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

Al Gore at the Wang Center Boston

The second event of the 2009 Speaker Series: Live & Uncensored featuring former Vice President Al Gore in conversation with Boston Globe reporter Susan Milligan at the Wang Center was uneventful throughout most of the evening until Miligan became stuck on several questions regarding the (self) importance and likely downfall of newspapers in their current form. While this diversion didn’t diminish the entire evening, it struck me as odd and uncalled for. (I wasn’t able to Twitter this event, so quotations will be even more paraphrased than usual as I was taking notes with a Sharpie, on the back of an envelope, in the dark, in my terrible handwriting.)

Al Gore was introduced by Boston Phoenix Founder and Publisher Stephen Mindich, who called him ‘The truly elected President in the 2000 election’ and asked the audience to imagine what might have been had Gore been allowed to serve. Gore who went to college in Boston began his remarks by praising the Wang Center and saying, “They just don’t build them like this anymore.” From this, he launched into a quasi stand-up routine telling multiple jokes about his time after the White House. This wasn’t the boring Al Gore described by the media in the 2000 election.

He was funny, knowledgeable, and informative and spoke for about 25 minutes, giving example after example of how the climate crisis plus the economic crisis have lead directly to the security crisis. And how all 3 can be mitigated by beginning to address energy issues. Gore restated his goal of 100% renewable energy in the US in 10 years and said, “I need your help…This is your challenge…Political will is a renewable resource.” I cynically wondered if Gore’s humor and deliberate speaking style wasn’t a reaction to years of being stung by the media as boring, wooden, and a serial exaggerator and then I chastised my cynical self for being a jerk.

It should have been clear from the first question which direction the night was headed, but I say that with the benefit of hindsight because at that point, Miligan hadn’t begun to lose the crowd. The question was some version of “Have you been able to change more because you didn’t become President.” Gore amicably spoke for a few minutes, essentially answering, “Uh, no, President would have been better.”

Regarding nuclear power, Gore says he remains skeptical, but not reflexively opposed and said his concern stems from the fact that rogue weapons programs typically grow out of legitimate nuclear power programs. On whether going green is a luxury, Gore’s first sentence was about the need for jobs channeling Van Jones, but stopping short of saying we can’t afford NOT to go green.

It was at this point, in my mind, that Miligan began getting squirrely, asking a question about bailing out the auto industry with so much unbridled disdain that Gore began his answer, “If I had known this was a touchy subject.” This setting off a sputtering denial of bitterness in which Miligan used the word bitter a bitter 12 dozen times. The entire time, neither Gore nor Miligan noted the irony of castigating the autos while ignoring the bank bailouts (both of whom, it could be argued, have suffered from an enormous lack of personal responsibility).

Gore answered a question on whether lack of personal responsibility is more to blame than deregulation by connecting Democracy and capitalism since their birth in the same year of 1776. Gore said, “I like the market, but we have a right to make laws.”

When asking Gore’s opinion on Obama, Miligan quipped “Careful, he might fire you like he did Rick Wagoner.” (I think this was supposed to be a dig at Obama overreaching, but it was confused by Miligan’s earlier attacks about the auto industry, making Miligan seem willing to attack everybody). Gore said, “Well, he can’t fire me” and “I think he’s doing a great job.”

Miligan then asked Gore, a former journalist himself, his opinion on the crisis facing newspapers around the country. Gore’s answer appeared to be that Americans are watching too much TV with time they used to spend reading the newspaper. And then there was a follow up. And then another. And then an attack on ‘the blogs’ and their veracity, and their lack of posting corrections, which is about the time my eyes filled with a white light and my ears a rushing noise. And I can’t obviously connect the theme of the talk to this, but about 10 minutes before the evenings abrupt end and 10 minutes after Miligan’s self-important rant, people started leaving in 2s and 3s until entire rows were pocked with empty seats.

One question from one reporter to a man who could have been President (but also a former reporter) strikes me as relevant and Gore’s head is stuffed full of interesting examples of successes on the internet, but Miligan broke the first rule of interviewing (and giving toasts, incidentally) in that she made the interview about her. Instead of Bostonians filing out of the Wang enthusiastic about making a difference on climate change, they ambled out listlessly wondering who they had paid to see. It was similar to Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher when hecklers attempted to interrupt the evening in a ‘look-at-me’ bid for attention, except tonight it was Susan Miligan attempting to curry pity and Al Gore was too polite to tell her off. This is the second bad moderator in a row for the speaker series, and I hope Charlie Rose is better for Karl Rove vs James Carville.

