Brazile and Murphy entertain, Dowd asleep at public lecture series

February 24, 2009

Donna Brazile, Mike Murphy and Maureen Dowd

(Feb. 24, 2009) — Donna Brazile was delightfully folksy, Mike Murphy was amusingly arrogant, and Maureen Dowd was disappointingly detatched as the three lumanaries squared off in a panel discussion on timely political issues Monday night at the opening salvo of the American Jewish University’s 2009 speaker series.

Outspoken political commentator and founder of the Huffington Post online news site Arianna Huffington stood in for missing-in-action news commentator Jim Lehrer as moderator for the discussion at the Universal City Gibson Amphitheater.

CNN political commentator Brazile and conservative political media consultant Murphy controlled the night as the group evaluated the effectiveness of the Barack Obama Administration and, in Huffington’s words, “the upside down world we live in today.” In fact, the two, at times, seemed to be competing for who could produce the most sound bites as they unabashedly represented their liberal and conservative views.

Brazile won the battle for most sound bites and provided some of the evening’s most amusing moments, especially when her stage microphone did not work properly at the beginning. “I knew I’d have problems with it if I put it (the microphone) over my right side (breast),” she quipped. She tapped the mic until the sound crew got the sound levels correct.

When it was working properly she turned to Murphy on her right and, while tapping the microphone, asked him if he wanted to touch it. It became a running joke throughout the evening as she offered to let him touch it and he quickly declined the offer.

Murphy predictably pushed conservative points of view, but was refreshingly self-effacing and practical in many of his answers. If Brazile was popular and funny, then Murphy scored with some his statements, such as pointing out that the Republican Party, nationally, is in big trouble for now as it is has all but been relegated to an unimportant minority in the House of Representatives, Senate and White House. And, he said, things are likely to get worse and stay that way for “four, eight or even 12 years.”

He said the party’s biggest problem is that it currently appeals only only to one demographic: white males. While white males may still be the largest part of a plural electorate, it is shrinking.

Unless the GOP redefines itself to appeal to Hispanics and African-Americans, without giving up its conservative values, of course, he said that it will continue to diminish in importance.

Unless, that is, Democrats “continue to do what Democrats do and go too far and screw up” to give the GOP an opening.

The group gave California as an example. Panelists agreed that California’s state government is considered a joke around the country. Murphy added that he felt it was because the legislature is too dominated by Democrats who act in a dysfunctional fashion. Without party parity there is little hope they will allow the state to become governable.

The whole panel gave Obama good marks for his first month in office, but each felt that he has yet to live up to the potential he has. Even Murphy felt that the president had potential to make significant changes in government, but only if he is “visited by the ghost of LBJ” and learns how to control Congress, which seems to be working its own agenda right now.

NY Times columnist Dowd seemed detached from the discussion all evening. She is bright and articulate and had interesting answers whenever Huffington drew her in to the conversation, but she seemed otherwise unengaged. In fact, she spent most of the evening with her body slightly turned away from the rest of the group. While others were sure what they wanted to say, she had to spend moments deciding what she wanted to stay.

In retrospect, this should not be too surprising. In podcasts I’ve listen to of other lectures she has given, this is her speaking style. She’s a great writer, but less-than-enthusiastic speaker.

Her most memorable moments of the evening were when:

  • Huffington cornered her in to sharing a dinner-table admission that she had twice placed notes in Jerusalem’s West Wall, while on assignment, asking for a Jewish husband. She’s come to the conclusion that God probably doesn’t think pairing a Jewish man with a Black Irish Catholic woman is a good idea; and
  • She revealed that after Obama’s almost embarrassing acceptance on his European trip after securing the Democratic nomination that she asked him if he “needed a cigarette” after the experience, implying that the treatment he got was almost like having sex.

Huffington, after an opening monolog on her take of today’s “upside-down world,” relegated herself to moderator and did a good job mixing it up and making sure Murphy and Brazile did not totally exclude Dowd.

The panel was the first in a series of lectures/panel discussions scheduled by AJU. To come later this year are former New York mayor/Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuiani; an attorney-general faceoff with Janet Reno, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales; and a Mid-East discussion with Madeline Albright, Jehan Sedat and Dahlia Rabin.



  1. Thank you for that very detailed description of the evening. I write a blog devoted Maureen Dowd and have quoted portions of your post there.

    Glad you enjoyed the evening even if Maureen wasn’t in top form.

  2. Sounds like a good time. Good post. It moves quickly, with lots of description. I appreciate that.

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