Valley View: What happens when you pit a conservative talk show host who has been a champion of Republican causes since the late ’70s against a famous liberal civil rights attorney who has been active since working with Martin Luther King in the 1960s?
In this case, you get a debate that sheds light rather than heat on divisive topics like health-care reform, presidential overreach and how to interpret the Constitution in a nation that no longer resembles the era of its founding fathers. Friday’s luncheon gathering at LockKeepers Restaurant was provocatively titled, The Constitution Under Fire.
It brought together Hugh Hewitt, who has long been a staple of conservative talk radio, with Avery Friedman, best known for his decades of work as an attorney and advocate for civil rights as well as appearing weekly on CNN as its weekend legal correspondent.
Sponsored by AM 1420 The Answer (WHK radio), the debate was attended by a mostly conservative or Republican-leaning audience, with a handful of moderates or liberals on hand.
Listeners made their views apparent by reacting to Hewitt with cordial applause or expressions of agreement. Notably, even when many disagreed with Friedman’s more liberal views, audience members were attentive and polite throughout the hourlong proceedings.
Moderator and radio personality Jim McIntyre introduced the two, saying that he knows that both men believe that America is an exceptional country, thanks to the nation’s unique Constitution.
After Hewitt took aim at what he considers overreach on the part of President Barack Obama, Friedman responded:
“If we’re going to talk about the Affordable Care Act from a constitutional point of view, it’s old news. The Supreme Court has made that decision … And if it’s time to change it, it’s time for the American people to elect different members of Congress.”
“We don’t shut America down. We don’t tear apart existing services for our sick, our most vulnerable, for our veterans. … I don’t think there’s any question that what Congress did, what Ted Cruz did … was an abomination.”
At that point someone in the audience clapped.
“I heard someone applaud Avery and we’ll have to have them removed,” joked Hewitt. “I’m going up against one of the country’s truly extraordinary trial lawyers and he doesn’t need any help.
The debate turned to the case of Hobby Lobby, a privately held, avowedly evangelical Christian company that does not wish to provide contraception for its employees under its company health-care plan.
Hewitt said he felt sure Friedman, as a civil rights lawyer, would agree. Friedman did not.
“The mistake made in that case is that it’s an institutional challenge. An institution, frankly, doesn’t have personal rights,” Friedman said.
Hewitt went on to mention his recent interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney. In his new book Heart, Cheney talks about the importance of medical entrepreneurism.
Hewitt suggested that places like the Cleveland Clinic are “getting killed by Obamacare — getting leveled” because of the law.
“So, I’m calling on people like Avery to use their talents to strike back at this law before it strangles the economy of Northeast Ohio.
“Because,” Hewitt added with a wry smile, “I’d hate to see Avery be the reason for the death of our local economy.”
The crowd laughed at Hewitt’s barb.
Friedman shot back, “Well, there’s a quantum leap of logic there for you.”
After the debate Friedman and Hewitt hugged one another and shared another laugh.
Friedman appears weekly on Saturdays on CNN. Hewitt can be heard on AM 1420 The Answer, weekdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.