Nearly 400 congressional staffers, policy professionals and interns turned out Thursday evening to watch the annual debate between interns from the libertarian Cato Institute and the conservative Heritage Foundation, a summer tradition in the city.
The two-hour event, which sets a team of two interns from each think tank against each other, covered a range of topics on which the organizations disagree, including drug legalization, religion and gay rights.
"Libertarians and conservatives both claim to be advocates of individual liberty, limited government and free markets," explained a page by Cato promoting the event. "Sometimes these shared values lead libertarians and conservatives to similar conclusions about public policy. As a result American political discourse often conflates libertarianism with conservatism, and proponents of 'fusionism' go so far as to regard a libertarian-conservative alliance as being both natural and politically useful."
In addition to those at the event, about 800 more watched the debate online, organizers at Cato said, while Twitter users caused it to "trend" in 11 cities, some of which included London, Baltimore and Washington.
Judging by some of the messages from online commenters, those who watched from afar may have had the best time. While audience members complained about the seating situation, online denizens traded insults. "Good laws should be founded in first principles and practicality," said one, quoting a conservative debater. Another added, "Explain that 'first among equals' idea more. That's not how seating tonight went down."
If we were to End the Fed, how could Heritage, AEI and Cato feed the DC interns breakfast, lunch and dinner? #LvCDebate— Kasey Darling (@KaseyKDarling) July 23, 2015
Be #TeamConservative because we're the better libertarians 💁🏽 #LvCDebate— Elizabeth Bradford (@lizbradford07) August 4, 2016
Wait, did somebody say crack cocaine? #LvCDebate— CPAC Bird (@CPAC_Bird) August 4, 2016
Heritage interns at #LvCDebate be like pic.twitter.com/ErWwY7RE8Q— Victor I Nava (@victornava88) August 4, 2016
Watching #LvCdebate ... someone poke that intern every time he says "y'all." It was only funny once... @CatoInstitute— Michelle Ray (@GaltsGirl) August 4, 2016
I hate to break it to you but all Americans don't have the same exact values - so how can all immigrants "learn them" #LvCDebate— Katy (@KRaeRan) August 4, 2016
Our candidates aren't throwback has beens who have smoked out their brains. Debate, over. #LvCDebate— Ali Alexander 👑 (@ali) August 4, 2016
Explain that "first among equals" idea more. That's not how seating tonight went down. #LvCDebate— Elinor Renner (@ElinorRenner) August 4, 2016
When one of the libertarian debaters, Patrick Holland, argued that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had "hijacked" the conservative movement and had shown that conservative principles are "malleable," a conservative viewer tweeted his thoughts on Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and the candidate's admission to having smoked marijuana. "Our candidates aren't throwback has beens who have smoked out their brains. Debate, over."
Holland participated with fellow libertarian Adrienne Carrier, while Mack Andrews and Razi Lane sat on the side of conservatives.
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Despite the differences of opinion, said Kat Murti, a senior digital media manager at Cato, the event accomplished its purpose. "It's a fun way to find commonalities and sort out differences, and is always one of the most popular summer events in the city."