Karl Rove engaged several students in one-on-one conversations before a crowd of nearly 1,000 people during the question and answer session following his speech on Sep. 29.
The Q&A was a follow-up to his speech on national health care and his belief in the importance of a free market in the health care system.
Leading up to and throughout the event, there had been talk of encouraging open communication and civil dialogue. Provost Mark Krejci sent an email to students the Friday before the lecture, encouraging them to treat Rove with respect.
“I want to thank campus parties on both sides who have conducted a civil debate on the issues,” he wrote in the email.
Rove also encouraged tough questions and debate, saying that he was not afraid of being offended by the those in the audience who may not agree with him.
“If I can handle O’Riley, I can answer any questions you have,” he said.
Rove began his question and answer session by setting the parameters for who could ask him questions:
“The priority is on students,” he said.
During the session, which lasted nearly 30 minutes, Rove took eight questions. Of those, three came from students representing opposition.
Students asked Rove about everything from his time as a high-school policy debater to Washington scandal and foreign affairs. Rove said, in response to a question about the end of the recession, that unemployment rates would rise above 10 percent before the year is through and criticized the Stimulus Package for not making a difference in the job market.
“I’m not going to credit the Stimulus Package yet,” he said. “In fact, I’m not going to credit the Stimulus Package at all.”
Rove also cited the national debt, especially with regards to Social Security and Medicare, as one of the two greatest problem facing America today.
The other greatest problem, he said, was the issue of national security. He defended the War on Terror and the Bush Administration’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in several of his answers. He also denied an accusation, made by an NDSU student, that the administration “spent like democrats” in sending troops to the Middle East.
Rove stood by the former administration’s position that the war was an important step for America to take and that the Bush administration made the right decision to go to war.
“It is absolutely vital to win the global war on terror,” he said. “We are either at the beginning of the end or the beginning of the beginning.”
Sophomore Erik Hatlestad asked the first controversial question of the evening.
“After you outed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, which is treason as we all know,” Hatlestad said, “I’m wondering why you’re not in jail right now.”
Rove fiercely denied outing Plame and challenged Hatlestad to back his word, which Hatlestad was unable to do. Rove then used the opportunity to plug his forthcoming book which, he said, describes his side of the story.
Another student asked a question about the war in Iraq, accusing Rove and the Bush Administration of entering the war on false pretenses and lying to the American people.
Rove defended the war above shouts from students and community members, representing both sides of the war debate, concluding the Q&A session with an impassioned statement about Saddam Hussein.
“The world is a safer place for having that bastard out of power,” he said, prompting a standing ovation from some audience members and cries of outrage from others.
Robert Wanek, a 16-year-old from Breckinridge, Minn., did not have the opportunity to address Rove before the session ended. He wanted to ask Rove about the involvement he had in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before the session began, he expressed a desire to confront Rove and others from the Bush administration on the issue of hiding information from Americans.
“If they’re not afraid of anything, why won’t they answer questions?” Wanek said.
The session ended before he had a chance to reach the microphone, so Wanek shouted to the leaving audience that 9/11 was an inside job and that Rove played a part in the attacks. Wanek was escorted from the Centrum by campus security.
After the event, people on and off campus were still discussing what had happened and its implications for the college.
Eric Johnson, vice president for Advancement, received feedback from alumni and friends of the college regarding the event. In an e-mail interview, Johnson said that he received both positive and negative feedback.
“The people who were supportive, who described themselves as both liberals and conservatives [said] hosting him spoke well of our institutional commitment to being a marketplace of ideas,” Johnson said. “The people who had concerns were generally upset about the recent Bush administration and felt that Rove represented an extremist point of view.”
Johnson said that he has gotten similar feedback in response to other events that have happened on campus.
“As a campus with a vigorous intellectual climate, we may often have speakers that challenge one set of assumptions or another,” he said.
Additionally, there was a Facebook group titled, “Rove Doesn’t Reflect My Campus’ Values.” It was created by Dr. Mark Covey and had 126 members at the time this paper was printed.
The conversation on the Facebook wall primarily took place before the event, but after the event, there were still a few group members who discussed things that happened that night.
Junior Sarah Ahment didn’t support the name of the Facebook group because she said that she thinks Concordia does support the values of open exchange, dialogue, and respect for diverse ideas.
“[Rove] allowed anyone, Republican or Democrat, to ask a question and he answered to them with a credited response in which he gave reference for people to go look it up,” she said.
Junior Steph Villella said that she didn’t think the extensive introduction by the Campus Republicans, Concordia Conservatives, and then the provost of the college was necessary.
“If the event was not supposed to be promoted by Concordia, but rather supported by two of the institution’s organizations,” she said, “it seemed odd to me that such a head figure of the college would have provided an introduction.”
Psychology professor Dr. Mark Covey, who did not attend the event, agreed with Villella.
“If I recall correctly, Democratic Party politicians have appeared in the Centrum, but I don’t recall them being welcomed ‘on behalf of the college.’” he wrote. “I also understand he spoke in front of our portable banners and backdrop Why? In case anyone might forget where they were?
I am a senior English writing major and political science minor at Concordia College, but I originally hail from Fort Collins, Colorado. I have a deep passion for humanitarian aid and the power of the written word. I am currently the Editor-in-Chief of the 2011-2012 Concordian, though on occasion I also write and take pictures.
Dream job: hybrid freelance journalist/human rights lawyer.