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The Guardian Debate, Corn Exchange, Brighton, May 23
The notion: The US, as a superpower, is in long-term decline.
America can be a pretty thorny issue at the best of times. I was expecting politically and socially aware students to provide the bulk of the bluster, but instead I shared the room with a mature crowd.
Polly Toynbee chaired a panel made up of Guardian columnist Martin Jacques and playwright Bonnie Greer supporting the notion with Michael Goldfarb (replacing Sir Christopher Meyer) joining the animated Howard Jacobson against it.
Jacques outlined the situation from an economic standpoint, drawing China into the debate by highlighting the country's growth - factual if nothing else.
Greer played a safer game, suggesting that "decline" as a word required definition. She came across as a more methodical speaker, although her input proved less tangible.
Goldfarb drew upon his knowledge of history to illustrate the notion of decline by citing the struggles of the Caesars and the British Empire.
Jacobson, almost by default, proved the most interesting speaker, taking a cultural standpoint bent into shape by his verbose comedic style.
On the audience’s part, the Q&A sessions raised good points but were rendered a tad dry by panellists generally agreeing with what was thrown their way. But there was sparring between them, with Jacques and Jacobson having a good tussle on western culture.
After listening to the whole debate, I felt that even with Barack Obama and Hu Jintao on the panel we would be no closer to an answer.