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December 9, 2003
Grover Norquist and Frank Gaffney, Grudge Match?

Hugh Hewitt moderated a debate this evening that was a lot more illuminating than that of the Democrats. Hewitt hosted Frank Gaffney and Grover Norquist, the latter of which was one of the subjects of the former's article in's new article, A Troubling Influence. The article delineates in great detail the extent of the influence that radical Islamists have had on conservative circles, including but not exclusive to Grover Norquist. I haven't read the article in detail -- I plan to do so over the next day or so -- but I had read stories about the article and I was familiar with the general themes. The accusations are deeply disturbing. As Power Line capsulizes it:

The thesis of Gaffney's article is that Norquist has worked on behalf of, and together with, an American fifth column of Islamists and Islamist organizations. According to Gaffney, Norquist has successfully sought to turn his political connections to the advantage of these Islamist individuals and organizations.

In an odd way, not having read the article, I felt like I had a better perspective on the debate itself. Instead of calibrating arguments in my own head based on my knowledge of the material, I was forced to listen in the moment and try to make a judgement based on detail and presentation. Both men communicate well and obviously have public-speaking experience, and so neither had a technical advantage over the other. Hugh tried to keep both men focused on facts, reeled them in when they started to wander into personal ad hominem attacks, and forced them to answer critical questions that seemed to be avoided.

In my mind, Frank Gaffney clearly spoke with more conviction and more factual presentation than Norquist. Norquist started off the debate by challenging Gaffney to come up with "just one" specific charge, and Gaffney continually responded during the one-hour segment with specifics. Norquist, however, never acknowledged Gaffney's presentations. He would start off after each charge by saying something to the effect of "I appreciate the opportunity to refute this" or "Journalists have looked into this and found nothing." I find that type of approach a bit annoying after the third or fourth time; it's a mannerism that allows the speaker to gather his thoughts while he tries to continue holding the mike. Norquist, who had to have read the article (he said he had), should have been prepared for Gaffney's charges and had responses ready.

By the end of the segment, Gaffney had made several specific charges regarding Norquist's association with people such as Sami al-Arian and other known Islamists with ties to terrorist groups or charity front groups, and Norquist was left decrying Gaffney's attacks on his "patriotic" associates and insisting that people read his web site, as if an organization's web site substitutes for an independent investigation. At one point, he accused Gaffney of writing the article to raise funds for Gaffney's organization, implying it was bankrupt.

It seemed to me that of the two, Gaffney kept his arguments to factual statements, ones that could be refuted or affirmed by indepedent investigation, while Norquist's arguments deteriorated almost exclusively into passive-aggressive personal attacks, such as, "I ask everyone I know why Frank says these things about me, and no one can understand it," or "All Frank had to do was call the White House and ask," or "I was just 100 feet away from Frank, and all he needed to do was ask me." Gaffney focused on facts and in so doing revealed questions about Norquist's motivations; Norquist focused on motivations and made himself seem much more suspicious. If Grover Norquist intended to dispel suspicions about his motives and his character, he failed miserably.

Hugh Hewitt will replay the hour-long debate in its entirety tomorrow night in his third hour.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 9, 2003 11:44 PM

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