Yesterday afternoon, thanks to my friend Nathan at Red Mountain Community Church, I had the opportunity to go watch Republican strategist Karl Rove and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean debate at Arizona State University's Gammage Auditorium. While I was tired from a long day, I am definitely glad that I went to the event, as it was very entertaining (though not overly informative).
All told, seven of us went to the debate, carpooling in two vehicles to save on parking (which we didn't realize was free on weekends): Nate, Nathan, Evan and his wife Amber, Kevin, Brandon, and yours truly. When we reached Gammage, there were roughly 100 people standing outside signing people up to vote and asking registered voters to sign petition nominating forms for a wide variety of candidates, including Democrat David Lujan, Republican Dean Martin, and a few people I had never heard of from both parties. It was quite entertaining being asked if I was registered to vote ("yes"), and "oh, are you registered as a Democrat?" ("Not even remotely close to it.")
We finally got inside past the throngs of political button-wearers and got our tickets scanned. We were sitting in "Orchestra" seating in row 11 of the auditorium all the way on the left (stage right). I mean literally, I was sitting on the aisle about six feet from the exit door. Made it really fun when everyone was trying to get in and out of their seats. After getting settled and chatting amongst ourselves - catching up, really, since I hadn't seen some of those guys in a long while - the lights dimmed, and the emcee announced the debate participants, beginning with former Governor and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean on the Democratic side (to a rousing cheer from the mostly-liberal audience; to be expected from a college campus), and senior aide to President George W. Bush, Republican strategist Karl Rove (to a chorus of cheers from half the audience and boos from the other half).
The debate moderator was (if I remember correctly) the assistant general counsel for Arizona State University, and his "ground rules" were simple and straightforward: he'd ask the questions and then stay out of the way until time on the subject was to expire. He really did do a good job of letting Rove and Dean talk and only stopping them when it was time to move on to a new topic. It was at about this point in the speech that I was accosted by a member of the Gammage Auditorium staff for taking a couple quick photos of the stage. He tapped my shoulder and said, "I'm going to have to ask you to erase that photo. There are no photos permitted in the house." To which I replied, "I'll put the camera away, but I'm not erasing my photos, and for your reference, if you didn't want any photography going on here, you should have put up signs or announced that policy when the debate started." He muttered some other crap about me not taking more photos and proceeded to accost the other camera-bearing members of the audience (around 30 other people spread throughout the room).
First Dean and then Rove got opportunities to make five-minute opening statements. Governor Dean spoke about the current Obama Administration and the importance of youth voting in the 2008 elections and the continued need for young people to get involved in 2010 and to stay politically active throughout the year, not just during voting months. Typical I'm-speaking-to-college-kids-and-I-need-to-say-something-that-sounds-wise crap. Karl Rove took his five minutes in opening to discuss the Obama administration also, except that Rove focused most on the discord between the President's campaign persona as a "ruthless centrist" and his in-office persona as much more of an extreme leftist.
As opposed to doing something long-winded on each topic they spoke about, here's a basic rundown of the topics and arguments:
- Karl Rove discussed the importance of finishing the job in Iraq and praised President Obama's decision to stay in Iraq until after the election (today's election) there could elect a new government. Then, if the Iraqis asked for a continued presence there, we would stay, and if not, we would leave "starting Monday." Dean opened with supporting Rove's position on Obama's Iraq policy, and accusing the Bush administration of lying to the American public. You can see where I'm going with this. Rove presented a ton of numbers and facts supporting the President's 2003 decision to invade Iraq, made an important point about Saddam Hussein misleading the U.S. and world intelligence community into thinking he still had WMDs and keeping a network of engineers and scientists ready to reconstitute the programs after UN sanctions had eroded, and discussed parts of his new book on the issue. Governor Dean accused Vice President Dick Cheney of controlling the CIA such that it fed inaccurate information to the president and maintained that George W. Bush had put the economy in bad shape thanks to spending over $1 trillion on the Iraq War with nothing to show for it. Rove countered with the fact that the Obama administration had spent more money in 20 months of bank bailouts than Bush had in 6 years of war in the Middle East, that we had democracy in the Middle East to show for it, and that anyone who thought Dick Cheney could control the CIA was likely a moron.
If you followed that explanation, I commend you, because I doubt many of the audience members in Gammage that night could thanks to all the screaming ("you lied!"), shouting ("what branch did YOU serve in?"), and booing, it made it hard to follow some of the points. Seriously people... behave!
