A documentary is making the rounds, in the theaters last spring and now on PBS and On Demand, that is a reminder of how politics used to be different. This is not by way of a discussion of the current political season or any commentary on the campaigns or their positions. I will not drag us there; I have promised. But this historical view, “The Best of Enemies,” which chronicles a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, hearkens back to the days when the tone of debate could be intelligent and civil. What a concept!
The popular notion is that America does not like intellectuals. Our tall tales and folk heroes are often about simple men who get the better of the fellow with book-learnin’ through common sense and American knowhow. Conventional wisdom is to disdain “eggheads” and to embrace the Common Man.
But Americans do enjoy – or used to enjoy – the intelligent presentation of political opinions that they themselves hold dear. In 1968, when ABC decided to host a series of conversations between two intellectual giants who held very different views, America watched and embraced – individually – their beloved smarty-pants of the Left and the Right. Continue reading “The Death of Civilized Debate”