Great and Not-So-Great Political Debates

I tuned into the George Galloway – Christopher Hitchens debate on Saturday. Although they spent most of their time simply casting aspersions on each other, you have to admire the skills of the Brits when it comes to engaging in political polemics. In the states, political debate is strictly utilitarian – the only point is to try to convert people to your point of view. But in Britain, they indulge in polemics as a form of art. Even a fringe-dwelling lunatic like Galloway was able to paint these vivid rhetorical pictures of his opponent as a “court jester” in the Bourbon government of the Bushes. In turn, Hitchens accused Galloway of engaging in “sinister piffle” and even ridiculed his own fellow socialists in the audience for bragging of the scars they received in their “long, underground, twilight struggle against Dick Cheney.” It was a refreshing change from the formulaic, talking point clich???? ┬ęs that dominate so much of the political discourse in America.

Then yesterday I watched a debate (available here) on whether or not America is an “empire” between the great Victor David Hanson and the great flake Arianna Huffington. This was ugly. Hanson essentially turned Arianna upside down and used her empty head as a mop to sweep up the floor. He called on his incredibly vast range of knowledge going all the way back to the Athenians to argue why the U.S. cannot rightly be called an empire. Arianna responded with a rambling, unfocused speech that never defined what an empire was. She just threw out the conventional, hackneyed leftwing criticisms of Bush (he engages in “cronyism,” he loves Haliburton, he’s part of a neo-con cabal, he steals candy from babies, etc…) and claimed that everything that he’s doing wrong is a symptom of empire. Most of her speech was nothing more than an admonition of the Democratic Party for not adequately opposing Bush. Hanson came off looking like a philosopher and a historian, while Huffington was reminiscent of a fourth-rate partisan hack. This debate was so unequal that I have to wonder whether some conspiratorial coven of neo-cons deliberately organized it that way.