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A Day With Rove

September 15, 2008

by The Forum

The post below is a hastily written account of my day. I didn't take notes, so I apologize if I am vague or inaccurate.  My thoughts on the speech and the protesters' shenanigans are at the end. 

The Res Publica Luncheon with Karl Rove (11:30 PM - 3 PM)

The luncheon was intended for Claremont McKenna (or, for some elderly alumni, Claremont Men's College) alumni donors.  One of the attendees at the luncheon wrote a check to the College Republicans, more than quintupling the annual budget ASCMC had allocated them.  After the reception and luncheon, Karl Rove gave a pretty long analysis of the Presidential Election and his thoughts-- most of which you could have ascertained from reading his WSJ column or watching him on the Fox News Channel, but it was an experience to hear him in person nonetheless.

The Q&As following the talk were mostly from alumni who threw him softballs starting with "thank you for all you've done..."  It's remarkable how the political leanings of students at CMC have slowly shifted over the years, yet we still have a stronger conservative minority than most any other top liberal arts colleges.

The Head Table (6 PM - 6:45 PM)

Note to freshmen: Any student can sit at the head table by signing up at 8 AM on the day the Athenaeum website opens to reservations.

On the way into the dinner, there were at least 100 protesters outside the Athenaeum.  They tried to hand me pamphlets as I walked in, but I pretended not to understand and asked what they had against Clinton ("Wait, wasn't Rove the Chief of Staff to Hillary?"), and they got pretty angry.

The dinner was fun.  During dinner, the discussion at the head table varied from questions about people Rove had met to questions about his life as a civilian over the past few months.  "I went from 15 steps to the Oval Office to working out of my basement," he said.  He listed his staff, which include law school students, interns, and others, most of whom he had met recently while he was working in the WH.  He also spoke favorably of Blake Gottesman, who worked in the WH after his freshman year at CMC.  Rove also mentioned that he has spoken at more than a dozen schools since he's left office including Penn, Pitt, Harvard, and SUNY Buffalo.

After another student asked him if he had seen the HBO movie Recount--he did--and he launched into a rant about how inaccurate it was.  I then asked if WH staff (including Bush) watch stuff like that, the upcoming movie W, and follow what popular culture thinks of them.  He denied that they follow popular culture, but said that he himself did follow it more so after leaving office to "research for his book."  He said Bush doesn't "sit around googling himself."  I said I bet Obama probably does Google himself (he agreed), and joked that McCain would if he knew how.  Rove didn't like the joke and said that McCain couldn't use computers because of his injuries as a POW (and he demonstrated how McCain's injuries limit his movement).

We asked him if the protesters bothered him.  He basically said he ignores them, but wishes they would get the facts right, explaining examples of times when protesters blamed him for things he had absolutely nothing to do with.  He also told a story about an elderly woman who shouted at him and tried to do a "citizen's arrest on behalf of humanity."  He thought it was funny because it was just one old lady and he wondered where she'd hold him if she did arrest him-- her car?  Meanwhile, about 100 protesters were chanting "Arrest Karl Rove" outside.  Before we were finished eating, I mentioned that the protesters were mostly from Pitzer College, not CMC, which he was unaware of.  Note: Many CMCers, including myself, disapprove of Rove's actions, but few were among the chanting protesters.

After 45 minutes at our table, he got up to give his speech.  The protesters outside got louder and beat their drums.

The Dinner Speech (6:45 PM - 8 PM)

He first thanked everyone from Pam Gann to Professors Pitney and Busch.  We had told him that Pitney is a celebrity on campus and he played that up in his speech.  The speech started with a quick analysis of the presidential election-- he mostly repeated points from his speech at the luncheon.  After he mentioned that we're spending about a billion dollars on this election he made a crack about Pitzer's small endowment.  He later made an unfortunate gaffe in which he confused CMC and Pomona, which was met with strong disapproval by the CMC-only crowd (he then muttered "at least you got your second choice," which made it even worse).

He finished his speech by telling stories about working at the WH.  He tried to explain how difficult the President's job is by describing his morning-- waking up to read a terrifying intelligence briefing, then listening to a list of soliders who had died because of orders he gave the night before.  He also spoke about how breathtaking the WH is-- when Putin visited for the first time, he said "Oh my God" after walking in.  Rove also said legislators would come in rambling about how they were going to yell at Bush once they saw him, but would get nervous and humbled once they got in to see the President.

After the speech, students asked questions.  Most were typical Athenaeum questions, and none stood out as particularly abrasive or difficult to answer.  Rove gave a long, sentimental answer to a question about whether he has regrets.  He said the Iraq decision was very difficult, but that it was the right one to make, citing the usual supporting points.  He regretted the public explanation and PR around the Iraq War, but didn't go into specifics.  He believes history will redeem W's administration the same way it redeemed Harry S. Truman's (another president who left office with a very low approval rating).  He emphasized the importance of planning for the long term security and well-being of our country, rather than day-to-day approval ratings.

After the Q&A was over, he sat back down at our table, turned to me, and asked "Did you get what you wanted?"

My Thoughts

I guess I didn't know what to expect, but meeting Rove reinforced what I had thought working in the Bush Administration was like. It's really a damned if you do damned if you don't job most of the time, and it must be tougher for any president than we can imagine. While I don't agree with much of Rove's or the current administration's policies, I'm glad we were able to meet him and hear him speak tonight.

On an important note, I hope protesters don't scare off future controversial speakers. The protesters wouldn't let Rove leave the building after the program was over and sat in front of his limo and police cars threatening to "citizen's arrest" him if he came out.  Meanwhile, a few dozen CMCers watched and laughed at the commotion, and some CMC republicans held up an American flag and sang patriotic songs to protest the protesters (kind of hilarious, I'll admit).  After about an hour, the security detail was able to get him out of the building.

I also hope this doesn't put a strain on CMC-Pitzer relations.  Someone told me they thought the protesters were about 70% Pitzer, 20% Pomona, and 10% CMC.  If you see the post I link to below, a few Pitzer students and CMCers go back and forth about the protests in the comments.  The bomb threat at snack was also kind of sketchy, and I hope that wasn't an attempt to get back at CMCers for ridiculing the protesters.

While we all believe in the right to protest, I think it could have been done in better taste, especially at the end.  It seemed to be much more about adrenaline, excitement, and "getting him" when Rove was trying to leave the Athenaeum without being attacked.

See the post about the protesters (with pictures and video) a few posts below this one.

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