When Karl Rove spoke at Loyola University Chicago’s Mundelein Auditorium last evening, one fact hovered over the proceedings like no other: The American left really hates this guy.
This became evident with the extraordinary security presence at the event, designed to thwart any unwanted disruptions during the presentation of the former advisor to President George W. Bush and architect of Bush’s election and reelection efforts. Arriving at the site of the speech, attendees were greeted by two Chicago Police Department vehicles parked out front and a half-dozen CPD officers inside. The officers were supplemented by Loyola campus police and private plain-clothes security hired for the evening.
According to a member of the event sponsors, the Loyola College Republicans, the security presence was unprecedented except for a visit by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. He noted, however, that in that instance the event was widely promoted to maximize attendance. This event was kept relatively quiet to minimize the possibility of “off-campus disruptions” coming in.
The only disruption of any kind on this night, however, came from an on-campus source. A man who identified himself as Loyola adjunct English instructor Jack Sigel floated among the audience as people were taking their seats passing out a long diatribe in minute print accusing Rove of promoting political “lies, corruption, and dirty tricks” and of being an “accomplice to [Bush’s] war crimes.”
Ironically, Sigel also wrote that “Rove thinks in political slogans and has no interest in exploring facts.” Of course, Sigel wrote that before hearing Rove speak and without taking the opportunity to present a question to him. Upon seeing a uniformed police officer questioning Sigel, CR President Matt Noto intervened and Sigel left the auditorium, probably feeling even more justified in his beliefs.
But why? Why did a campus bookseller ringing up a copy of Rove’s autobiography for a Loyola College Republican remark, “He’s got to be the worst person in the world”? What is it about this affable and self-deprecating Texan that looks like a middle-aged version of the kid from A Christmas Story that makes progressives so hysterical?
Part of it is in his unflappable presentation. Rove is clearly a partisan and made withering attacks on the policies of the Obama administration, but not on the president himself. Even in disagreement, he remained respectful of President Obama and of the presidency as probably only one who’s served a president could. In fact, in speaking of Obama’s election, he remarked, “It said something good about our country that we did.” Something about that approach seems to rub liberals the wrong way.
He confined his prepared remarks to the economy, spending/deficit/debt issues, and healthcare reform. In presenting his case, he relied on a dizzying array of facts, statistics, and data rattled off with apparent encyclopedic recall. Importantly, he did not resort to the ad hominem attacks so often leveled against him or that he’s accused of utilizing. In fact, he seemed sensitive to this issue, at one point acknowledging a “reputation for running the kind of campaign that I don’t actually run.”
Still, his blistering comments make progressives cringe. When he said that “The stimulus was premised on the notion that we can spend our way to prosperity” and joked that if that was right we should have had a bigger stimulus, the fallacy of liberal thinking on these matters was exposed in a painful way. When he said that “Almost every major promise made about health care turned out not to be true” and then ticked off a half-dozen promises and compared them to reality, it had to be frustrating to anyone who’s a fan of ObamaCare. Even in agreeing with the president’s imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya, he said it was the “right decision done in the wrong way” and exposed the incoherence of the policy as it is being executed.
In one area, however, he seemed to win over even his harshest critics. The last question of the evening asked of him had to do with his toughest day in the White House. It seemed like a no-brainer for anyone associated with the Bush era, but he seemed to equivocate at first before finally admitting it was 9/11.
In painstaking detail, he relived the chain of events that day to a hushed audience. He recounted how he was the one who first notified the president that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center and that he commandeered a television in the elementary school where Bush was speaking so he could keep up to date on the events as they unfolded. He explained how the television jumped to life just in time for a recap of the crash of the second plane.
Each new revelation illuminated the situation and his personality to an audience largely composed of students who were children on the day of the attack. For many of them, the tragedy seemed fresh or new as they thought about it in depth for perhaps the first time. He explained how the president had to approve an order to shoot down commercial aircraft if they approached Washington, the harrowing high-speed motorcade race back to Air Force One, the near vertical ascent the plane took as the pilot sought to protect the head of state from a potential attack, and the eventual tree-tops helicopter trip back to the White House when Bush returned to the capital.
Through it all, the image of the partisan attack dog disappeared. Standing before them, at least for a moment, Karl Rove was no longer a mentor to be admired or an enemy to be despised but an earnest public servant who had done his best to serve his president and his county. Then he stepped down, to thunderous applause.
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