- Governor Dean defended the current propositions to reform healthcare, and disputed claims that the current legislation would both massively increase the deficit over 20 years or so and not really help as many people as Democratic leaders are saying. Rove, on the other hand, came prepared with a barrage of statistics and numbers backing up just those very claims. About the only thing they agreed on here was that reform was needed, though they disagreed on nearly every detail about how to do it. At least there wasn't a Sarah Palin "Death Panels" moment or a Nancy Pelosi "If You Don't Support This, You're a Nazi" moment. The discussion was as civil as it could be.
III. Immigration and the DREAM Act
- Rove's argument was that the country needed to step up border enforcement, figure out what to do with the people already here illegally, and put into a play a guest worker program. Dean asked the audience to raise their hands if they had Native American blood in them, and then told everyone else they were immigrants. Therefore, by Dean's logic, I guess we should just let everyone do whatever they want to. They both agreed not allowing people to cross the border "willy-nilly" (Dean's words) is definitely a good thing. As for the DREAM Act, both men skirted the issue with half-arguments about how if someone graduates in the top third of their class and wants to go to college or be in the armed forces for the US, that's gotta be a good thing, right?
IV. The Tea Party Phenomenon
This topic, I was very excited to hear. Karl Rove is a brilliant Republican strategist for campaigns, and Howard Dean didn't get to be DNC Chairman by not knowing grassroots politics. Rove started by explaining that the Tea Party Movement is a positive phenomenon, and is very ideologically diverse. Frankly, he thought, it was interesting that many people in the movement had never been active in politics before, and he relayed a story about a mother who had never done any volunteering in politics before organizing a 1500-person rally outside Nancy Pelosi's California office in recent weeks. On what the Tea Party was to become, Rove said that it should not be either an adjunct of the Republican Party or a brand new third party (it would split GOP votes!), but rather live out its time as a social grassroots movement, somewhat akin to the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, focused on holding government accountable.
Governor Dean confirmed that it is a grassroots movement and said that it's really not only what you see on TV. While it has a conservative tilt to it, it's still good for United States politics because it means people are paying attention and getting involved, which is never a bad thing. In reality, the Tea Party movement is a dual-front movement, and is very ideologically diverse, with Republican-leaning ideologues being the active members focused on "righting" (no pun intended) the wrongs of the leftist Congress and presidency we currently have, and with Democrat ideologues staying home as a form of inactive protest against governmental policies. He also spoke about how the Massachusetts Senate election for Ted Kennedy's seat was one example of this, because "Deaniacs" would probably not let a Republican win that seat otherwise.
V. Partisanship and Party Agreement
I don't think either debate participant wanted to really give up ground that there was agreement between the parties, but the real takeaway message from this topic came from Howard Dean: to his friends on the left, he wanted them to remember that Republicans have good ideas sometimes, and to his friends on the right, remember that Democrats have good ideas sometimes. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, in most of my political posts over the last few months, and on Facebook when I get into political wall debates with Kyrsten Sinema supporters! I don't like to be accused of agreeing with Howard Dean often, but he was right on the money with that one.
Each person then closed it out with another couple of minutes in closing statements, neither of which was important enough to go into here, before shaking hands to a standing ovation from the crowd. Well, at least, a standing ovation from those who had stayed. Several older people from the community left during the middle of the debate citing ideological differences with one party member or the other. I remember one silver-haired woman who had to be around 70 years old storming out in her red dress while yammering on about how she was absolutely sickened by Rove's comments on Iraq and couldn't stay any longer for fear she'd lose her lunch. Other audience members were politely asked to leave by either auditorium staff or their neighbors in the seats around them. Some of those people were actually more rude than I would have expected, although no political protesters were there to specifically disrupt the debate via chanting or throwing pies at the debaters. Most people, thankfully, simply applauded and booed as the situation called for it for whichever person with whom they ideologically aligned themselves. (Although, I did find it funny that a couple people did the "Dean Scream" at random intervals during the debate.)
Who won? Well, I consider a winning debate performance to be the person who best connects with the audience and "wins over" the people there who could be swayed. And in that regard, for as much as I agree with Karl Rove on a majority of points and disagree with Howard Dean, Dean won that debate. Nevertheless, while I didn't really learn anything new, I definitely enjoyed watching two formidable political opponents tear up one another's arguments. Congratulations to the ASU Student Government for putting on a great show!