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Rove, Dean trade jabs, talk politics at UAlbany

Politicians face off on health care, consumption tax, and political polarization during debate

By Jacob Fischler
On April 15, 2010

Political heavyweights Howard Dean and Karl Rove squared off in a sometimes contentious debate at the University at Albany's SEFCU Arena on Thursday, touching on the federal health care bill and other political issues before 2,500 attendees.

The debate was the second edition of the World Within Reach Speakers Series.
A key issue in the debate was the new health-care legislation. Dean was optimistic about the bill, but maintains that it will not be enough.

"It is a good first step, but it is only a first step," Dean said about the bill. "It is a Republican bill, and not a single Republican voted for it."

Rove had a simpler answer, calling the bill "an utter disaster for our country."

Both Rove and Dean are known for the mark they have left on the national political scene.

 Dean is the former head of the Democratic National Committee. As a six-term governor in Vermont, Dean signed the nation's first civil-union bill and spearheaded the Dr. Dynasaur, program which gives state-funded health care to children under 18 and pregnant women in Vermont.

As a chief adviser to President George W. Bush, Rove has been referred to as "Bush's Brain," a nickname he does not particularly like.

"The people who called me his brain were attempting to diminish him by suggesting that he didn't have any," Rove said.

Jeffrey Straussman, dean of the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, was the moderator of the debate. At times, Strausssman had to actively settle things down between the two debaters as they took political jabs at each other. During the debate on health care, Straussman implored that the "two on either side of me use the same principles as the audience and that involves civility."

Even with this reminder, Dean still described the Republicans as "the guys that set the fire, then call the fire department, then blames us for hosing down the house."

Some questions were pre-taped and asked by students. One student asked what an appropriate time frame and strategy for an exit from Iraq would be.

"I oppose the war very vigorously," said Dean. "We've been there long enough and we need to come home."

"[President Barack Obama] did not precipitously draw our troops from Iraq but instead said, ‘I'm going to live up to the status of forces agreement negotiated by President Bush,'" Rove said in an interview with the Albany Student Press. "And I applaud him for doing it."

Dean and Rove were asked about their feelings on political polarization, and neither claimed to support it.

"Look, I don't like it," Rove said, eliciting laughter from the audience.

In a rare moment of agreement, Dean mentioned how his generation is "still fighting culture wars" and is "a very confrontational, take-no-prisoners generation." For the first time in Dean's life, more people under 35 years old voted than people over 65, he said.

The debate was filled with some tomfoolery as well as politics. Dean alluded at one point to his infamous speech at an Iowa campaign rally that ended with an emphatic shriek.

Rove also shared a story, which he described as "the worst moment of [his] life," about when two comedians forced him on stage and rapped about him while making him play along, dubbing him "MC Rove."

The debate was not all fun and games, however.

Rove's role in the Bush Administration is the reason why the Campus Greens along with other protesters spoke out against the university for paying Rove, who they referred to as a "war criminal," to come to the school amidst massive budget cuts.

Peter LaVenia, co-chair of the New York State Green Party, was also present to protest the debate.

"We are trying to voice our displeasure that the school decided to pay Karl Rove, who is an international war criminal, money and have him come on to our campus instead of paying somebody who might have done something good for the world," LaVenia said.

The protesters did not confine their displeasure to chants outside of the arena.

As Rove first began to speak at the debate, one audience member stood up and began shouting, "Arrest Karl Rove!" His chants continued until he was apprehended by security and removed from the public eye and ear.

A second protester stood at the beginning of the debate and unfurled a large banner that read: "Arrest the war criminal."

Last semester, the inaugural edition of the Speakers Series featured Gen. Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State. Powell's speaker fee was $125,000. Rove and Dean were each paid $26,500.

Both Rove and Dean spoke at political science classes earlier in the day. Rove also met with the Albany County Republicans, where he answered questions.

The Speakers Series is funded by the Student Association, with support from University Auxiliary Services and the Alumni Association.


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