OBERLIN — Free speech was alive in all its full-throated, passionate glory on the Oberlin College campus Tuesday night as former George W. Bush administration senior adviser and deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove came to make a speech and sign books.
Inside Finney Chapel, Rove made an intense case for the Republicans and against the economic and health care policies of the Obama administration.
Rove said the so-called health care crisis was never as serious as the Obama administration made it out to be when it pushed for health care reform.
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He said the tea party movement is the response to a president who advertised himself as a centrist and a uniter and said Obama’s policies were dividing the country.
Both the stimulus efforts and health care reform were failures, Rove said, that would create too much debt and hurt businesses.
Rove called for separating work and health care coverage. He proposed transferring the tax advantage of buying health care coverage from companies to individuals. It would help people who otherwise might not be able to afford to buy health insurance afford it, he said, and make getting health care coverage easier for the self-employed.
He also proposed making people who buy higher-end “Cadillac” health care plans pay more in taxes.
He called for allowing more competition in health insurance by letting insurance companies sell policies across state lines and allowing several small businesses to get together and pool their risk to get a better deal on health insurance.
Removing the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals earning more than $250,000 a year would hurt small businesses, he said.
Rove did have praise for President Obama in his handling of the war in Afghanistan and of how he is dealing with North Korea and its nuclear threat. “There are very few ways to engage a nut regime (like North Korea),” Rove said. Obama, he said, is right to continue working with North Korea’s neighbors such as China, South Korea and Japan.
“There’s no easy answer,” he said. “This requires a sustained will and will take a long time.”
Rove made no apologies for anything done in the Bush administration, be it detaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay or going to war in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. His one regret, he said, was not striking back when Democrats began saying Bush lied about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction to get Congress and the country behind the invasion of Iraq.
Several in the audience were intense in their antipathy towards Rove, who was the architect of both of George W. Bush’s victorious presidential campaigns.
The crowd loudly disapproved when Rove said legal immigrants, even if they are working and paying taxes, should not have access to public health care programs.
The crowd was loudest in its dislike of Rove’s comments when he spoke out against gay marriage. Rove spoke of values, saying that he believed marriage was between one man and one woman and that the matter should be for the voters to decide.
“The strategy of going through the courts is wrong,” he said.
“Civil rights aren’t up for election!” someone in the crowd said.
Rove said that while America is not a Christian nation, religion plays a role in public life. The crowd booed loudly when he said that religious people were more moral than free-thinkers.
As a final question from the crowd was being read, two young men came down an aisle. There was a cry of “war criminal!” directed at Rove and students in the lobby after the speech said they heard something about the two wanting to place Rove under citizen’s arrest. Security quickly took the two away.
Many Oberlin students said they wanted to hear what Rove had to say, even if their political views were different.
“It’s not every day you hear someone of his importance speak,” said Dominic Rodriguez, a graduate student from Buffalo. “I’d love to know how he justified his campaign tactics.”
In answering a similar question later, Rove said that politics is hardball and not pretty.
“The American people are smart,” he said. “They can see through unethical, underhanded stuff.”
“Like him or not, he has been one of the most powerful and influential people in this country in recent history,” said freshman Truman Braslew of Oakland, Calif.
“It’s important to understand his perspective, even if he is the scum of the earth,” said sophomore Hannah Scharlin- Pette of Boston.
Bill Born, a farmer from Henrietta Township, came with more than a halfdozen relatives to the event.
“I was very impressed (with Rove),” he said. “He had a real understanding of health care and the numbers. I hope (the students) adjust their thinking and become more conservative.”
Rove urged the students, regardless of their party, to vote in the November elections. Several took that to heart. Immediately after Rove’s speech, Oberlin freshman Jeremy Bingham of Arlington, Mass., went outside to the voter registration tables in front of Finney Chapel and began filling out a registration form.
“The damage Karl Rove helped do to this country is still happening, and he hasn’t had to take responsibility for it,” he said. “That’s why I’m signing up.”
Across the street from Finney Chapel, more than 50 protesters — local Democrats, students and union members — waved signs and chanted in front of two inflatable rats.
“(Rove) has the right to speak his mind,” said Joe Thayer, president of the Lorain County AFL-CIO. “We have no problem with him speaking here. Telling him he’s not allowed to speak is in contradiction with freedom. But free speech goes both ways. We also have the right to speak out and say what we think of him, his associates like Rob Portman and John Kasich, and his and their records.”
Andrew Lepian of Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians was disgusted with the protesters and the rats.
“It’s an unfortunate display,” he said. “(The event) should command respect. The rats — that’s not courtesy or respect. But they weren’t Oberlin students doing that. The student body, even if they disagree, is inclusive.”
Sophomore Maxwell Mueller of Northampton, Mass., said there was a lot of emotion in the days leading up to the speech among students as to how to handle Rove’s appearance at their school.
“Some people were really angry about this,” he said. “And there was a lot of talking about how to express that anger. There are people who are protesting silently, or wearing blue to show their support of the Democrats.”
The evening was a bipartisan effort. Members of Oberlin’s Democratic Party club helped with ushering and taking question cards from the audience.
Contact Melissa Hebert at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.