by Haim Handwerker
Robert Rosenkranz, New York multi-millionaire, wanted to do something different. He manages insurance and financial businesses dealing with a turnover of six billion dollars a year and frequently donates to Yale University. He collects Chinese and Asian Art and funded the first Arabic translation of the American Declaration of Independence. However all this did not satisfy him. He wanted to be influential–therefore he chose to establish a debating club in New York.
“In America there is no such thing as a real debate” says Rosenkranz from his office on the 30th floor of the IBM high-rise building on Madison Avenue overlooking Central Park. “True that we have radio and television debates but they are not ‘real’ debates they are ‘shows,’ performances. People do not attempt to get to the core of the issues. They do not try to convince nor to be convinced. Everyone yells at everyone, deliver sound bites, but no one listens.”
He decided to emulate the respected British debates. As a result, he hired Dana Wolfe, former producer of Ted Koppel’s Nightline, and has created IQ2US conducting public debates for the past year. An entrance ticket costs $40, however Rosenkranz supports the majority of costs of these events. “I want people to view the debates as a form of entertainment, just as they would enjoy going out to a movie or a restaurant”.
Whoever attempts to purchase a ticket for a debate at the Asia Society on the upper east side of Manhattan will discover that all the tickets are sold-out. It is however possible to listen to the debate on 70 public radio channels as well as on internet sites delivering these broadcastings. In addition, the public television station (PBS) broadcasted the last debate and discussions are now being held as to broadcasting the debates on BBC.
Rosenkranz, a Republican, says that he receives much criticism since the debates are open to all public parties. ” The liberals feel that they are right and that the conservatives are wrong and the conservatives obviously feel that they are right and they cannot understand how I can allow a stage for the liberals” he explains.” I say that it’s fine to exchange opinions. One can always learn something new from listening to the opposing side.”
SHARANSKY AND CHENEY’S DAUGHTER:
So what are the debates about? Actually, they cover every important issue concerning America and the world. The subjects are presented provocatively. For example, ”We must tolerate a nuclear Iran; ”Freedom of expression must include the license to offend;” “Hollywood has fueled anti-Americanism abroad;” “Beware of the Dragon: A booming China spells trouble for America” or “Global warming is not a crisis.” Among the participants were authors Michael Crichton and Christopher Hitchens.
One fall evening the following debate was held: ”Spreading democracy in the Middle East is a bad idea.”
Undoubtedly, the subject is a heated one: Spreading democracy was the idea of President Bush when he decided to go to war against Iraq. The liberals who once supported the idea now oppose it and claim that it is only an excuse for spreading the American influence around the world. The conservatives are generally supportive. The evening’s moderator was Robert Siegal from a public radio station. On the panel were six experts of opposing views. The conservative party was represented by Liz Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney who worked many years in the State Department in the Middle East; Natan Sharansky, who in the U.S. is considered a “star”; Daniele Pletka, head researcher of AEI, Flynt Leverett, who held main roles in the American government and in the CIA, Dimitri Simes, working for the Nixon Center and also a journalist in foreign affairs, and Shibley Telhami, Professor from the University of Maryland. Rosenkranz would rather have expert speakers than politicians on his panel. “Politicians have too many personal agendas,” he says.
The event commenced when the audience voted on the subject of the debate, with an electronic devise attached to the seat. It appeared that 46% motioned against spreading democracy and 36% were in favor, 18 % were undecided. Each of the panel members received 8 minutes to present his/her view. Following are questions and answers from the audience for 1/2 an hour, after which each panelist presents 2 minute summations on his/her view. The evening is concluded with a second vote by the audience. The results are immediately declared. The opposers of spreading democracy won a big victory of 55% compared to 40% of the supporters and 5% undecided. “The majority rules.” No interruptions are allowed while opposing sides speak. “If we allowed interruptions, the debate may be more colorful, but would prevent a serious debate” says Rosenkranz, “very quickly we would return to sound bites as heard on television, and our goal is to establish the most serious debate.”
Rosenkranz’s debates are also social gatherings. For $40 a ticket one can mingle with the “rich and famous” of New York. Prior to a debate there is a cocktail party. After the debate, selected guests are invited for a dinner at an exclusive restaurant on the east side. Among the guests are Byron Wien, one of the strategic experts of Wall Street and currently a fund manager. The journalist Judy Miller, dismissed from the New York Times and Geraldine Fabrikant a present day journalist of the New York Times.
TO APPRECIATE THE OTHER SIDE:
Rosenkranz is 65 years old, born to a Jewish agnostic family on the upper east side. He is married for the second time to Alexandra Munroe, a curator for Asian art at the Guggenheim Museum. In his house, a luxurious elite Manhattan apartment, Rosenkranz has an exclusive collection of Buddha statues and Chinese art. The bathrooms display his collection of Japanese erotic art. Among his outstanding collection is an 18th century Chinese horse sculpture which has been mentioned in a variety of art magazines. “I don’t buy any art if it already exists in the Metropolitan Museum,” says Rosenkranz. He visited Israel 40 years ago but his ties to Israel are minimal. This May, Rosenkranz is planning another trip to Israel. “We are presently in a critical period and I want to come to Israel in order to see up close what is happening there,” explains Rosenkranz.
Do people change their opinions as a result of the debates? -Usually, people do not change their minds. In my opinion, it is enough for people to simply appreciate the other side. -Has it ever happened that you changed your mind due to a debate? -Yes. I changed my view after the global warning debate, as I was convinced that it is not as severe as it seemed. After hearing the arguments on “Spreading democracy in the Middle East is a bad idea” my view altered as well. Before the debate, I believed it was a good idea, however after the debate when I saw what is currently happening and who the leaders are, like Hamas, I had second thoughts.
Translation provided by IQ2US / View Original