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2009 Fall Issue 3 (October 9, 2009)

Karl Rove speaks at St. Olaf, criticizes Obama administration

October 9, 2009
By Jacob Cohn

Republican political strategist Karl Rove said last Thursday that President Obama’s proposed health care plan was “unnecessary” and would add to the mushrooming federal deficit, while arguing that conservatives need to promote a viable, free market-centered reform alternative.

In a speech before a crowd of approximately 2,000 at the Skoglund Center at St. Olaf College, Rove criticized the Democratic plan for health care reform, describing it as an expensive government takeover that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. The House of Representatives’ reform bill will add $200 billion to the deficit over ten years and worsen afterwards despite Obama’s promises, Rove said.

Rove also criticized the concept of government-run health care, saying that health care prices have gone down in the two categories of health care not divorced from market forces: Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery.

“Markets are more efficient than government,” Rove said. “They just are.”

In addition to fighting Obama’s proposal, Rove said, conservatives ought to propose a free-market alternative, including tax breaks for self-employed individuals and tax credits for those who do not qualify for government programs.

“If we get this wrong, we’ll have to live with the consequences for decades,” Rove said.

Rove’s speech was organized by the Political Awareness Committee, one of ten branches of the St. Olaf Student Government Association, which holds events to generate political dialogue on campus, said Akshar Rambachan, St. Olaf ’12, who is the coordinator of the PAC. The PAC hosts speakers twice a year, during the fall and spring semesters, and past speakers have included columnist Arianna Huffington, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, 1996 Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Bob Dole and other luminaries, Rambachan said.

After his speech Rove fielded questions from the audience, several of which required him to defend his actions as a strategist and official. One audience member reminded him of his publicized observation that America has become less safe under Obama, asking: “How do you justify inducing fear?”

“Being popular doesn’t make you safe, and it doesn’t get results,” Rove said in response.

Another question asked whether Rove felt that Governor Tim Pawlenty might be a viable presidential candidate for the GOP in 2012. Rove said that Pawlenty is “representative of what the party needs,” but added that, in political terms, a “geological age” remained until 2012.

More polarizing questions included one about whether he could have led candidate Al Gore to victory in 2000, “even though he sort of got elected anyway.” Rove accused Gore’s team of plotting to break election laws in Florida and steal Bush’s victory, proclaiming that Gore only won “if you don’t believe in the Constitution of the United States.” Another question asked him to explain his role in the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame; Rove denied any responsibility for the leaking of her identity and attacked the media for accusing him of wrongdoing.

Reactions to Rove’s speech appeared somewhat divided along ideological lines. Northfield resident Helen Medin said she found the speech “refreshing,” saying she “sensed his integrity.” St. Olaf alumnus Matt Jobe also enjoyed the speech and was particularly stirred by Rove’s response to Obama’s popularity, he said.

“I was excited to hear his ideas,” Jobe said. “It made me happy to hear a conservative position.”

However, Rove’s speech raised some troubling questions, said Jason Teiken, St. Olaf ’10, the chairman of the St. Olaf College Democrats.

“It is strange to hear Mr. Rove comment on the current administration after six and a half years in the White House,” Teiken said. “If he had concrete ideas about health care, why didn’t he implement them?”

Teiken also criticized Rove’s attack on Gore’s campaign.

“Gore didn’t have the best strategy on the planet, but the conservative-controlled Supreme Court shot down the right of Florida to control its elections,” thereby contradicting conservative states’rights beliefs, Teiken said.
Despite the polarizing nature of much of the speech, the crowd remained respectful and “the event went very smoothly,” Rambachan said.
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