What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 28, 2011

Turd Blossom and The Doctor Who Screamed

Wednesday night, I was lucky enough to attend the last lecture of the 9th season of the Pittsburgh Speakers Series. It took place at Heinz Hall, dahn-tahn.

From the series' website:

The Pittsburgh Speakers Series is a series of seven different lectures, on seven evenings, at Heinz Hall from October through April.

Our distinguished speakers share with the audience their unique experiences and perspectives on a wide variety of topics - from world affairs & politics, to history & the environment, to books & authors, to business & economics, to the Arts & entertainment. For those who wish to ask the speaker questions, an exciting question and answer session follows each lecture.
While the tickets for the series are only sold as a series, I was able to snag a single ticket for the event - a dual lecture with former Bush Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove and former Vermont Governor and DNC Chairman, Howard Dean:
Two powerhouses of the American political system faceoff in an evening featuring individual commentary followed by a response to each other’s talk and audience Q&A. Rove is former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President G.W. Bush. Former Governor of Vermont and DNC Chairman, Dean ran for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.
The seating at these events (or at least the one I attended) is rather odd. The first 5 rows or so in front and the last 10 or so are designated "free seating" while the vast middle is reserved. I don't know if it's a similar situation in the balcony. Arriving early, I got a seat in the "free seating" section in front (second row, extreme left as you look out from the audience) very close to the stage, very close to the door Rove and Dean would be walking out of.

WQED's Jim Cunningham was the evening's moderator.

The plan of the evening was this; each guy would get 15-20 minutes for an "introspective" lecture to the audience and then the rest of the time would be taken up with questions and answers and rebuttals to those answers.

Rove, by virtue of a coin toss, went first.

Politics aside, Karl Rove is a very funny guy and a very good public speaker. He gave a concise and very polished "aw shucks, ma'am" autobiography that went from his childhood to his time in the Bush Administration, though the details of his time in the White House were, uh, rather sketchy. A couple of very moving scenes from 9/11 and that was about it.

Governor Dean's 20 minutes were less polished, though not less successful. More rumpled than his cuff-linked counterpart, he managed to get some applause where Rove didn't. It was at that point I thought, "The crowd's Dean's."

That assessment, however, turned out to be incomplete. During the question and answer time, Rove did get some applause to some of his answers. A respectable amount, to be sure as his answers pleased sizable chunks of the audience. His applause also happened to be less than the applause Dean got.

But back to the introspection. What we learned about Karl Rove:
  • He grew up out west. Not poor, but on the "shabby side of middle class."
  • He was always a nerdy kid - his first paper in class was on dialectical materialism.
  • His first "campaign" work (at about 10) was riding up and down his street with a Nixon bumper sticker on his bike. That got him beaten up by the 12 yr old girl who was a Kennedy Supporter.
  • His rise in the GOP from College Republican to Texas to the White House was fast.
  • He was against the idea of Dick Cheney as Vice President.
  • Dick Cheney shot Rove's lawyer and there were laughs all around.
Dean's lecture was somewhat less polished. Some (though not all) of his jokes fell flat. Flat like a flat thing flatly falling. The point of his speech seemed to be that what America needs is for politicians to do what's right for the country and not what's merely right for their own careers. He gave a few examples:
  • Signing the first Civil Unions in the United States bill into law. He said it was the right thing to do even though he had to wear a bullet proof vest for the rest of his time as governor.
  • He told about a few legislators in Vermont who lost their seats after voting for that legislation - even when they knew that their vote wasn't necessary for it to pass. They voted for it anyway because it was the right thing to do.
Then we moved on to the question and answer period. This is where I had some issues. The questions were not done "live" from the floor but were chosen ahead of time.

There were a little more than a half dozen questions Cunningham asked Rove and Dean. He told me after the lecture that the members of the previous lecture's audience were asked to submit questions via email. When asked he said there were "hundreds" and that the producers of the series chose which questions he was to ask. He did stress that neither Rove nor Dean knew the questions beforehand. In other words, they heard them when we heard them. Out of hundreds of questions only a handful made it onto the stage.

And of those, there were no questions regarding:
  • The Bush v Gore Supreme Court case
  • The run up to war with Iraq
  • The never found WMD
  • The illegal domestic surveillance
  • The outing of Valerie Plame
  • The Bush-approved torture
Out of the hundreds of questions emailed-in, Rove and Dean were asked about:
  • Navigating the lies and distortions of the current media environment (this included a brief discussion by Rove of the Long Form Birth Certificate released by the White House. By the way Rove said that Obama withheld it in an effort to let the Republicans further discredit themselves.
  • 2012 Campaign strategy
  • Job creation
  • Corporate Tax breaks
  • The Citizens United Supreme Court case
  • Family Values v Political Competence - which is more important in a candidate?
Don't get me wrong these are all very important topics. But weighed against the enormity of some of the decisions made by the Bush Administration and given that Karl Rove was there in the middle of things for nearly 7 years, you'd think that there'd be at least one question about state-approved torture or yellowcake uranium or smoking guns as mushroom clouds.

But there wasn't.

Yea, I kinda have a problem with that.

We were told at the beginning of the evening that the lecture would be an example of two people of opposing views having a civil discussion. But if civility means ignoring, for example, the events leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, then perhaps a little less civility is in order, if only for a chance to face the truth.

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