Duo debates at warp speed

Duo debates at warp speed

Paul Bingham and Keith West both talk fast—really fast. Their words pour forth at lightning speed. There aren’t too many pauses for a listener to catch up, especially a listener who’s taking notes.


“Yes, we do tend to talk fairly quickly,” Bingham agreed cheerfully. “It’s probably because Keith and I both used to do policy debate. Those people are almost unintelligible; they speak so quickly. You have to compete in that event for six or seven months before you can even figure out what they’re saying. Now that I’m doing parliamentary debate, I’m trying to slow down.”


Their elocutionary speed doesn’t seem to have hindered Bingham and West as parliamentary debaters. The two emerged as Lewis & Clark’s top parliamentary pair this year—an impressive feat, considering that West was only a sophomore this year, and Bingham was just in his first year. Bingham was also the top first-year speaker, and 20th overall, at the March National Parliamentary Debate Association National Tournament at the Auraria campus of the University of Colorado at Denver.


Debaters compete in teams of two, and coaches often regroup pairs throughout the season, looking for the best combination of abilities. Not so with Bingham and West. “Paul and I were really lucky in that we happened to strike a match right off the bat,” explains West. “We have a rapport that’s fairly uncommon among partners, but it’s common among good partnerships.”


The two mesh not only in style, but also in areas of expertise. “I worry about sports topics, but Paul’s very capable in that area,” West said. “Paul knows most international topics pretty well, and he has an unparalleled knowledge of Latin America. I was a gender studies minor for a while, so I can handle gender issues, and one topic I researched in depth when I was a policy debater was development assistance to Africa. So any time we get a topic related to Africa or U.S. development assistance, I’m cheering my head off.”


Both Bingham and West were high school debaters. West started during his first year at the urging of his parents, who hoped he’d get his argumentative tendencies out of his system. “It didn’t work,” West says. “It just made me better at arguing with them.” He and Bingham say they chose Lewis & Clark, in part, because of its reputation in the collegiate debate world.


“When I was researching colleges, I found that Lewis & Clark stood poised to be a top team and that I could play a strong role during my first year,” explains Bingham. “At a lot of other schools, first- and second-year students spend most of their time doing research and prep work for the seniors. Here, I had as many opportunities to compete as somebody with three or four years of college-level experience.”


—by Kristin Tranquada