There are people in this city who would almost certainly pay ten bucks to hear excitable Hideout co-owner Tim Tuten play bongos and rap about Valentine’s Day for an hour–so long as they could drink and smoke at the same time. But would bar-crawling indie kids and alt-country fans follow Tuten to a Crossfire-like debate on U.S. foreign policy? Upstarts at the otherwise starched and pressed Chicago Council on Foreign Relations are betting on it. They’ve enlisted Tuten (who’s also a high school history teacher) to moderate the first of five debates in the back room of Schubas.

The typical lectures by world leaders sponsored by the nonpartisan CCFR are rarefied and pricey–the June 17 Vicente Fox luncheon at the Hyatt Regency was $85. But last year, after singer-songwriter and part-time Schubas doorman Dick Prall landed an administrative temp job at the council, inevitable barroom conversations on politics led him and the club’s talent buyer, Matt Rucins, to wonder if they could foster interest in serious formal discussions on global issues in the seriously informal atmosphere of the club.

Prall pitched the idea to CCFR brass. “I was thankful it didn’t get shot down right away,” he says. They teamed him with staffer Nilou Mostofi to form a “task force,” explains Prall with a laugh, to “hip up” the 82-year-old council. Mostofi, who has experience organizing CCFR events, began scouting for speakers among the membership, many of whom jumped at the chance to flex their heads in front of a young audience. Rucins, who’s lining up music industry people to moderate, says the same goes for the creative types he’s approached. Jon Langford is penciled in to referee July’s debate.

The CCFR itself seems to have taken a wait-and-see position. The event isn’t advertised on its Web site, though there isn’t much evident concern it’ll drain the audience from the E.J Dionne lecture at the Knickerbocker on the same night.

The project has no budget, so the $10 cover goes to expenses. “It’s what people will pay to see a band they haven’t seen before,” says Prall, and the project will sink or swim based on turnout. “It’s going to support the next phase. Hopefully, we can start going into bigger venues and maybe more popular speakers and moderators.”

The first debate, a discussion of the occupation of Iraq and U.S. foreign policy in general, is titled “Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?” Arguing more or less on behalf of the doves is Northwestern political scientist Karen J. Alter, who weighed in early against the war in a prescient 2002 Tribune op-ed. Alter is quick to point out that she’s no radical–there are just wars, she says, but this isn’t one of them. Now that we’re in it, though, she thinks we own it and we have to stay.

In the hawks’ corner is Lincoln Legal Foundation president and former Reagan administration assistant attorney general Joseph A. Morris. Morris thinks we should stay too–for a long time–though he also believes it was a good idea to invade Iraq in the first place.

As for Tuten, he’s most excited about the chance for dialogue–the debaters will respond to audience questions. “I’m a proponent of the concept that bars are for music and celebration but also for intelligent discourse,” he says, pointing out that the American Revolution was hatched in public houses and that Chicago itself has a venerable tradition of mixing forensics and alcohol in the Dil Pickle Club and the College of Complexes.

Both opponents will have some work to do on Tuten. “We should go,” he says. “We never should have went.” He suspects the sentiment among the audience will be overwhelmingly anti-Bush. But, he says, “what I find over and over, even with highly educated musicians–they don’t have reasons why. They’re just like, ‘Bush sucks. He’s a liar.’ I’m like, that’s OK if you’re 12 years old. But give me some justification.”

The debate starts at 7 on Monday, June 21, at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport (doors open at 6:30). You must be 18 or older to attend. Call 312-821-7529 or see to reserve a spot.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.