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Karl Rove and Howard Dean Spar Over Obama in Colorado Debate

5 years ago
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BOULDER, Colo. -- When politicos leave Washington, D.C., they hit the lecture circuit -- at least if they're former Bush political adviser Karl Rove and former Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean.

The two brought their show to a sold-out auditorium on the University of Colorado campus Monday. They may not reach the vitriol of Biden vs. Cheney, but the 1,700 folks in the crowd responded with cheering, jeering and a few pointed questions.CU's Distinguished Speakers Board paid $56,000 to bring Dean and Rove to Boulder, selling tickets to students for $1 each and to the public for $15. DePauw University, Penn State and Portland also have hosted debates by the pair. Security was tight Monday, with backpacks forbidden, police stationed around Macky Auditorium and recording devices banned.

Questions ranged from campaign finance and health care to nuclear weapons and Iran, with queries about the divisiveness of American politics thrown in for good measure. The two poked fun at each other from time to time and both referred to pool halls at one point, as in, young people could spend their time volunteering for campaigns instead of hanging around in pool halls.

Here's a look at some of the highlights and the reaction:

Openers: Rove bashed President Barack Obama's administration, at one point drawing objection even from sympathetic audience members when he referred to Obama as "the most polarized president in history."

"He's governing as if there's only one thing -- blue states," Rove said. "It's time to hit the reset button."

Dean countered that the GOP is out of ideas and that Obama is cleaning up after eight years of Rove's former boss, President George W. Bush. He said Republicans need to "knock off this fighting and get something done about the things we can agree on."

"We need a different system, and you're not going to get it by having 41 Republicans saying no to everything," Dean said, referring to the health-care debate.

Health care: Dean said congressional Democrats must be bolder in tackling health care. He agreed with Rove on pooling coverage for small businesses and perhaps some tort reforms. But he also advocated a public option, similar to a plan he enacted as governor of Vermont. Rove called Medicaid "second-class health care" and advocated allowing sales of health insurance across state lines, similar to auto insurance.

The touchiest subject: The final question from the audience concerned "sins of the past" and whether Bush administration officials should be held to account for invading Iraq on false premises. Dean said the country can't have "the spectacle of one administration investigating another." But he added that he believed crimes were committed during the Bush years and said he suspected Vice President Dick Cheney lied to Bush.

That drew outrage from Rove: "This is one of the most cynical and unnecessary and divisive things I can ever imagine you saying."

Rove proceeded to quote extensively and emotionally from Democratic floor speeches in support of the war on Iraq, including those of former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"If it is equal justice we want . . .when are we going to indict everyone of these individuals?" Rove asked. "We did the right thing based on the intelligence we had at the time."

What it will take to win in 2010:
"We're going to have a big election this fall," Rove said. "We cannot and should not try to ride a wave of discontent. What we need to do is offer a positive and optimistic agenda for America. We need to have a pro-growth agenda."

"I think the way the Democrats can win is to be a lot tougher," Dean said. "My advice to the Democratic Party is stop playing defense, get your act together. The American people will always vote for someone strong and wrong before they vote for somebody weak and right. I want to be strong and right."

The GOP political view: Rove mentioned Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams when urging students to get involved with campaigns, recollecting how they both got started. What was Wadhams' impression from his front-row seat (albeit on the left side of the auditorium)?

"Obviously Karl was right and Howard was wrong," he joked. "They are two smart guys, good debating."

Wadhams said he agreed with Dean's response to the question about criminal charges against the Bush administration over Iraq. He said the United States can't get "into a position where every new administration is investigating the last one."

The Democratic angle: Maria Handley worked for Dean's 2004 presidential campaign and is a former Democratic National Committee member.

"I have to love Howard Dean for the fact that he's so honest and not afraid to hold anything back," Handley said.

She noted the two men found common ground in encouraging young people to get involved: "They both talked about the cynicism of the American people. If we want to see change in this country, both parties have got to figure out how to rally the troops."

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