The Nation’s Dave Zirin finds the “bombastic…hyper-caffeinated, volume-eleven foghorn,” Stephen A. Smith grating when the ESPN2 host is howling on “Quite Frankly..”. In another setting, however, Zirin considers Smith to be a a voice of sanity (link courtesy True Hoop).

Imagine my shock after seeing Stephen A. on a recent CNN Live Event Special debating the future of the Middle East, oil consumption, the war in Iraq, energy alternatives and other issues. The shock was not that Stephen A. could hold his own. It’s that his voice of perpetual disgust and alarm seemed oddly appropriate and satisfying when discussing US foreign policy.

Radio America’s Ben Ferguson, whom I have never heard of but who seems to be to the right of Attila the Hun, said, “We’re so worried about being politically correct, we don’t want to offend anyone, and say we’re going back to the ’60s or ’50s or whatever it may be, because that’s what people say. If you profile people, you’re being racist. No, I’m racist towards terrorists and if you fit the profile of a terrorist, then I don’t like you.”

Stephen A. was the only panelist to stand up to this racist garbage: “What’s the profile of a terrorist?… Hold on, now. Let’s be clear about something. When you talk about Timothy McVeigh or what have you, in Oklahoma City, he didn’t fit the profile.”

Ferguson responded: “But I think most Americans admit, when you get on a plane–be honest–you know exactly who makes you nervous when you get on a plane…. Do they not all look the same?… The people that did 9/11, people that did the Madrid? Do they not all fit–“

Smith shut him down: “But that’s bigotry.”

As the subject turned to Iraq and Afghanistan, you could see Stephen A. start to muscle-twitch, getting in that comfort zone. Ferguson, whom Stephen A. was starting to treat like Vince Carter treated Frederic Weis when he dunked on his head at the 2000 Olympics, said, “If you got a problem, you can either witch about it, or you can fix it.”

“So, 100,000 lives have been lost. What’s your definition of fixing the problem?” Stephen A responded. And after the conversation took a few more turns, he said, “There’s plenty of people–I’m telling you right now, you know how many soldiers I run into, American soldiers–American soldiers–who we unequivocally support, and they say we have no business over there. Most of those people don’t even want to be over there. They actually say that.”