Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Iraq trumps all

I attended a debate tonight in London sponsored by an organization called Intelligence Squared, which puts on debates throughout the year on various topics. Tonight's motion was "It's the journalists, not the politicians, who have fouled our political culture." It was an interesting debate, although ultimately a bit disappointing.

The best and most compelling speaker was the first, John Lloyd from the Financial Times, who argued in favor of the motion. He made the point that politicians, notably Tony Blair's New Labour, have adapted their politicking in direct response to modern methods of media coverage, much to the detriment of the political culture. The worst speaker was renowned anti-American journalist Robert Fisk, of The Independent, who went last and argued against the motion. What made him the worst in my view wasn't his presentation, which was fine, nor was it any overt anti-Americanism. It was, rather, his failure to even address the question. He used his time, instead, on a harangue about Iraq and the "lying" politicians who took us into it.

Which is why the debate was, ultimately, disappointing. Despite his failure to see the political culture as anything other than the product of the Iraq war, and his failure to address the motion in any meaningful way, Fisk recieved the most rousing ovation of any presenter after speaking. And I suspect that it was he who ultimately swung the final vote in favor of those against the motion. (The audience vote, which before the debate was almost evenly split - they do both a pre- and post-debate poll of the audience - with a large number of abstentions, was roundly in favor of the nays at the end, with, I think, a vote of 417-239.) Given the unpopularity of the Iraq war here, it seems that opposition to Iraq is like a trump card that beats all other arguments, regardless of the question at hand. The conclusion to be drawn from Fisk's presentation was simply that, if Iraq is a bad thing, and polticians are responsible for Iraq, then politicians must be responsible for the state of the political culture.

As I said, a disappointing result.

(In case you hadn't guessed, I voted in favor of the motion.)

In any event, I've been to a few of these Intelligence Squared debates, and they are generally worthwhile. I'd recommend them if you get a chance to go.


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