I was completely taken aback when I got up this morning (I’m in London – five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time) to check my blog and Facebook pages to find that I caused a bit of a firestorm by my comments on Dinesh D’Souza when in yesterday’s post I introduced the video of the debate that I had had with him a couple of years ago. That was not my intention at *all* and I’m non-plussed, surprised, and embarassed. All sides of the political spectrum have reacted strongly – rabid liberals hee-hawing and rabid conservatives fuming and others weighing in one way or the other. Woops. Not what I had in mind.
Now that I re-read my opening comments, I see how they are being read, and they are not being read in the way that I meant them. But I need to apologize to Dinesh and to anyone else I have offended. My intention was *not* to badmouth Dinesh, whom I like on a personal level even if absolutely not on the political. I have changed my comments on the Facebook page and the Blog in light of these reactions.
There may be little point, but let me explain what I was thinking when I wrote up this introduction to my debate.
Most of the people I debate are fantastic debaters who know a lot and are rhetorically very effective. But they are not household names. Dinesh is. He is very well known in lots of circles for lots of reasons. I thought it would help show the significance of our debate (why it was significant to me if to no one else) to point out that Dinesh is such a prominent figure in American culture just now.
His prominence is because of his peaks and valleys, and I tried to indicate a little bit of the highest peaks and lowest valleys. But this was not in order to trash him or to take any cheap shots. What I reported was simply what I myself had read in the New York Times and other national media outlets. I wasn’t letting a cat out of the bag. Anyone who reads the news knows everything that I said. The things that are negative are things that Dinesh himself has talked publicly about and admitted to (or at least that’s what’s reported in the newspapers: I don’t have any personal contact with him.)
So, in any event, my purpose was simply to show that it was interesting that I was debating a high profile figure on an important topic. But now that I’ve seen the reaction to the comments I realize how they would look to anyone else, and have changed them. My bad. Full apologies.
Let me close on a more humorous note. In my first debate with Dinesh a year or two earlier we were at my university, UNC at Chapel Hill. A Christian organization on campus had organized the debate and wanted to go BIG with it, and so, against my inclination, they rented out the largest facility on campus, Memorial Hall, an auditorium that seats 1400 people or so. I thought this was a huge mistake. By my calculations, there might be 300 or 400 people interested in a debate on suffering that involved an outsider and someone they could simply take a class from if they really wanted to hear him speak.
I was nervous going into the debate. I had never met Dinesh before, but had seen a televised debate with him and Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, as you may know, was absolutely phenomenal as a thinker and intellectual, very quick on his feet, master of masses of information, and quite intimidating. Dinesh held his own with him in that debate, was not intimidated in the least; he really went at Hitchens and the topic with wit, intelligence, and gusto. And so I thought I was going to get crushed. I had no idea what he was going to say to defend his views and to attack mine – but given how smart he was, I was sure it was going to involve points that I had no ability to answer, and I would look like an idiot.
So I was rather happy that only 300-400 people would be there to see it happen – on my own turf.
Before the debate Dinesh and I met backstage and talked for a bit about things of mutual interest (not politics!). When it came time to go on stage, we emerged from behind the curtain and WHAM! The *entire* auditorium was PACKED. Oh my God. Now I’m going to get crushed in front of 1400 people. I later found out that there were overflow rooms with closed circuit TV. Good grief.
Well, we had the debate, and it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I felt like there weren’t any complete Zingers of arguments that he leveled that I had never thought of before. The debate was cordial and lively and interesting, and people there were on both sides of the issue. A good experience.
Afterwards we’re taken to tables in the foyer to sign books – about 20 feet away from each other. My wife Sarah had come to the debate (she never comes to my talks; and I never go to hers; we just don’t have time. But she came to this one) and was standing next to my while I’m signing books. One of my graduate students came up to me, grinning, and leaned over and said, “Oh man, you CREAMED him!” And Sarah, my own wife and love of my life, leaned over and said, “Uh…. I’m not so sure….”
Thanks dear. 🙂