Last night, the Speaker Series wrapped up at the Chicago Theater with a battle of the titans between James Carville and Karl Rove moderated by Charlie Rose. Now, unfortunately, I wasn't proactive and didn't bring my camera. As such, you are all denied the fascination of the protests that took place outside. We had a group of both architects and engineers that were demanding the "truth about 9/11" be exposed. We had the usual contingent of protesters demanding that Karl Rove be put in prison, anti Iraq War and anti war in Afghanistan.
Some of these same protesters interrupted the event on more than one occasion after the speakers began. The debate was a contrast in styles. First, Rove was dressed in a full three piece suit while Carville was slacks and a tie. Rove was generally subdued in terms of his body language and his reactions to Carville. Carville, meanwhile, was constantly fidgety and couldn't seem to get comfortable in his seat. In fact, while Carville would often verbally mock Rove, Rove would mock Carville by imitating his wild hand gestures when Carville wasn't looking. The event covered the full range of topics from foreign policy to domestic issues to social issues.
The weakest portion of the debate was on foreign policy. That centered around Iraq and most of it was fought over long ago worn out debates over WMD's and its initial motivation. Carville struck the standard liberal line that the war was a mistake, costs too much, and forces us to stay there indefinitely. Meanwhile, Rove countered with the standard conservative attack that Democrats and Republicans both thought he had WMD's and that the world is safer without him. For the next ten minutes though, they got into a technical debate about intelligence in the lead up to the war with Carville fixating on some source known as curve ball while Rove insisted that we did find WMD's but not nearly as many as we thought we would.
On the issue of interrogations, Rove first pointed out that water boarding was only used on the three most hardened Al Qaeda operatives. Then, he summarized some of the plots that were discovered as a result of water boarding. Rove also pointed out that while President Obama has outlawed water boarding, he has given himself room by including a rider that allows the AG to approve it on a case by case basis. Carville countered by proclaiming that those against water boarding include President Obama, Colin Powell, John McCain and General Petraeus while those in favor include George Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. He referred to his side as the "Lebron James' of politics". This is a specious argument given how selectively he chose each side. Four previous heads of the CIA also say that water boarding works. Michael Scheuer, who headed up the UBL CIA unit, also says it works. So, Carville selectively chose both teams.
Then, we moved onto the issue of Judge Sotomayor. On this, we got a microcosm of the way the debate would go on the judge. Rove immediately attacked her comments about being a better judge because she's a Latina. Meanwhile, Carville said that he thinks it's "cool that the first black president nominated the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice". Then, Carville praised her rags to riches story and said she was well qualified. Rove, in fact, even used the standard conservative attack in which he flipped the comments and asked hypothetically what if a white man had said it.
It's clear that Sotomayor's battle will be between quesitoning this comment and how it relates to her decision in Ricci on the side of the conservatives, while liberals will point out the historic nature of her candidacy, her great life story, and call her well qualified.
The debate then moved onto the recent ruling on Prop 8. Rove gave his most succinct answer here. He said that the voters spoke, the Supreme Court upheld the will of the people, and that's how it should be. Carville didn't really answer the question. Instead, he pronounced his support for gay marriage and even said that gays live across the street from him. Then, he made a straw man argument. He says that he rejects the argument that gay marriage would threaten his own marriage. He doesn't believe that his own marriage is threatened by gay marriage. This is of course not an argument that is used by most that support traditional marriage. (here are mine)
Rover countered with the slippery slope argument and said that gay marriage would then lead to polygamists and all sorts of other relationships. Carville countered by proposing that we redefine marriage as a union of two people. Rove countered this by saying that this definition would discriminate against plural marriages. Carville eventually sidestepped this argument and never did answer whether or not he is in favor of polygamists getting married.
On judicial philosophy, the two couldn't see the world more differently. Rove used the term strict constructionist and Carville used the term living breathing constitution. Rove pointed out that policy is made in legislatures where people are elected and we have multiple houses in order to make sure that all proper debate is conducted. If we allow judges to make policy, then unelected folks serving for life will be making laws and no one will be able to stop them.
Carville countered that when there is bad policy it is the duty of a judge to correct it. He pointed to a law in Georgia that outlawed oral sex and said that it was a duty of a judge to stop such laws. He said that while a specific right to privacy isn't written in the constitution that it must be inferred.
The economy was a fairly weak portion of the debate. In my opinion, neither is necessarily qualified to offer expert opinions on the economy. The nature of how we got here is very complicated and working our way through is even more complicated. That said, Rove, in arguing against Obama's policies, read off a laundry list of frivolous programs in the stimulus including a multi billion dollar program to provide counseling for obesity and help quitting smoking. Rove's point is that while such actions maybe worthwhile they don't create jobs. Carville said that helping people quit smoking is a worthwhile effort and he found nothing wrong with it.
Carville made his most provocative observation in his analysis of why he believes that the Democrats are building a permanent majority. He said that in the last election the Democrats dominated among youth, Blacks, and Hispanics while Republicans dominated among the older folks. He pointed out that the three groups that Democrats dominated with are all growing while the Republicans sort of base of voters will soon be dead. Rove countered by pointing out that youth voters have a long history of swinging wildly in their voter preference. For instance, Reagan lost that vote in 1980 and won by nearly 20 points in 1984. It of course remains to be seen if Democrats are gaining a sustained majority.
Finally, the event ended with some great inside baseball stories. Carville had a very memorable one. His daughter's eighth grade graduation was last night. Carville said that she was devastated when he told her that he couldn't make it. As such, he called Bill Clinton and told him the situation. Clinton called Carville's daughter and congratulated her personally. Carville's wife, Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist, wouldn't be outdone. She called George HW Bush and had him call her daughter to congratulate her. As such, James Carville's daughter was congratulated by two former president's on her eighth grade graduation.
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