10/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Heckuva Job, Brownie

Yesterday morning on my AM760 radio show here in Colorado, something very weird -- and interesting -- happened. As I was introducing author Tom Frank to discuss his latest Wall Street Journal column on health care, in walked Mike "Heckuva Job, Brownie" Brown -- President Bush's FEMA director during the Katrina disaster. He's a conservative fill-in host at AM760's sister station and saw a tweet I had posted saying I couldn't believe I worked in the same building as Brownie.

What ensued was a discussion that was shockingly, well, productive -- a particularly encouraging surprise for me, as it came just after I wrote a piece on the increasing toxicity of the national political debate. You can listen here.

I invited Brownie to sit down for an on-air discussion with Tom and I, and he agreed. Take a listen to the conversation -- I think you will find it pretty compelling stuff.

As you'll hear, I asked Brownie how conservatives can forward their anti-government when conservatives like him had played such a pivotal role in making government not work. As Tom added, conservatives have an incentive to wreck the government when they get into positions of power, because such destruction reinforces their claims that government cannot work.

Brownie responded first by insisting that government had become too big and bureaucratic, and then I countered that people love some of the biggest and most bureaucratic pieces of government like Medicare. And he acknowledged -- unlike so many conservatives -- that that was actually true.

We then got onto a discussion of privatization -- Tom noted that conservatives had use private contractors and outsourcing to turn the government into a private profit machine. And Brownie agreed. He told us a stunningly honest story about how he found the privatization of FEMA to be severely problematic and how he learned that certain governmental functions have to be kept in the government.

Remember, Brownie is still a self-described conservative. Indeed, he regularly guest hosts on a very conservative radio station. But at least he was able to be honest and have an intellectually forthright discussion -- which was something extremely refreshing in an era where it often feels like political discussions are competitions between competing partisan blowtorches.

I'm not absolving this guy for his involvement in one of the worst instances of governmental negligence in American history, nor am I presenting him as some born-again progressive -- not at all. But I'm guessing his experience was extremely humbling and humiliating -- and I think our on-air discussion shows he clearly came out of that experience a more honest conservative voice than a lot out there.

Again, listen into the discussion here - I think you will find it entertaining, at times hilarious, and at times downright fascinating.