Despite public opposition to Karl Rove’s invitation to speak on campus and the anticipation of possible protest, attendees did not disrupt the proceedings when the conservative political strategist and former deputy White House chief of staff addressed them at the Michael Jurist (SFS ’07) Memorial Lecture in Lohrfink Auditorium.
In an event sponsored by the Lecture Fund, Rove came to Georgetown Wednesday evening to discuss his new book, “Courage and Consequence,” and to answer pre-selected questions from the audience. Rove did not review his book extensively but instead focused on the upcoming midterm elections in November.
Rove reflected that this year’s midterm elections are reminiscent of the 1994 midterm election in which the Republican Party regained majority control in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“It looks a little like this, but worse for the Democrats,” Rove said.
According to Rove, Gallup has reported that the Republicans now have a three-point lead, which means that one of six Americans has shifted from voting for a Democrat to voting for a Republican since the 2008 presidential election. He attributed this to an increasing dissatisfaction with President Obama, pointing to perceived shortcomings such as a lack of bipartisanship and the increasing budget deficit.
“At the end of the day, people voted for him because he was aspirational and inspirational,” Rove said. “Expectations of the new president have gone unfulfilled.”
While the political climate is currently difficult for the Democrats, Rove attests that they are aware of their situation and will deploy the resources necessary to conduct political campaigns.
Rove was also critical of Obama’s $757 billion stimulus bill, stating that its implementation has been ineffective and mismanaged.
“Rather than getting things that would stimulate the economy, we got every single bad spending idea that was stuck at the bottom of the drawer,” Rove said.
Rove pointed to the fact that only about 40 percent of the stimulus money has been spent.
After his opening remarks, Rove then responded to pre-screened questions from the audience, which ranged in topic from Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to his view on Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations.”
Rove made clear, however, that the Bush administration had not been perfect.
“A presidency is a human enterprise and human enterprises make mistakes. When I wrote this book, I tried to be clear about the mistakes that I made and the mistakes that we made,” Rove said.
In response to one question, he stated that the biggest mistake that he made while serving in the White House was not fighting back after President Bush was accused of lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Rove volunteered that the second biggest mistake he made was the handling of Hurricane Katrina, stating that the federal government should have taken action to evacuate New Orleans earlier. He said he thought that they were in a difficult position because disaster relief is the responsibility of the states, and the federal government does not have the power to intervene.
“Even though we had no legal grounds to do so . we should have done it earlier. Because it was clear by the time we got there that [the governor and the mayor] weren’t up for it,” Rove said.
When asked about his advice for students in the audience, he answered that among other things, students should “get a life.”
“If you have an interest in politics, go somewhere where it’s real America, and that’s outside the beltway,” Rove said.
The event proceeded relatively disturbance-free, although one audience member yelled out while Rove discussed the No Child Left Behind Act.
Bryan Woll (COL ’12), president of the Georgetown University College Democrats, said he felt the event went well.
“I think that the Lecture Fund deserves credit for trying to find a happy, middle ground in terms of questions and answers,” Woll said. “However, I would have liked to see more hard-hitting questions on topics like the use of torture and Rove’s questionable negative campaign practices.”
While the event was not actively protested, Woll said that one should not overlook the fact that many do not agree with his political views.
“While I think that people enjoyed Rove’s jovial attitude and political savvy, there were several comments that elicited negative reactions from the audience,” Woll said. “In the end, while people did not disrupt Rove’s comments, it was obvious that many of the political and policy arguments that he made were not accepted by the students in attendance.”
Chairman of the Georgetown University College Republicans Geoffrey Bible (SFS ’12) said that he was pleased to see that protesters or other dissenters did not disrupt the event.
“We are glad that our fellow students respected him and allowed him to express his viewpoints on the 2010 elections and a number of other issues,” Bible said.
Following the event, audience members were invited to attend a book signing with Rove.