I went to see a discussion between Abner Mikva and Arthur Schlessinger, hosted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. In spite of his age and accompanying frailty, Schlessinger wove some interesting tales, and was generally entertaining. The group assembled here was a wide-ranging one to say the least, from a few who looked as if they hadn’t had a bath lately, right on up to Christie Hefner and Bill Marovitz, two of Chicago’s glitterati.
Anyone who recognizes the four preceding attendants can imagine the tone of the discussion; let’s just say it was fairly partisan Demo-speak, not surprising. I was taken aback, however, at the behaviour of much of the audience. Schlessinger deftly picked up Mikva’s leads, and proceeded to administer a light, verbal spanking to Bush and The NeoCons, accompanied by a steady chorus of tsks, sighs, and harrumphs from this head-bobbing peanut gallery. At one point, Schlessinger touched on the Bush Lied subject, refuting the very idea that he had lied, adding, “I don’t think he is capable of lying,” which brought about a raft of chortles from the all-knowing, intellectually superior audience. They nearly choked on their pretzels when the next words out of his mouth were that he views Bush as a man of integrity. This clearly was not a line the audience was expecting.
The evening then proceeded to a Q & A session, where the audience competed to see who could insert their nose the furthest into Professor Schlessinger’s hindquarters while still being able to ask a puffball question. Through some miscalculation, the microphone got passed to a man who challenged Schlessinger on his notion that the U.S. incurred no damage to its standing or interests by pulling out of Vietnam in the way we did, and the same would go for Iraq if we were to just up and leave. Heads spun round to find the rabble-rouser, and looks of horror were all over the audience. To his credit, Schlessinger responded rather graciously, basically agreeing to disagree.
I walked out of the Millennium Knickerbocker hotel thinking to myself, “Where have the adults in this world gone?” The people upstairs had conducted themselves at roughly the level of my kids’ grade-school assemblies, maybe less respectfully. Here before them sat a man who had rubbed elbows with more than a handful of U.S. Presidents, had witnessed and written about 80-plus years of the most dynamic world history, and all they could do was snicker, roll eyes, feign aggrievement, and then jockey to line up for a book-signing. They deserved to be at an Oprah taping.