(Thanks for visiting Unlikely Words. If you liked what you read Subscribe to RSS, check out our About Page, read some of our favorite posts or Follow us on Twitter)

Al Gore at the Wang Center Boston

Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher Boston Debate Review

Lincoln-Douglas this was not, but Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher tonight at the Wang Center was certainly entertaining. I didn’t know the format of the event, and I wasn’t even sure if it was going to be a debate or not. How do you debate Ann Coulter? How do you debate Bill Maher for that matter? I took notes in Twitter, but you can’t really link to a set of Tweets, unfortunately. (Incidentally, via Twitter, Curt Schilling was in the house.

The event started with an introduction by the programmer of the event, the 2009 Speaker Series: Live & Uncensored. Hard to believe, but the crowd was about 65/35 Democrat/GOP making for an exciting night. This introduction was followed by Coulter introducing herself with about ten minutes of GOP red meat. Her first main point was ripping on Democrats for a New York Times editorial from 1988 that called into question the GOP’s choice of Danforth Quayle for VP. I’m not sure how this is relevant 20 years later, but she was earnest. The lack of relevant material continued when Coulter brought up LBJ. “I just hope Republicans aren’t this insufferable when they win an election”. Uh, OK. Coulter was interrupted twice by hecklers, though a stern look from her was enough to shut them up.

Maher was next with a list of 12… I forget what it was a list of, but Maher only got through about 3 of his points. There was heckling of Maher from one person up front. Maher, maybe channeling his days as a stand up comic engaged and mocked the heckler into silence. This until another heckler from the back of the room drew his ire. “Shut up. Shut the fuck up. These people paid for a ticket to hear us, not you. If you had worked as hard as we have to be up here they would have paid to see you. But shut the fuck up.” (That’s a paraphrase as are most of the quotations in this post.) Some other choice lines from the introduction, “George Bush did a lot more blow than Barack Obama” and “America wasn’t invented in the heartland, it was invented in Boston and Philadelphia.”

After this, Maher and Coulter sat down together and had an informal debate moderated by…well, moderated by someone who shouldn’t have been moderating a debate. (The crowd began whispering their dissatisfaction with the moderator and Maher and Coulter were openly mocking him by the end.) The beginning of the debate was marred by most of the theater not able to hear the moderator or Coulter, which culminated in the first heckler being tossed. While being escorted out he was shouting about how three combat tours in Baghdad had ruined his hearing and I wish they had done a better sound check.

Coulter was much better in this setting displaying none of the awkwardness that hindered her intro at the podium and showing a quick wit that kept her in the game all night. She’s not a professional comedian/talk show host, her genius lies in fostering controversy, but those expecting a floor mopping were disappointed. This is not to say that Maher didn’t have the majority of the best lines of the evening, just that this wasn’t Tyson-Spinks. I don’t know what they’ll debate tomorrow in Chicago as they went through almost everything tonight: the stimulus, religion and science, scandals, and “who is the biggest pussy” (John McCain, according to Coulter).

Some of the better, er, more entertaining lines of the evening:
“When Led Zeppelin fucks up the hotel room, the maids have to clean it up.” Maher on the new stimulus bill.
“Science is always under attack by the liberals, never by the religious people.” Coulter on religion.
“Bill’s answer will be funnier and I already agree with him.” Coulter on Madoff.
“I’m a little bitter about Obama picking on Limbaugh, when I’m the one with a book out.” Coulter on who is the leader of the GOP.
And for the record, Coulter breached the Godwin’s Law ceiling 3 quarters of the way through the debate in a discussion of stem cells.

Maher and Coulter clearly have a chemistry, and I’d listen to or watch a show if they had one. There’s a charm they bring out of each other, the charm of 2 people who like each other, but LOVE to needle each other, and frankly don’t mind being needled by the other.

While I find everything about the Coulter’s stage character abhorrent, I give her credit for more than holding her own, adding a lot of humor to the event, and showing up in a city, which for her must be less than tolerant. This wasn’t a clash of political titans, there was no ground breaking political discourse. But at the end of the day, Coulter and Maher are entertainers and in that they succeeded. If the Speaker Series’ other events are as entertaining, it’ll be worth showing up.

Edited to add a review of the night from Adam Fullerton and Bostonist, thought Bostonist’s review has the timing all messed up either by accident or for dramatic effect.

(Thanks for visiting Unlikely Words. If you liked what you read Subscribe to RSS, check out our About Page, read some of our favorite posts or Follow us on Twitter)

Ann Coulter vs Bill Maher Boston Debate Review