We've received a lot of letters about Barbara Kay's column in The National Post, so I figured we ought at least to link to it. Huffington Poster Nicholas Nazar has a different take, but one also worth your time.
To some audience members (not to me, but for example to my furiously tweeting companion, a young colleague who happens to bear the same last name as me), Steyn dwelt excessively on the sexual crimes we've all read about in Cologne, Hamburg, Malmö and elsewhere. So it apparently seemed to Arbour and Schama, because they mocked Steyn for it in their rebuttals. Arbour sneered at both Steyn and Farage as "newborn feminists" (she got a laugh), while Schama disgraced himself with "I'm just struck by how obsessed with sex these two guys are, actually. It's a bit sad, really." (That got a very big laugh.) I took one look at Steyn's glowering face after that remark — Schama will regret having said it to his dying day, I know it — and I kind of felt sorry for those two liberals, because I knew what was coming.
Steyn slowly rose...
Oh, okay, here it is - Louise, Simon, and then me:
After which, enter Farage:
We've lived through a hundred years of female emancipation and liberation and now we have the mayors of towns in Germany and in Sweden and in other parts of Northern Europe telling women not to walk out after dark on their own. And in the wake of the Cologne sex attacks, we had the mayor of that city telling women they really ought to dress differently and behave differently in public. That Simon, is what is sad, and I find the sheer hypocrisy of those of you who said you were going to defend female rights when actually you think migrant rights are more important than female rights in our community. Frankly, shame on you.
There's a round-up of some of the other reaction to that moment here, but Mrs Kay interprets its significance as follows:
I think that was the moment those of the audience who did change their minds got it... A civilized culture, which takes centuries of painstaking collaborative work to create, can be easily destroyed, and quickly. This is a reality conservatives understand, but liberals, consumed by guilt for past collective sins, and morally disarmed before the Other, choose to ignore. The Munk debate illuminated this important distinction, and for a change, realism won.
I don't think that's entirely what happened, for reasons I'll come back to. But, in the house, that was certainly a point when (according to those I spoke to afterwards) you could sense something start to shift.
Beyond the confines of Roy Thomson Hall, however, all the nice liberal boys failed to grasp (unlike Mrs Kay) the significance of the exchange, and decided to dig themselves in even deeper. Of course, they came to the subject with a certain amount of pre-baked hostility, starting with those who couldn't even figure out why a couple of loons like Nige and me were up there on stage in the first place:
How the Hell did an organization like the Munk Debates invite someone like Mark Steyn to one of their debates?
Especially if he's gonna start persuading bien pensant Canadians over to the dark side. There oughtta be a law against it. Confronting the bleak reality of the Farage/Steyn "con win", The Globe & Mail's Doug Saunders had no doubt how it had happened:
Simon Schama is a genius, but his talent is wasted slapping down the bigoted porno-fictions of a cartoon character
But hang on, why would upscale liberal Torontonians fall for a bigoted porno-cartoon? My old Ottawa Citizen sparring partner, Dan Gardner, was flummoxed:
Did the pro side do a decent job of defending? Because if a Munk audience can fall for stuff like that...
CBC National Correspondent Peter Armstrong was obliged to explain that "Steyn played to emotion and fear" - because we all know that a bunch of Roy Thomson Hall redneck rubes in the symphony-orchestra equivalent of a Munich beer hall are just suckers for that boob bait every time. And it worked:
Schama kept trying to correct stats & figures. But you could hear the crowd swinging to con side as debate went on
There's some truth in that second sentence (although none in the first: as far as I'm aware, Simon Schama only tried to correct one of my stats - and my answers were generally far more stat-laden than his). As to "the crowd swinging to con side", this letter is representative of several I received. From a lady in the balcony:
At the beginning of the debate my son , Ari, and I were the only con attendees cheering in our pod. What transpired within a very short period of time can only attest to Mark's gift of speaking the truth in a manner that transcends the usual political discourse...and it truly is a gift.
Mark commanded our area the moment he shamed the libs over chuckling about the ongoing rape situation in Europe. From that exchange on, the libs in our pod listened and listened hard. It is almost irrelevant if they changed their vote, or voted at all, because their eyes said it all. They no longer clapped quite as loudly and stopped making cracks about what Mark and Nigel were saying.
Fellows like Doug Saunders think it's enough to slap a label on your opponents - "bigoted porno cartoon character". Actually, I'm not a cartoon, I'm flesh and blood. So, if I appear to him to be a cartoon, he should take off his glasses - because there's something wrong with them and they're preventing him seeing properly. That's the mistake Louise and Simon made: They thought Nigel and me were right-wing racist porno-cartoons, and that it was enough to skate through the evening on the laughter of shared assumptions.
Louise's opening joke was that Canada, unlike Germany, does not have a land border that millions of refugees are pouring across - although that may change after November's US elections. That got a big laugh, because what Toronto liberal doesn't enjoying scoffing at those crazy Yanks? I don't begrudge her that: it's a way of signaling to the crowd, hey, I'm one of you - and the other guys aren't. And her "sneer" at Nigel and me was intended to go down the same way: Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous as these two right-wing sexist racist loons pretending to be upset about gang rape? Ha-ha, said Simon, we all know it's 'cause they're such sexually uptight right-wing losers they can't pull any chicks on their own...
Yes, yes, it's poor form to review one's own debate performance, so all I'll say is that I think Barbara Kay is not quite right, but Tamara is: It wasn't the moment when the crowd swung to our side, but it was the point at which the cartoon labels fell off and the crowd started listening to us as human beings, and evaluating our arguments on the merits, rather than simply dismissing them because we're "cartoons". Some changed their minds, some didn't. But labeling sneers about pseudo-feminist sex-starved paedo-fantasists no longer cut it.
I don't know the numbers, but I have a suspicion that in the exit poll more Toronto ladies changed their votes than men did. Certainly at least one chap in the house was unmoved: While the distaff side of the Kay family thought Simon Schama had "disgraced himself" with his response, Barbara Kay's son Jonathan found it "spirited". He didn't hear the blithe dismissal of mass gang-rape and child-rape for what it was. And, if he'll take a bit of advice from an old comrade, he might like to ponder why that is.
As for the substance of the dispute, I'll have more to say about that later this week.