I realize Jonah Goldberg is debating the United States at the Oxford Union tonight. He'll do fine, I'm sure. In fact, Jonah is a very Oxford Union debater. They love jokes, gags, self-deprecation. They also like conviction spliced in with it. Goldberg - when he's on form - can pull all this off. And he's up against some Islamist nutballs on the question of:
"This House Regrets the Founding of the United States of America."
If I were Jonah, I'd kick off with Burke. At some point, ask why they're not debating in German. Above all, don't be defensive. A tough Union crowd can sense fear.
It takes me back, of course, to a debate I set up there as president in 1983. The topic was: "There is no moral difference between the foreign policies of the United States and the Soviet Union." As president, I was supposed to chair the debate, but I invited Caspar Weinberger and he accepted, and also invited E.P. Thompson, the leftist historian who was a big macher in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The Thatcher government was facing an election, had a policy of no-engagement with CND, and talked Weinberger into withdrawing. I was pissed - in the American sense of the word. The debate was rescheduled after the election - so I got to debate in it. I took the losing side, as I always tried to in Oxford debates (far more fun to lose well than to win easily). But looking back, I see some resonances. I was very pro-Thatcher and pro-Reagan. I celebrated the arrival of cruise missiles in Britain with a champagne party at Oxford. About four people showed up. But I still opposed the notion that a democracy can do no evil in foreign policy. I do not believe that any country has a monopoly on moral good, and that the greatest countries are also capable of moral evil. That's my Catholicism, I guess. But I do remember interrupting Weinberger in the debate with the following question:
"Does an immoral act become less immoral because we have the right to choose to do it or not?"
The answer was no. It still is. End the torture policy.
(Photo: Union bar and library by Kaihsu Tai.)