If politics were a contact sport, Howard Dean and Karl Rove might have been bruised and bloodied coming off the ASU Gammage stage Saturday night.
Driven by the crowd’s boos, cheers and occasional derogatory outbursts, Rove, the former deputy chief of staff for the Bush administration, and Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, squared off in a debate that covered contentious issues like the war in Iraq, health care and illegal immigration.
The Tempe campus debate, organized by the Undergraduate Student Government, was held before a packed house of ASU students and local residents. USG President Brendan O’Kelly said the event almost sold out at nearly 2,800 tickets.
Mimicking their positions on the political spectrum, Rove viewed the audience from the right side of the stage and Dean stood behind his podium on the left.
Rove summed up the difference between the two politicians in a humorous answer to the final question of the night on whether common ground existed between them.
“He’s a hopeful idealist, and I’m a practical guy,” Rove said.
The gloves came off early in the fight as the two political figures discussed the Iraq war and the reasons behind its beginning.
Debate moderator Jose Cardenas, senior vice president and general counsel of ASU, was interrupted by an audience member while asking Rove a question about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
“War criminal Rove, you should be arrested,” the audience member shouted.
After a brief pause, Rove responded to the outcry: “Says you and what international body?”
Interaction with riled audience members then became common throughout the evening.
Rove said the Bush administration made a mistake by not facing Democratic critics who said Bush lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Providing quotes from the president and vice president, Rove asked the audience whether it was wrong for the two to say the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had these weapons.
Roars of “yes” erupted in the auditorium.
Rove responded he had just quoted President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
“Of the 110 Democrats who voted for the use of [military force] in Iraq, 67 of them on the floors of the United States Congress said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Dean responded that “lying” is a very strong word, and to lie would mean the person knew the opposite was true.
“I think somebody lied,” Dean said. “I don’t know if it was George Bush or if Dick Cheney withheld information from the President of the United States … but somebody did not tell the truth to the American people about why we went into Iraq.”
In 2004, Dean ran for the Democratic presidential nomination on an anti-Iraq war platform.
Dean said he does believe in using military force when necessary, but the Iraq war was a different story.
“I do not believe in sending American troops to war without telling the truth to their parents about where they’re going,” he said.
The two political figures then switched gears to the current health care debate.
“I don’t think there are a whole lot of people in the country that believe that everybody shouldn’t have health insurance,” Dean said. “The question is, ‘How are we going to get to it?’”
He said there are two ways: through the private sector and through the public sector. Dean said he is in favor of combining both ways.
“I support [President Barack Obama’s] bill,” he said. “[But] I don’t like the president’s bill all that much because I think the existing system doesn’t work very well.”
Rove responded that America does need health care reform, but this is not the bill that should do it.
About 10 million of the uninsured in America are supposedly illegal or legal immigrants, he said.
“I’m pro-immigration, but I don’t think the American taxpayer ought to be picking up the tab for [illegal immigrants],” Rove said.
The illegal immigration comments brought Cardenas to his next question — what the political figures thought about illegal immigration reform.
Rove said the problem needs to be solved by increasing border security and having temporary worker programs.
“Citizenship is one of the most valuable things that we as Americans have,” he said. “And we ought to make sure that we do not undermine it in the future.”
Dean agreed with Rove that the borders need to be tightened, but said people already in this country who have proven they can be good citizens should have a chance at legalization.“If somebody gets to be in the top half of their class [or] top quarter of their class in an American high school, they should deserve credit for that, not punishment,” he said.
An independent’s scorecard
Political science senior Joe Howard, a registered independent, said he found himself agreeing with both Rove and Dean on different issues.
On health care, he found himself siding with Dean, Howard said.
“I think that we ought to extend coverage,” he said. He believed that Rove had made a mistake with the numbers he had presented to back up his arguments.
But Howard, whose cousin served in Iraq, said on military issues, he sided more with Rove.
“I’m kind of a supporter of the democratic peace theory,” he said.
The theory holds that democratic countries rarely go to war with one another, and is often used to justify spreading democracies to other countries.
On the issue of Iraq, Howard agreed with Rove’s statements on Saddam Hussein.
“The world’s safer without him,” he said.
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