What a night at the Schnitz! It was a full house, and a slightly raucous one. Howard Dean and Richard Perle held a polite yet rigorous debate tonight. The audience was also fairly polite 90% of the time, only because one of the moderators insisted that the crowd let Perle speak. I have to admit there were a few times I was tempted to join in with the yells and jeers at Perle, but I was trying to take notes for this blog. Although at one point I just couldn't help myself and neither could a majority of the audience.
First I'll start with a summary. Dean was on the new Democratic Party message and he stayed on the message though out the entire debate. In a nutshell the message was: Defense and security are more than just military might. You have to not only have a strong military (he made this point over and over) but you also have to take a comprehensive view that includes fiscal, energy, environmental, and trade policies. At one point he said, "Defense is a lot broader than just going around saying that you're gonna kick Saddam's butt." Yeeaaahhh! He said we don't have a strong defense policy when we're running up huge deficits borrowing money from the Chinese and Japanese. We don't have a strong defense policy when we're dependent on Saudi Arabia for our energy needs. Right on! (Lot's o' cheers here.)
Perle, in a nutshell, continued to insist that invading Iraq was the right thing even though there were no weapons of mass destruction. He claimed that not going in would have been like not buying insurance on your house because you didn't think your house would burn down (a very bad analogy that earned Perle lots of jeers and boos.) He said that one day people will look back at the US invasion of Iraq as the turning point in history where freedom began to spread to the rest of the oppressed regions of the world. He insisted that US style democracy in Iraq is the seed to freedom and security for all. That would be great, but with these idiots in charge, I doubt it.
At one point someone in the audience threw a shoe at Perle and started screaming, "You *ucking liar, you *ucking liar" over and over. Security dragged the person out, but other people started yelling in the audience. You could still hear the person screaming down the corridor as he was being taken out of the building. Then a second person started yelling the same thing over and over. There was quite a bit of yelling, and Perle couldn't be heard until one of the moderators put her foot down and basically, in a nice way, told everyone to shut up.
Perle also focused on 9/11 and 9/11 and 9/11. He claimed that prior to 9/11 that no one was arguing that we needed to do more to fight terrorism. I guess he never bumped into Richard Clarke before 9/11.
Once they were done with their intros, the three moderators asked questions. The first question to Dean was about what did the '04 elections mean. His response was that the GOP won, not because they are stronger on defense, but because they were better at framing themselves as being stronger and the Dems as being weaker. Framing, nice answer!
Perle was asked about a statement he made in September of 2003 where he said that by September of 2004 there would be a grand square in Bagdad named after Bush and that Iraqis would be celebrating their freedom. Perle still believes there will be a grand square in Bagdad named after Bush. It may just take a little longer than he had expected. What? Will it have a statue of Bush too?
Another question to Dean was about how do we mend our relations and reestablish our moral authority in a changing world where China and the EU are becoming more powerful. Dean said that the decisions the Bush admin is making today lack vision and do not take into account how these decisions will effect us over the next 15 years. He believes we need to have better trade agreements that help promote freedom. Again he went back to the defense issue and stated that national defense is also about spreading our ideas. I think in this case he meant our ideas about ethics, fairness and liberty. Not the ideas about torture, war and economic oppression.
The next question to Perle was about "soft power" and whether or not he supported the concept of soft power which is about using your earned good will and respect to build alliances that can help you assert power over countries that may be a threat. Perle said he does not subscribe to the notion of soft power because "...refraining from tough acts of self defense is too high a price to pay just for respect around the world." It's only black and white for the neocons, at least in their rhetoric, because they're certainly not invading North Korea.
Dean and Perle then went back and forth for a while. Perle constantly accused the Dems of being weak on defense and proof of it is in their voting records on defense spending. This is where Dean came out kicking like a real donkey. He told Perle that you can't just measure defense by how much money you give to the Pentagon. And he said "We all know about the $600 toilet seats at the Pentagon." Yeeaaaaaaaaaah!
Perle asked Dean whether or not the Democrats would ever start thinking seriously about national security so that it would no longer be a political issue. Again Dean came out kicken'. He said that Bush is the one who has politicized the issue of national security. He went on to say that Bush should have genuinely consulted with people rather than simply having them as window dressings in meetings. Perle responded by saying that Bush consulted with Powell. Sorry, but he doesn't count in your book, Mr. Perle. Dean kicked back and said, "And he was treated like a Democrat."
Perle closed with 9/11 and 9/11 and 9/11. Very creative.
Dean closed with the vision of Kennedy's Peace Corps. He said that we have to show the world that we have something better to offer than what the terrorists offer. Just like we did with communism.
There's more, but I'm tired. It was a great evening, and Dean will make the Democrats proud.
Update (2/19/05) - Some final thoughts here.