Imagery of Regent people and campus

Political "Titans" Debate America's Future

By Paul Boller | October 29, 2010

L-R: Harold Ford Jr., James Carville, moderator David Gergen, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, and Laura Ingraham
Photo by Patrick Wright

In an age of constant change, key moments still define where America has been and where the country is going. And more often than not, politics stand right in the middle of those moments. If Regent University's eighth annual Clash of the Titans® on Friday, Oct. 29, is any indication, politics is again poised to define America.

More than 700 people gathered at Regent's Communication & Performing Arts Center to hear the debate about America's future. Political stakes continue to rise as America implements some of the most consequential legislation in half a century. With only four days left before the 2010 midterm elections, this year's nationally recognized and influential speakers pondered the question: "America at the Crossroads: Turning Right or Left?"

As the speakers took to the stage, it became clear they represented much of the American political spectrum. On one side sat best-selling author and well-known radio personality Laura Ingraham and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and political commentator Charles Krauthammer. Balancing out the stage sat CNN political commentator and leading political consultant James Carville and former five-term Congressman Harold Ford Jr. Moderating this field of political and intellectual giants was David Gergen, a former White House advisor and current senior political analyst for CNN.

As a referee standing in the middle of a boxing arena, Gergen set the ground rules for the hard-hitting punches to come. First, each of the debaters would give an opening speech. The speakers would then commence a roundtable discussion with each other. This would be followed by pre-selected questions from the audience. Finally, each of the speakers would give closing remarks and thoughts.

Holding nothing back, Krauthammer put forth the assessment that the past two years have taken a middle-right country on a dramatic leftward jerk. Consequently, the coming midterm elections would present a rather forceful course correction. Krauthammer observed that President Obama has spent two years imposing a liberal agenda. This has resulted in an unorganized but strong objection to European-style social democracy. With this in mind, Krauthammer saw the upcoming elections as a repudiation of historic proportions of the ideology of the past two years.

Carville swung back with the reality that, "These things happen." He laid out the reality that in politics, parties lose elections, and he stated that no one in Washington is ready for what is coming next. But he also noted that no one is going to gain the clear upper hand in this election. While he conceded the chances were better for Republicans to take the Senate rather than the Democrats keep the House, he noted that Democratic candidates had won the last four out of five popular votes in the presidential races. Accordingly, he proposed that short-term election results do not often yield a proper long-term perspective.

Seeing an opportunity, Krauthammer quickly countered that he did not rule out President Obama being popular in 2032.

Ingraham took a different approach to the question. She said that she did not believe America found itself at a crossroads, but rather it is President Obama himself who is at a crossroads. Ingraham observed that America is waking up and it is starting to say, "not so fast." Consequently, if the president does not follow the lead of former President Clinton after the 1994 midterm elections, he could face the same political fate as Democrats this fall. Essentially the question for Ingraham is not whether America is turning left or right, but whether or not the president will pivot back toward the center.

Ford brought the audience back to the overall picture. He noted this is the first generation in America to be fighting two wars while paying for both sides of the battle through its dependence on foreign oil. Ford also looked at how disproportionate health care expenditures are to actual results. He said solving these problems would require a different kind of American exceptionalism and partisanship.

With blows having gone back and forth already, the debate ratcheted up to a whole new gear upon entering the roundtable discussion. And, it quickly became apparent that the health care bill would take center stage.

Ingraham stated that America doesn't have an appetite for big spending projects. She saw the health care reform legislation as the great tipping point for American voters and accordingly the response predicted by many on the right.

While Ford agreed with Ingraham's assessment of the political reality of the health care bill, he saw the emphasis on it as misplaced. He said that China is not the only rising economic star. America also needs to figure out how to stay competitive with other countries, such as Brazil, and South America in general. All of these issues need to be on the table, Ford concluded.

Krauthammer came back by calling the health care bill an "Obamination." Having worked as a medical doctor, Krauthammer observed that Americans have the best health care system in the world. But, he also said it's highly inefficient. Rather than addressing the inefficiencies, he saw the health care bill as adding multiple layers of complexity. One of the biggest inefficiencies Krauthammer observed is defensive medical practices meant to ward off the rampant malpractice consuming up to 25 percent of medical costs.

Moving on to answering audience questions, the inevitable question of the Tea Party movement came up. While Ingraham found the Tea Party as really an "American movement," Carville asserted the exact opposite. He cited statistics that more than 90 percent of Tea Party members identify with the Republican Party. While he found the Tea Party an invigorated group, he said they were anything but new.

Krauthammer disagreed. He stated that although the Tea Party may not be the most attractive movement ever, it is a legitimate and spontaneous reaction to the president's attempts to imposing a liberal ideology on America. Krauthammer ultimately concluded that this November "is not going to be an election, it is going to be a restraining order."

After their verbal sparring, each speaker used their closing remarks to emphasis their unique perspective on the implications of this upcoming moment in American history.

Ford stated that Americans live in the greatest nation in the world. While concerned about where the country is headed, Ford said he is not totally pessimistic about the results for his party in November. He hoped Americans could have more conversations like this one, without name-calling, but rather with an aim toward creating solutions.

Krauthammer said he believed compromise is completely possible. Unfortunately, he didn't believe this had been the course of the president. By reforming rather than fixing the problems, he believed the president had worked to implement a vision that a majority of Americans did not want. Krauthammer concluded by saying the spontaneous expressions of the past two years demonstrated America could depend on the decency and common sense of ordinary people to keep on the right path.

Carville said America did have problems in energy, health care and financial systems needing reform, and it made sense to try to do something about them. He believed the president had to get involved in the private sector in ways he probably did not want to. Carville ended with by reminding the audience that people and parties lose elections all the time. He stated that is the nature of things and it is ultimately a good thing.

Ingraham said the country is seeing a "bubbling up" of the people. She said big systems like health care don't work and Americans instinctively reject them. Ingraham hoped that Americans would continue to celebrate and extend liberties and welcome everyone into the conversation of keeping America great.

In conclusion, Gergen touched on a theme the late President Reagan once invoked, saying that the real crossroads before America is not left or right, but a choice between up and down. Additionally, debates are fine but should not paralyze people from taking action.

While America's next defining moment is only days away, Regent's Clash of the Titans® marked a significant moment for the audience who took time to seriously contemplate the course of America's future.

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Mindy Hughes, Public Relations

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