Emory Report
October 30, 2006
Volume 59, Number 9

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October 30, 2006
'Crossfire' co-hosts take aim at national balance

BY alexis hauk

The second annual “Great Debate” held on Thursday, Oct. 19, between former “Crossfire” co-hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak, was framed in Glenn Memorial Auditorium by towering pulpits on either side of the stage. Appropriately for a country facing an election, the topic of debate was “The Balance Between Civil Liberties and National Security.”

Begala and Novak have extensive political reporting credentials. Begala, an advisor to President Bill Clinton, has counseled politicians in Europe, Latin America and Africa. He helped to launch the late John F. Kennedy Jr.’s George, and has contributed to Esquire and Washington Monthly.

Novak has been a journalist for more than 50 years. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War and has worked for The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. He started “Inside Report,” one of the longest-running syndicated columns in the country.

Moderated by Patrick Allitt, professor of history and director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum, the debate remained amiable, with old friends and rivals Begala and Novak taking humorous and frequent jabs at each other. When Begala said that prisoners in the second World War were given more due process than prisoners are now, Novak replied, “the ones that got shot were grateful for due process, I’m sure.”

Begala and Novak both used history heavily as a backbone for their arguments. Begala quoted his favorite founding father James Madison: “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need the constitution.” Novak pointed out that Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon all violated civil liberties while in office.

Novak, a self-described civil libertarian, advocates individual freedom but not big government. He said he finds personal searches at the airport, through the “safety administration’s gauntlet,” intrusive.

Though the ticketed “conservative,” Novak had his share of criticism for the Bush administration, claiming to be no spokesman for Republicans. “Calling it the War on Terror would be like calling World War II the War on Blitzkrieg,” he said. Novak, however, was unmoved by what he called the “Bush-trashing theme” of the Democratic Party.

Novak listed three groups who are interested in the rights of detainees: “lawyers, journalists and conspirators,” the latter of whom, he said, “mean to destroy this country.” He expressed shock that any “ordinary citizen” would feel threatened by the Patriot Act.

After Novak facetiously described himself as the “Prince of Darkness,” Begala wondered aloud about the “notion of being in the house of the Lord with the Prince of Darkness,” much to the audible delight of the audience.

Referring to him as “one of the finest minds of the 12th century,” Begala applauded Novak for not “bringing back the rack or the Spanish Inquisition.”

Begala, the senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaign, said that if he were running on the Democratic ticket, he would promise two years without any constitutional amendments. “We can do without trashing the foundation of our democracy,” he said.

Begala suggested that the United States should spend more time getting to know Islamic culture, learning Farsi and Arabic, and “getting in touch with” Arab-Americans. The United States should not “sit there in the desert and wait for [the Middle East] to develop a Jeffersonian Democracy.”

Novak and Begala agreed on some aspects. “[Iraq is] going to last a long time,” Novak said. “It’s different, because there are no front lines.”

Begala argued that since ground troops are currently filled with men and women from poor backgrounds, a return of the draft would force the U.S. out of Iraq once the wealthy could no longer avoid service. Novak responded, “Totalitarian states have enforced conscription.”

An audience member asked Begala and Novak for recommendations on further reading. Begala suggested the Federalist Papers, as a “source of perpetual wonder, how a small agrarian society could create such a work of political genius.”

Novak recommended Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in order to preserve the Union, which the Democrats at the time had adamantly opposed. “Democrats are always on the wrong side of these issues,” he quipped.