Rave for Rove: Karl Rove’s Controversial Return to AU
Shayna Vayser | 2/29/16 8:58am
| Updated 2/29/16 11:07pm
American Word Magazine
“It was sort of fun. I was safe inside the car, so I feel bad for the secret servicemen who had to clear the way for me.”
Karl Rove is a political consultant known for his work during the George W. Bush administration as Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2007, his visit to American University was met with approximately 20 students lying in front of his car as he tried to leave. The Washington Post reported that students threw unknown objects at the car, with one protester going so far as mooning Rove.
“We can do better,” said KPU Director Valeria Ojeda-Avitia. Inviting Rove back to speak “was a big opportunity to redeem ourselves. The incident left us blacklisted among a lot of Republican speakers.”
When asked about the incident, Rove laughed heartily and stated that he was delighted to be back.
“I go to a lot of campuses and most of them are left-leaning. You think AU is bad? Go to UCSB. It took about 15 policemen to get me off that campus,” said Rove.
You wouldn’t be able to tell that Rove is a controversial political figure from casual interaction alone. He is a Southern gentleman, moving past his security in order to shake my hand and introduce himself prior to our interview. On a trip to Alabama, Rove and his colleagues began writing “ridiculous” haikus that he later compiled into a short book filled with “pictures of a bunch of us nuts sitting in the back of a van.”
He spoke highly of his political adversaries, noting that his most rewarding experience teaching at the LBJ School of Public Policy at University of Texas was engaging with a young Democratic woman who used his open and welcoming class to voice her opinions without fear of castigation from her predominantly Republican peers.
“That’s why I like speaking to college campuses. I know how difficult it is for people on a campus to run against the sort of governing orthodoxy- I wasn’t raised in a political family. I arrived at my political thoughts by myself. I’ve come here because I also like to show conservatives on campus that they are not alone,” said Rove.
Rove’s visit is part of a larger KPU initiative to ensure that Republicans at AU receive the same opportunities as their political counterparts.
“Just because a majority of the campus leans one way doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize other views out there. I’ve noticed that there is such a lack of discussion on campus,” said Ojeda-Avitia. “Being a liberal campus doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversation.”
Such is a more prevalent issue on campus. By bringing in speakers of diverse political background, KPU hopes to facilitate a dialogue that allows people to explore, and even question, their beliefs. This means engaging in conversations that some might consider to be uncomfortable. Dr. Yuk-Lin Renita Wong, a professor at School of Social Work at York University, wrote about “knowing through discomfort”—she argued that transformation occurs through immersion into a “’discursive rationality’ paradigm.” This means that when students put themselves into an uncomfortable situation, they optimize comprehensive skills.
This requires a level of maturity and the practice of realistic empathy. For Rove, a lack of respect is a key component in what creates tension on campuses and polarized politics.
Opposing political groups on AU’s campus clashed several times in 2015. In one inciting incident, ‘Defund Planned Parenthood’ posters were torn down by an anonymous student group. AU College Republicans Vice President Sam Shumate stated that the incident was a matter of “free speech, and liberals can’t stand it when you oppose them.” One student exclaimed that the Republican party was a “mockery of democracy.”
This aggression is not incredibly surprising to Rove.
“There is some unnecessary partisanship from both parties. We are more partisan than we have been in past years, but we’ve got to put it in context. William Harrison “Howdy” Martin of Texas used to sit in front of the Speaker of the House and sharpen a 16 inch bowie knife on his heel [in the 1800s]. I don’t remember Nancy Pelosi doing that in 2010 when they lost the House,” said Rove.
Many ideologically diverse political figures have learned that they can be most successful when working together, something the AU community is continuing toward. Students of all political backgrounds defended the AU Republicans’ right to publicize their beliefs, citing the AU Guide to Student Rights and Responsibility:
“You have the right to freedom of expression and dissent. You have the responsibility not to deny or infringe on the rights of others.”
Upon his return to campus, Rove was met with consideration and a cleared road. A sea of differing ethnicities, genders and political ideologies gave a standing ovation following his speech.
Rove has served as an influential political actor and remains an inspiration for many students, despite their political affiliation. To Ojeda-Avitia, it is important to keep in mind that “there is always something we can learn.”
When asked about what advice he would give to a student aspiring to his profession one day, Rove laughed.
“Read Chapter Four of my book. If you like that one, maybe try the first three chapters. Or the whole thing, that works too.”