I just finished listening to the Rocky vs. Hannity slugfest at Kingsbury Hall, broadcast on KSL. The exchange was just about what I expected, and pretty much encapsulated a great deal of what has turned me away from the conservative crowd over to the liberal.
Rocky was animated and passionate. But he focused his remarks on the topic of the event: the impeachment of President Bush. His statements were based on facts and built a case. You may disagree with the case, but it was a logically presented case. He did not resort to generalizations, even legitimate ones, about conservatives or liberals. He refused to make it that sort of partisan presentation. While he harshly criticized the President’s actions, he did not mock them or resort to ad hominem attacks on the president. While he challenged Hannity, he rarely demeaned or assailed Hannity himself.
Hannity, on the other hand, was snide and smarmy. Much of his time was spent side issues and diversions to the topic of impeachment. He began his presentation with ad hominem attacks on Rocky, and continued to make those attacks throughout the debate. He made frequent slanderous generalizations about liberals, Democrats, and progressives. He tried to impugn Rocky by associating Rocky with the high profile Democrats (a charge which failed miserably. Had he done his homework, Hannity would have realized that Rocky is a maverick Democrat with no patience for the moderates and conciliators who dominate the party. Hannity ignorantly claimed that Kerry was Rocky’s friend and assumed Rocky had voted for Kerry, when Rocky in reality voted for Nader). He mocked both Clintons, when neither had anything to do with the issue at hand. Rather than discuss the merits or lack thereof of the impeachment movement, he framed the issue as an obsessive hatred of the President (ironic, considering how the conservative establishment treated President Clinton). When he did address the topic, he did so vaguely, with little recourse to rational argument. Instead, Hannity relied on the weapons which have been so common among the conservative advocates throughout my life: fear, jingoism masquerading as patriotism, macho appeals to pride, and oversimplification of international events into terms of winning and losing.
Neither side was perfect. Rocky tended to ramble on and chafe against the time restrictions to which he had agreed. Rocky’s supporters in the audience were a bit more inconsiderate—a fact which gave Hannity the opportunity to play martyr, making a great show of pointing out when he was subject to hecklers (Rocky had his share, but tended more often just to ignore them).
I’m sure that there will be others who saw things differently, and that Hannity will spin this this way and that on his shows over the next few days. But for myself, the debate only reaffirmed the feelings I’ve had again and again over the years. While there are certainly obnoxious and mean-spirited apologists on the Left (such as Randy Rhoades and Tom Hartman), the bulk of the champions of the Left to whom I’ve been exposed (Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Bill Moyers, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Dennis Kucinich, Paul Wellstone, etc) are rational and can engage in a rational discussion. They address topics. They may be passionate, but maintain an atmosphere of civility. The great majority of conservative advocates to whom I’ve been exposed (Hannity, Limbaugh, Savage, Coulter, O’Reilly, Cannon, Hatch, DeLay, Gingrich, the top officials in the Bush administration, etc) seem to have little interest in rational debate. They prefer to rely on slander and the emotional distractions. Their mean-spirited and rancorous attacks belie all their claims of piety and religion. The churlish tone, avoidance of any substantive discussion, and arrogant demeanor displayed tonight are in no way connected to the Savior about whom I read in the scriptures. Rocky was no humble embodiment of gentle persuasion and love unfeigned, but he was far closer than his opponent.