Karl Rove vs James Carville, Wang Center Boston – 5/27/09

Of the three 2009 Speaker Series: Live & Uncensored events, the one I had originally looked forward to most was tonight’s showdown between James Carville and Karl Rove. According to Charlie Rose, the moderator, Rove and Carville are both known for “helping an underdog get elected President twice” and connected by Mary Matalin, who is linked to “the political side of Rove” and “the loving side of Carville.” Whatever that means.

Considering the insanity from last night’s event at Radio City Music Hall, my expectations were pretty high. Alas, something seemed off about the night from the very beginning (the orchestra was only 3/4 full at 8:00 when the evening was supposed to start, though it did eventually fill), and it never got completely on track. Frankly, Rove wasn’t as despicable as he’s often portrayed, Carville wasn’t as spicy as he is when he’s ‘on’, and Rose didn’t care to control the conversation.

I was surprised at the amount of attention paid to Carville v. Rove Round 1 in NYC because for Coulter v. Maher I wasn’t able to find anything ahead of the event. Last night in NYC was marred by protesters and hecklers and perhaps the excitement was too much for the 3 performers because, while the Boston crowd was well-behaved (surprising after our Maher/Coulter display), there weren’t a lot of fireworks on stage. Of course, there was Carville’s Ragin’ Cajun huffing and puffing and Rove’s know-it-all smugness. Even Rose got into it, pointing and bowing his body like a marionette, sometimes folding all the way over.

I’m losing steam, but I want to share the notables:

-The sound issues for the Speaker Series continued as Rose’s introduction battled someone who had their mic turned on backstage and I was begging for a 30 Rock/Naked Gun moment of embarrassment. James Carville was impossible to understand for most of the night. Part of this was his accent, but when he moved the mic closer to his mouth, it was better.

-Bodily theatrics played a big part tonight: Already mentioned was Rose’s puppet-like pantomimes. Carville mugged for the crowd, but also fidgeted constantly, adjusting his tie and socks, and scratching his armpit. At one point, Rove mimicked Carville’s herky-jerky gesticulations for a good 20 seconds, much to the delight of the audience.

-Topics covered include: The Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (“All I could say was ‘sonofabitch'” – Carville, Rove thinks she’ll be easily approved.), The Economy (Carville, in a point that he leaned on like a wooden leg, says it’s a “breathtaking accomplishment” how much Obama has made us feel better about ourselves and the direction of the country, Rove thinks it’s all Obama’s fault.), Health Insurance, Does the Market work?, Foreign Policy (“More power to him, he’s doing the right thing” and “America’s popularity is different than is credibility” both by Rove.) Bush (Rove said they should have tackled immigration before trying to fix Social Security, Carville said they succeeded in Africa and had good ideas on immigration), Clinton, and best political lesson (“It’s about addition, not subtraction” – Rove. “When I was younger, I overrated intelligence, but now I’d go with judgment” – Carville.)

-Favorite quotes/interactions:
“I don’t want the cops busting my door down when I’m having sex.” – Carville “I don’t want to be the cop busting down the door while YOU’RE having sex.” – Rove
“You don’t interrupt James when he’s talking.” – Rove. “He doesn’t whine.” – Rose.
“Difference between Clinton and Bush, Clinton had 8 bad minutes, Bush had 8 bad years.” – Carville
“James, your ignorance is appalling.” – Rove

I’m glad I got to go if only to see how brilliant these guys usually are in short bursts on live TV. The three are whip-smart and fanatically prepared. Tonight, however, it didn’t feel like any of the three were on. They also hadn’t agreed on a format; Rove came for a debate, Carville came for a talk show. I think this has more to do with what each of them have been doing for the last 8 years, than either of their political or speaking skills.

I’m also extremely excited to see what the Speaker Series has in store for Boston in 2010. Hopefully more events of different formats (town hall with submitted questions, maybe?). It might also be interesting to see them approach books (Gladwell vs Lewis?!) or movies, and maybe in different settings. This might be a more ambitious path than they’re looking to forge, so if that’s the case, I’ll happily accept several more politically-themed events next year, but let’s maybe mix it up with less established politicians or pundits. If they won’t sell as many tickets, the Speaker Series should consider utilizing some of the Wang’s smaller properties.

Karl Rove vs James Carville, Wang Center Boston – 5/27/09