I went to a debate tonight between Robert Novak and Paul Begala held at Emory University. Held in Glenn Memorial Church, the same place I saw Margaret Atwood last month, Peggy and I watched the old Crossfire colleagues debate "The Balance Between Civil Liberties and National Security". The event was slated for 7:30PM, but they didn't make their appearance on-stage until about 7:45PM.
Novak, dubbed the "Douchebag of Liberty" by Jon Stewart and Co., is very old. He's 75 years old, in fact, and, poor old bastard, looks his age, if not a decade or two older. I learned very quickly that he is no different outside of Crossfire than he is on Crossfire. By that I mean he is not serious. In the pantheon of conservative thinkers Bob Novak is a lot more Cindy Adams than John Adams. Which is not to say that Begala's particularly serious either, but I just happen to agree with Begala, an old-school "Clintonista", on most issues. There wasn't much in the way of sophisticated debate tonight, but even a rehash of their Vaudevillian Crossfire routine was somewhat entertaining.
Anyway, attendees were asked to submit questions to the panelists and so notecards and little pencils were provided. I wrote the following question and submitted it: "According to the new law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, "unlawful enemy combatants" can now legally be denied the right to habeas corpus. Also according to the law, the executive has sole discretion to decide who is an "unlawful enemy combatant". If the current president can be trusted not to abuse this law, how confident are Mr. Novak and Mr. Begala that a future president won't abuse that power?" Yeah, it's a long question, but it kind of has to be. I added in that bullshit about the current president being trustworthy to throw off Novak so it wouldn't seem like an overtly political question and so he might answer it like an actual civil libertarian conservative as he purports to be.
Well, not to toot my own horn, but my question was the very first one asked. In response, Begala reiterated something he said in his opening statement, that "Bush hates the Constitution" and that "Madison's masterpiece" shouldn't be changed for any reason. Novak said that he trusted any president to do the job of protecting America, or some such bullshit, and then he kinda got shrill and seemed put out. He screwed up his face and asked, "What exactly are you afraid of? ['You', in this case, being me, the anonymous questioner] What are they going to do, go after a bunch of silly liberals?" That was one of the few laughs Novak got all night, and it is kind of funny when you put it like that; what conceivable president, after all, would break the law to go after such a marginal group of people?
But when you call them not "silly liberals" but "honest critics of the government", then it doesn't seem quite so funny. As we've seen in recent days in places like Russia, which has gotten more right-wing (read: more fascist) under the anti-democratic reign of Vladimir Putin, where the best and brightest journalists who dare question the policies of the Putin government are now regularly assassinated (they used to be arrested and intimidated by government thugs and those were the good old days), Novak's blithely-bestowed "trust" in all future presidents to do the right thing, and his belittling of the very concept of presidential abuse of power, makes Novak sound a lot like a doddering old man, and certainly not a serious or independent thinker.
Begala did have an interesting prediction that seemed outside of his usual role as Crossfire leftie and political hack. He predicts the Dems will take the House on November 7th, and that when they investigate the White House on issues like the lead-up to the war, (and they will), and subpeona documents and White House employees to get at the truth, that the White House, at the urging of Dick Cheney and other hard-liners in the executive, will strenuously resist those efforts and a constitutional crisis will result. I hope he's wrong, but given that I think the Dems will take the House (knock wood), and will investigate whether or not we were lied to in the run-up to the war, and that Cheney's policies have always sought to undermine the idea of co-equal branches of government, I think his prediction may very well come true.
Anyway. It was a diverting way to spend an evening. In other news: "The Prestige" opens tomorrow. Hope everyone has an awesome Friday.