Dean, Thompson and Steyn – in Calgary

November 4th, 2010
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I was fortunate to attend a debate, or more like a discussion in Calgary last night, featuring former Governor Howard (“to scream the impossible scream”) Dean and former Senator Fred “Law and Order” Thompson.  It was moderated by the not-former Mark Steyn. The main topic of discussion was the U.S. mid-term elections.

Both speakers gave their opening remarks without notes, and were at odds from square one. Dean advanced a demographic argument, saying that there was emerging a new generation of young, “inclusive” Americans of diverse ethnicity, religions and “orientations” – first reflected in the election of president Obama. The mid-term results, to him, were merely a speed-bump on the road to the dominance of this new generation. No surprise that the “progressive” would propose an inevitable “progression” to a utopia of his own imagination.

Thompson was more pessimistic or, as Steyn put it, sees the glass “one-twentieth full”. He wondered out loud whether the U.S. would have to “bottom out” before there was sufficient political will to tackle government spending, the looming social security and health care short falls. To him, the mid-term result is a reason for cautious optimism, but very cautious optimism. He is skeptical that politicians on both sides of the aisle will be able to forego their political self-interest to arrive at the necessary policy solutions.

When asked whether he would prefer a “EuroCanadian” model for America, Dean demurred but said the answer lay “somewhere in the mid-Atlantic” – which, ironically is where it seems many voters wanted to dump the Democrats last Tuesday. By contrast, Thompson praised eastern Europeans who cherished freedom and, he said, possessed many of the traits of America’s Founding Fathers.

While making noises about free enterprise being the only viable economic model, Dean went on to say that capitalism must “raise all boats” and not “leave so many behind” as it has over the last “ten to 20 years”. In short, he “doesn’t believe” in supply-side economics. AS a result, he proposed repealing the Bush tax cuts, saying that would be one way to tell if Congress “was serious” about tackling the debt. To this Thompson remarked that 10% of Americans already pay 75% of the taxes – so how much is there left to tax?

Dean made a back-handed compliment to the Tea Party, praising their grassroots involvement. But in the next breath he was calling them angry fifty-somethings, and Tuesday’s result the last gasp of this greying generation.  Well, there are a couple of things wrong with this demographic determinism. Firstly, by most calculations, that “greying” generation is going to be around at least another 25 to 30 years, with no big bulge coming up behind them. Secondly, the cranky elders of today are likely to have been the flower children of yesterday so, conversely, today’s “diverse inclusivists” may just as likely become the next generation of Tea Partiers. Funny what working and paying taxes can do to you.

Unlike Tuesday, there was clearly no “winner” Wednesday night. Both men put forward solid, thoughtful arguments; in many ways much more entertaining than what one would see from their Canadian counterparts. Steyn was a witty, engaging host and I frankly would have paid just to see him talk for an hour.

If there was agreement it was around debt and deficits and that they were bad. But neither foresaw easy, compelling solutions for the problem. Sobering words coming from our friend and largest trading partner.

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By John Weissenberger
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