Karl Rove delivers speech despite protests

By Patrick Hoff

Justin Surgent/Collegian

Republican strategist Karl Rove scrutinized the current state of the U.S. economy, the federal deficit and the Obama administration Tuesday in the Student Union Ballroom to a crowd that included dozens of vocal protesters.

The 62-year-old former Bush administration official was interrupted multiple times by groups of people who led chants and held signs throughout his speech. Several of the demonstrators were escorted out of the ballroom after multiple warnings were issued to them by Assistant Director of Student Activities and Involvement Lydia Washington.

And, at one point, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who was seated close to the front of the room at the event, implored the students to “be civil.”

Rove, too, addressed the protesters, raising his voice repeatedly and inviting them to question him during the question and answer period following his speech.

“Why don’t you shut up and wait until the question and answer session and ask your questions,” Rove said at one point. “Are you afraid of having a dialogue?”

Karl Rove Speech Highlights from Daily Collegian on Vimeo.

But despite the protests, Rove was able to continue to speak, focusing much of his speech on the federal deficit and the Affordable Care Act, the health care law signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

Rove said that under President Obama, the national debt and the rate of spending has increased year after year, and the Affordable Care Act, he said, is part of the reason for that.

Rove also said that under Obama, the deficit has risen and that “the problem with our country today is that we are spending way too much money.”

“You might be OK with this,” he said, “but I don’t think our country should allow it to happen.”  .

Rove added that by 2037, Social Security will be bankrupt and Medicare will be “belly up” by 2024 unless solutions can be found to fix the problems. He proposed an approach to Medicare similar to how Medicare Part D is run, in which every American receives a check for purchasing power, similar to a Social Security check.

Rove also said that some of the cost of the Affordable Care Act is being covered by interest and taxes collected on student loans

“Why are we doing that?” Rove said. “Why are we taxing students in order to pay for the Affordable Care Act? That doesn’t make sense.”

Rove said that Obama has built on the successes of the previous administration on some foreign affairs, including the timetable for troop withdrawal in Iraq. He also credited the Bush administration with helping to start the drone program, which he said has been a success. But he said some of the administration’s policies have brought more hostility from countries such as North Korea, Russia, Syria and Iran.

“We also face doubt from our allies to how reliable our forces are,” he added.

Rove also spoke about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya that killed four diplomats, including the American ambassador. He criticized how it was handled by the Obama administration.

“Nobody bothers to tell the President of the United States, Mr. President, we’ve got a problem,” Rove said. “The word of the President of the United States matters.”

Protesters gather

Protesters gathered on the steps outside the Student Union before 7 p.m. Many held signs, led chants and some even wore costumes designed to look like dollar bills that were handed out by the Represent Us campaign – a non-partisan group that sets out to curb the undo influence of well-financed special interests in the political system, according to organizer Mike Spahr.

“I don’t have the opportunity to go to Washington or some other city that he might be speaking at,” Northampton resident Julie Dyer said. “I live in this area so it gives me an opportunity to express my opinion.”

Close to 550 people waited in line to try and get seats to hear Rove speak, but only 300 general admission seats were available.

Not all of the protesters, however, thought that interrupting Rove was the right approach. Myra Lam, a 2011 graduate of Smith College, said that she had seen a protest similar to this a few years earlier with the Smith College Republicans brought a speaker that some found to be homophobic.

“The protestors [at Smith], in my view, showed a lot of disrespect, I thought, especially on a campus which was meant to be so open and affirming of a lot of different viewpoints,” she said, adding, “I suppose I tend to favor direct discourse rather than interruptions.”

Jeff Napolitano, director of the American Service Friends Committee of Western Massachusetts, organized protesting both outside of the Student Union and inside during the speech. Plans began being made last Thursday, he said, at an emergency meeting between him and 25 other UMass faculty, staff and community members.

“Our goal that it not be forgotten who Karl Rove was and what he did,” Napolitano said. “The Republican Club is supposed to be about patriotism, Americanism. They just brought a guy who orchestrated a war in which over a million Iraqis died, but over 4,000 U.S. soldiers died.”

David Kaufman, the president of the UMass Republican Club, said that the protesters were ignorant and immature, and that he thought they had made a fool of themselves and embarrassed the school.

“The protests were what we expected,” he said. “We planned for this, planned months for this,” adding that the protests were, “a waste of our time and a waste of Rove’s time.”

Kaufman said that overall, however, he thought the speech was insightful, showing “what the future holds in store for the party.”

Bringing Rove to speak at UMass cost $15,000.

Nick Canelas, Nikki Grossfeld, Peter Cappiello and Alyssa Creamer contributed to this report.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected].