by Jeff Hankins
Posted 10/22/2012 12:00 am
Karl Rove engaged an audience that was certain to be kind to him on the campus of Harding University in Searcy, which is a natural gathering place for conservatives.
He was the latest prominent lecturer in Harding's excellent American Studies Institute speaker series, and he didn't disappoint. The event fell on the night of the second presidential debate, so the timing for his perspective on the election was extraordinary.
This presidential election is a barnburner, he said, adding: "Nothing like it in my life." He predicted that anyone wanting to know the outcome on Nov. 6 should plan to be up late.
"Sometimes I wonder why anybody would want to win," Rove said.
The longtime political strategist did a solid job of convincing me I should be pessimistic about the road ahead for either presidential candidate and Congress, and he obviously believes a Republican stands a better chance of tackling the problems successfully.
In particular, he noted the daunting agenda that awaits President Obama and the lame duck Congress for the 55 days between the election and the end of the year: the debt ceiling, tax cut expirations, automatic budget cuts that are massive, the payroll tax reductions and the expiration of long-term unemployment benefits.
"We can't get it all done - it's just too much," Rove said, adding that some issues will have to be delayed and sounding sort of like he's still a senior White House aide.
At the current rate of job creation, he said, the U.S. won't return to 2007 employment levels until 2025, so a new course of recovery is needed. He also noted that the country has made "promises we can't keep" in regard to Medicare and Social Security:
"Whoever is elected must take it on. The current direction is unsustainable."
Asked about the impact of the Internet and social media on the elections, Rove commented that the Web surpassed daily newspapers in 2008 in terms of where voters get their political information. By 2016, he said, it will surpass network television. The "Wild West" of online has no editor and no filter, which leads to fraudulent or erroneous information that people accept as fact.
Latinos are "natural allies" for the Republican Party, he said, and the GOP can't afford to lose that voter base to the Democrats. They are "our people" because they are pro-life, more likely to be religious and are entrepreneurs. If Texas Republican Ted Cruz joins Florida Republican Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate, it would give Hispanics two significant GOP voices in two of the most populous states.
After scaring us with the political outlook for the country, Rove had the audience spellbound with his recollection of very nonpolitical details of spending Sept. 11, 2001, with President Bush. Everything that had been ordinary while traveling on Air Force One and Marine One suddenly became scenes from the movie "Air Force One," with F-16 fighter jet escorts, high-speed takeoffs and the like.
The fears about what wasn't known in the immediate aftermath of the planes hitting the World Trade Center towers were extraordinary. The assumption was that the president was also a target and his whereabouts was known, so the rush to get him off the ground in Florida was unprecedented.
Rove's most poignant moment was describing how a man in a business suit came up to him in the Atlanta airport a couple of years later and said he was with Rove on 9/11. It turned out the man was one of the two fighter pilots on the wings of Air Force One who was prepared to intercept a missile.
It reminded me that political and national security issues are closely related, yet altogether different when a crisis arises.