Heckling, sex jokes — and a little politics — at Axelrod’s U. of C. event
BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org January 19, 2012 3:24PM
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos (left) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel greet each other Thursday during a panel discussion at former White House adviser David Axelrod's Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: February 21, 2012 8:40AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was interrupted by Occupy Chicago protesters Thursday as he tried to give his opinions on the evolving race for president.
But perhaps more unexpected was how many times Emanuel was interrupted by high-profile pundits joking about sex — or, rather, the notorious lack of sex at the cerebral University of Chicago, where Emanuel pal and former White House adviser David Axelrod inaugurated his Institute of Politics.
“When I was here at the U. of C., there were two things that were sort of lacking,” New York Times columnist and U. of C. alumnus David Brooks said. “One was any hint of sexual activity . . .”
Students in the audience laughed harder at that than just about anything else said Thursday before Brooks was able to finish: “The second was a route out of Hyde Park. And, so, David is offering that.”
Axelrod’s institute will aim to bring in national speakers on politics and set up University of Chicago students with internships in politics and public service.
But the conversation kept turning back to the university’s reputation for students who would rather argue philosophy late into the night than have sex.
Republican pundit Alex Castellanos opened with a joke about Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s alleged request to his wife to have an “open marriage” — an allegation Gingrich forcefully denied at a GOP debate later Thursday night.
“I’m glad I had an opening in my schedule. It’s an open schedule. As a Republican, I want to point out that my marriage is not as open as . . .” Castellanos could not finish his sentence over the laughter.
Explaining why he thought President Barack Obama would not generate as much excitement for his re-election bid as he did for his election bid, Castellanos said, “The first black president of the United States . . . It’s not nearly as exciting when you lose your virginity the second time.”
Emanuel came back to that comment when he argued that right-wingers in the House of Representatives handcuffed Republican House Speaker John Boehner from being able to make compromises he would like to make.
“I think, in a bizarre way, if Boehner is still the speaker [after the 2012 elections], he’s definitely losing seats, because in 2010 they bought too much real estate and the public has recoiled,” Emanuel said. “He will be liberated in a way that he wasn’t just eight months ago.”
Brooks interjected, “That’s a great image, a Boehner liberated.”
Emanuel laughed along with everyone and said, “Not as great as Alex’s point about losing your virginity twice. I’m still trying to figure out how to do that.”
Brooks chimed in: “The first time was hard enough.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow turned to Brooks and said, “You went to the University of Chicago?”
Brooks, still laughing, said “I’m not elaborating.”
Emanuel tried to get the panel back on track: “We’re all here trying to help the university.”
The Occupy protest lasted a mere three minutes, during which protesters complained of Emanuel, “He has fired 363 library employees and cut numerous CTA routes.”
Over the shouting, Castellanos asked Emanuel, “Do I take it that your election was not unanimous?”
Emanuel smiled and conceded that his election as mayor was not unanimous.
Emanuel suggested Obama should use his State of the Union speech to offer his vision for what he would do in his second term. He argued with Maddow, who suggested Obama use it for “small, doable things” such as “cash for clunkers” programs.
“I’m not buying a ticket to the cash-for-clunkers speech,” Emanuel said. “The president can be inspirational, which Mitt can’t do.”
Castellanos agreed: “You’ve got the Secretariat of hope and vision — people want someone to lift their eyes over the horizon.”
Castellanos reflected in self-disapproval: “I find myself here advising President Obama and agreeing with the mayor of Chicago.”
Castellanos thought the cheering and shouting at the many debates of the Republican primary made his party’s candidates better.
“It’s hard to have a good fight in the Roman Coliseum without an audience,” Castellanos said. “Now, look, this democracy thing is a little messy and ugly at times, but it would be hard to do it without people.”
But Castellanos expects that political advisors will insist on fewer debates in four years.
“This may be the golden age of debate folks,” Castellanos said. “Scary, huh?”
Watching from the audience, Newton Minnow, the former Federal Communications chairman, said he wanted primary debates to stick to the same rules he negotiated for nine presidential debates starting with the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960: No audience cheering or booing.
“The candidates look for applause — it distracts from the debates,” Minow said.