Ah, debate! Where would a free society be without it?
•Tonight, of course, is our momentous and holidays-appropriate Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Should We ‘Eat Locally’?”
•All month long on this blog, it’s the “Month of Feminism,” in which I’ll be trying to contend with a popular but misguided philosophy without seeming callous or oblivious to its concerns — all while resisting the temptation to be dragged down to the level of some of the philosophy’s more vicious and unreflective proponents, such as the ostensibly female (and libertarian) blogger by the handle Becky C. at the GirlinShortShorts blog, whose main method of argumentation about me in two posts now has been to call me a Neanderthal and post lots of nudie pics, I guess as a sort of brute-force argument that there’s no sexy fun to be had in Toddland or on this blog — an odd tactic for a feminist, I would have thought, but then, one thing we can all agree on is that I don’t know quite what feminism’s point is.
(On the more internecine libertarian front, Becky C. also says explicitly that the obstacle to libertarianism being more broadly accepted is that it doesn’t reach out to gays, etc. aggressively enough. I am not anti-gay, yet this strikes me as a classic case of how people assume their own preferences are also the key to tapping into the broader populace’s preferences. I’m an atheist, and it wouldn’t take too much effort to make atheism and anarcho-capitalism sound crudely analogous, but you don’t see me going around saying “If only the fuddy-duddy libertarian movement would stop kowtowing to the religious people and be proudly atheist, everyone would love us.” That’s not exactly what public opinion surveys suggest, to put it mildly, and unlike some libertarians, I’m more interested in freeing the human race from coercion to the greatest degree politically feasible than in shaping a movement around my own interests and tastes.)
•Meanwhile — and history will have to judge whether this is loftier or lower — Helen and I (thanks to Karol Sheinin) saw an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate last night on the amusingly drastic question “Is Bush the Worst U.S. President in Fifty Years?” featuring none other than Karl Rove and William Kristol arguing no and Slate/New Republic veteran Jacob Weisberg and the Economist’s Simon Jenkins arguing yes.
Karl Rove mentioned being very concerned that the Republicans, in trying to rebuild, ought to reach out to blacks and Hispanics more — and perhaps he should consult with Becky C. about outreach to gays. He was not entirely successful with outreach to the audience, though, being the one panelist to inspire hissing and groans of disapproval, in keeping with the general pattern I’ve long observed at public debates in NYC of leftists (as compared to their composed conservative neighbors) being rude, unpleasant, nasty little children (which will help Becky C. with her outreach in that direction, I suppose).
Rove and Kristol mainly focused on Iraq, though, frankly admitting that if we’d known Saddam didn’t yet have WMDs, we probably never would have entered Iraq — but Kristol admitted he’d still have thought we should, even though the public would never have been roused to favor such a move in the absence of WMDs. Rove made the important point that almost everyone — right, left, and Islamic-totalitarian — thought Saddam had WMDs, since he’d gone to great lengths to make it appear that he did. A tragic deception all around, but one that could very easily have occurred on Bill Clinton’s watch, likely without the left concluding he was the worst president of all time.
Interestingly, Jenkins identified himself as a libertarian, and even libertarianism-bashing (and “theocon”-hating) Weisberg claimed to favor limited government and free trade, seeing these as other good causes Bush has abandoned over the past eight years (though as Rove put it in much more detailed and accurate comments, Bush has fought tooth and nail for free trade agreements that the Democrats have spurned — even Democrats who, quite rightly, supported NAFTA under Clinton).
In a way, the most interesting presidential-evaluation wrinkle of the evening, though, may have been the unabashedly and amusingly partisan opening comments from the head of the Rosenkranz Foundation that sponsored the debate. At the risk of ruining all the suspense (maybe even swaying some votes in the overwhelmingly anti-Bush audience), he waltzed right out and made the case for Jimmy Carter’s weakness being the root cause of countless economic and foreign policy disasters during and after his presidency, not least the 1979 Iranian Revolution that has caused so many of our woes.
In short, though over 60% of the audience may have voted that Bush (not Nixon, not LBJ, etc.) was the worst, and though the before-and-after voting suggests that Kristol and Rove swayed the most undecideds with their arguments, the real message of the evening was that Jimmy Carter remains, as The Simpsons teaches us, “history’s greatest monster.” Let us hope he never rises from his grave. I mean, once he’s dead. Or, you know, whenever.