Chicago debate legends looking for Clinton-Trump clash
September 13th, 2016
Facts matter, but in a presidential debate, a good zinger can decide who wins, say two of the nation’s greatest college debaters.
Chicago businessmen Mark Koulogeorge and Leonard “Lenny” Gail will be among the millions tuning in for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Sept. 26.
Before their successes in business, Koulogeorge and Gail were high school debate rivals.
Gail, the Maine East grad, was more often victorious during their senior year, Glenbrook South’s Koulogeorge and his debate partner won the national competition.
Gail and Koulogeorge then teamed up at Dartmouth College and became a national force, winning the 1984 National Collegiate debating championship. Over two years, they won 22 debates, lost zero. Debate coaches still talk about their accomplishments, even dubbing them the best debate team of the 1980s.
Koulogeorge went on to earn an MBA from Stanford and Gail got a law degree from Harvard. Now in business, they credit debate with much of their successes in life.
With that in mind, they revived a struggling national nonprofit that puts debate programs into under-served communities around the country. The National Association for Urban Debate Leagues is in Chicago, too. City Treasurer Kurt Summers is an alum.
Next year, the organization marks its 10th anniversary with a gala in Chicago co-chaired by Koulogeorge and Dr. Bryan Traubert, chairman of the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.
Koulogeorge and Gail talked about the nuances of debate during an interview over lunch in Greektown the other day.
“In college debate, facts are the only thing that matter. In American politics, how you present your arguments can be as or more important than the actual arguments,” Koulogeorge said.
College debates also call for being super-prepared, though being quick on your feet is important, too. In a presidential debate, the quick feet are especially important.
“It’s all about the sound bite,” says Gail, ticking off some memorable ones. “There you go again” and “binders full of women” were catchphrases by Ronald Reagan and Mitt Romney in the 1980 and 2012 presidential debates, respectively.
Koulogeorge says he’ll be watching how Clinton and Trump address the issues and who demonstrates “competency, credibility and compassion.”
Gail will be looking for “well-reasoned” and “factually supported” arguments and counter-arguments to opponents’ explanation of facts–“It’s what you call the clash.”