With symbolic boxing gloves hanging from their stools, two CNN Crossfire alums with significant ideological differences took center stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for a rumble of rhetoric at the Marriott Wardman in Washington, D.C.
CPAC’s “Fight Club Debate” featured The Daily Caller’s editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson in the “right corner” and Democratic strategist Paul Begala in the “left corner.”
While there was no question the conservative CPAC audience was firmly on Carlson’s side, Begala held his own and even received a few cheers throughout the informal, yet well attended debate. Especially when Begala asked the crowd to cheer if they were a conservative.
Of course, when the room exploded in cheers, the CNN contributor joked, “Obedient little trolls, aren’t you.”
The questions took the pair all over the place. From Obama’s foreign policy to racism to word associations with the words like “God” and “Kim Kardashian.”
Begala argued that Obama’s approach to fighting terrorism has been more aggressive than the one undertaken by President George W. Bush, saying it was under Obama that Osama bin Laden and a number of key al-Qaida leaders were captured and killed.
Carlson jabbed, however, “When Obama’s supporters have to brag about the fact that he is against al-Qaida, you know you are starting at a pretty low baseline.”
According to Carlson, the problem with Obama is his lack of understanding of the enemy or its international, broad reaching ideology antithetical to the American way.
When the debate turned to the Constitution, Carlson pointed out that while it was written by “dreaded white men” hundreds of years ago, they did a “pretty solid job” and that The Bill of Rights exists today as the document which prevents government from taking over Americans’ lives.
“I believe in the end [The Bill of Rights] will prevent Obamacare,” Carlson said.
Begala argued that it is conservatives who are not satisfied with the Constitution and want to change it to fit their ends — with things like laws preventing flag burning and school prayer.
“It is like a guy who married a woman and after says, ‘honey I love you don’t change, but could you get a butt job, a boob job, could you wear this wig?’ Love it and leave it alone. It’s our Constitution,” said Begala.
When the debate turned to questions of racism, Begala conceded that the Tea Party is not racist, but noted that all groups need to keep their crazy fringe on a tight leash. Carlson agreed that the tea party is not racist but noted that claims to the contrary are predictable.
According to Begala what is racist are the Ron Paul newsletters from the 1990s.
On taxes, Carlson offered red meat to the crowd, in response to the prompt “Taxation is theft.”
“Taxation is not theft,” he said. “Theft occurs when you leave your bicycle unlocked, or somebody sneaks into your car and steals your radio. It’s by stealth. Taxation is armed robbery. Taxation is when someone with a firearm says right to your face, ‘give me what you have or I will hurt you.’ And that is the federal government’s proposition every April 15 when it approaches you for a third to half of your income, ‘Give us what you have or we will hurt you.'”
Begala attempted to portray 18th century economist Adam Smith, Jesus, and President Ronald Reagan as advocates for higher taxes.
“I stand proudly with the father of capitalism, the father of Christianity, and the father of conservatism in support of higher taxes for rich people,” Begala said.
The pair was given a chance to ask one another questions.
Begala pointed out that presidential candidate Mitt Romney has flip flopped on his support of gay marriage and reminded the crowd that when Romney ran against former Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, he asserted that he would be more pro-gay than Kennedy. “How do you get to be more gay rights than Teddy?” he asked Carlson.
“You would have to be living with a dude to be more pro-gay rights than Teddy,” Carlson said.
Making it clear that it is not his job to defend Romney, Carlson noted that it is actually wise to change one’s opinion as facts and understandings change.
Carlson pressed Begala, a 2008 Hillary Clinton supporter, on whether he believed that Clinton or Obama would be a better president. According to Begala, “Obama is a great president.”
For their final round, the Crossfire guys participated in a word association game. Which featured such words as:
Carlson: “Wouldn’t know her if she got in the shower with me.”
Begala: “Republican, no doubt”
Carlson: “In charge”
President John F. Kennedy
Carlson: “Sexual assault”
President Ronald Reagan
Carlson: “Pretty awesome”
Begala: “Too liberal for CPAC”
Videography by Grae Stafford