Last night, Radio City Music Hall hosted an apocalyptic meeting of the minds, pitting Bush strategist Karl Rove against Clinton guru James Carville. I sat in row A, watching as Charlie Rose attempted in vain to keep the vitriol from spilling into the audience. Several rounds of protesters emerged, boos abounded, Rose lost control, both speakers screamed, and the whole thing descended into anarchy. While much of what was said is already flying around the internet, we’ve got ten anecdotes that you won’t see anywhere else.
1. Lefty love. It became clear from the outset that the event’s coordinators would cater to the liberals in the crowd. When the initial introduction to the series was given, the speaker made a reference to the great minds that have attended, leaving ultra-conservative pundit Anne Coulter for last. When no one laughed at the non-omission, he explained it had been a joke (dude, if no one gets it, it isn’t funny!). He later made a (Freudian?) slip suggesting that the next “forty” years under Obama would be extremely exciting.
2. Applause-o-meter. Upon the entrance of the panelists, moderator and PBS icon Charlie Rose asked the audience with which of the speakers they were more inclined to agree. Rove received a polite response, whereas Carville received loud hoots and holler. Throughout the evening this 2/1 noise trend would occur whenever the time came to clap.
3. The Unshakable Face of Evil. Karl Rove was unflappable. When he emerged, he immediately used the term “New York crowd” as an insult (can you believe the balls?!). He sat quietly each time protesters emerged, and only raised his voice once, toward the end of the evening. While his points were often met incredulously by both Carville and the crowd, he continued repeat them with confidence, even when it seemed he’d be out-gunned. Pressed toward the end to admit his administration had made mistakes, he refused to issue ANY apologies.
4. Rose under Attack. After an initial attempt to keep the two speakers from going to blows, Rose largely abdicated his role and let them attack each other. At two points Rove turned the hose on him. On the first occasion he posed his own query: asking Rose what he had to say about the stock market. Sensing a trap, Rose responded intimating that “I don’t think it’s an accurate indicator.” (smack!). On a second occasion Rove, shut him down entirely, saying that “You’re supposed to ask the questions; I answer them.”
5. The Southern drawl. Offering conjecture on why President Bush wasn’t well received after his first election, Rove suggested that it had less to do with the contentious election and more to do with his Texas accent. The implication was the America (especially Democrats) hold a grudge against Southerners. After a round of boos subsided, Carville very responded that Clinton was from Arkansas. “I’m pretty sure that’s in the South.”
6. The good “Republican.” Asked whether or not he believes Colin Powell is a “good” Republican, Rove responded coolly that the decorated general is “a Republican.” After being pressed on the issue for several minutes by a smug Carville, Rove threw up his arms and proceeded to use Rose’s exact wording.
7. Punditry as Performance. Ever the performer, Carville often fiddled with his tie and made dramatic faces while Rove was looking away. The crowd ate it up, but many of his more physical gags crossed the line, making him seem more like amateur performer than a professional pundit.
8. Speaking of Missed Opportunities… While Carville was clearly the audience’s favorite, his strutting, increasingly loud denunciations, and jerky antics often meant he missed easy counter-arguments. The obvious retort to Rove’s assertion that Nancy Pelosi should step down over torture-related CIA briefings would have been to bring up the Bush-Plame debacle. Rove’s attempts to blame the local authorities for the Katrina disaster could have easily been flipped by saying, “OK, sure, but isn’t the whole point of government to intervene when local authorities fail?” In both cases, he responded with funny faces. Great theatre, bad debate.
9. Protest isn’t Easy. While many people made public their disdain for Rove, one activist took it up a notch, despite being woefully unprepared. Unable to hoist his large canvas sign from both ends, he stood in the middle with his arms extended. The sign drooped, its message was unreadable, and he was soon swept away. Another pair of protesters later took the stage brandishing a pair of hand-cuffs. When the first was swept away by security, the second stood stock still, staring at Rove like a deer in headlights.
10. Security Sucked. At one point a woman in the back of the audience began to scream that Karl Rove was a war criminal. What should have been am minor interruption went on for almost five minutes, as Rose pleaded from the stage and people from both political parties shouted that she should shut up.