we learned a great deal about Banerji and Lee at this year’s UC debate for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. In total, the pair spoke for longer than either Magnus Grimeland ’07 and Thomas D. Hadfield ’08, John S. Haddock ’07 and Annie R. Riley ’07, or John F. Voith ’07 and Tara Gadgil ’07, all of whom are candidates for office. Banerji and Lee, sadly, are not.

No, Wednesday night was a triumph for the maid of honor and the best man—I’ll let you decide who was who—when everyone came to see the bride and groom.

Treating the candidate’s answers as mere interludes to their next opportunity to speak, Banerji and Lee could perhaps be forgiven if somewhere in the midst of the circus, they had asked illuminating questions. Instead, they welcomed us to what they dubbed “the no-bullshit zone” by asking Gadgil, “Why do you want to be vice-president?” Unsatisfied with the response elicited by Banerji, Lee shot forth subsequently, “Why are you playing second-fiddle?” As if Gadgil didn’t get the message the first two times, Lee, probing ever deeper, interrupted, “Excuse me, Tara, we’d like to hear about why you would like to be vice president?”

To clarify things for the casual observer who may have failed to discern the differences between the questions, Lee later defended this series of inquiries on, writing, “The second question was actually a bit of a softball.”

Thankfully, the night was somewhat salvaged when Banerji and Lee mercifully allowed the presidential candidates to question one another. But, even then, neither couldn’t resist downplaying the presence of the individuals who actually mattered that night, referring to the candidate questions as “pot shots” and “retaliations.”

In post debate analysis on the Team Zebra blog (the second blog in Harvard’s emergent “blogosphere”), Leah Littman ’06 declared Banerji, a fellow Team Zebra blogger, “to be the winner of the Presidential debate” and called “a close tie” between Lee and Riley for the “winner of the VP debate.” While I applaud Banerji and Lee on their awards, let’s hope that, in the future, clumsy moderators concede a touch of the spotlight to the candidates whom the audience came to watch.

Michael B. Broukhim ’07, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a social studies concentrator in Dunster House.

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