At one point during the Feb. 15 debate between Howard Dean and Karl Rove in Boulder, an audience member asked them to answer a question — without blaming the other side of the political aisle.
It was a telling request and a sad commentary on the current state of our political system.
People have become so weary of the constant bickering between Republicans and Democrats, and yet when one side strikes a conciliatory tone, they are seen as weak.
Even Dean accused his own party of lacking spine, perhaps alluding to the Dems’ willingness to compromise with the Republicans on the health care reform package.
“The Democrats are not tough enough,” Dean said. “I’m tired of being weak and right. I want to be strong and right, and that’s got to be our message this fall.”
Much of the debate, held in CU’s Macky Auditorium, was spent on predictable finger-pointing and the same tired talking points.
Rove, a surprisingly adept speaker who got more than a few laughs from the liberal-leaning audience, spent his opening statement listing the usual targets in President Barack Obama’s shortcomings: government-run health care, an “orgy of spending,” a failed stimulus package, trying the 9/11 mastermind in New York City, reading Miranda rights to the Christmas Day bomber before properly milking (read: torturing) him for information.
“It’s time to hit the reset button,” Rove concluded.
For his part, Dean accused his opponent of saying nothing helpful, but then offered few solutions himself: Bush turning a surplus into a huge deficit; Republicans refusing to support the health care bill, even after getting much of what they wanted; the progress Obama has made by issuing executive orders and setting a timetable for pulling troops out of Iraq.
One of the more interesting exchanges came when the two were asked about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to grant corporations the same rights as individuals when contributing to political campaigns.
Citing the dangers of “unbridled corporate power,” Dean called the ruling a bad decision. He said Wall Street has become a collection of “giant gambling casinos. I’m not sure what the fix is, but it’s not electing more Republicans.”
Rove, on the other hand, called the court decision “much ado about nothing.” He challenged the crowd to a bet on the amount that will be generated by corporate campaign giving, saying it would be minimal and that he would give every audience member a dollar if he’s wrong. “If not,” Rove quipped, “you give a dollar to my favorite charity, which is the NRA.”
If you think the ruling is a threat to democracy, he said, “you’ve been smoking something that is grown too much in Colorado.”
He maintained that the decision simply levels a playing field that has previously given too much power to labor unions.
Rove said people should be able to cross state lines to buy health care; Dean disagreed.
Dean said Medicare has much lower overhead than private insurance companies; Rove said that’s because Medicare has no fraud detection system.
The former governor of Vermont even got in a dig about Rove’s home football team, the University of Texas, losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game last month.
Rove’s reply? “In Vermont, they play kickball.”
There were, however, a few areas in which the two actually agreed. They both support giving small businesses the right to pool together to make health care for their employees more affordable. Rove said Obama did the right thing by keeping troops in Iraq and ordering a surge in Afghanistan. They agreed that swaying China’s point of view is the key to preventing nuclear arms in North Korea.
And they spoke with one voice on engaging young people.
Rove encouraged them to get involved in the political process, if only by volunteering to stuff envelopes. “You don’t need to watch so much TV,” he told the youth in the audience. “You don’t need to go to the pool hall. You don’t need to drink so much beer.”
Dean said electing Obama was the first step, but the hard work is not over. “If you don’t maintain it, it tends to fall apart.”
For instance, Dean said, campaign finance reform will not come from those in power at the federal or even the state level — it has to be a grassroots effort. “The really good stuff starts at the bottom and goes to the top, instead of the other way around,” he said.
Ain’t that the truth.
Especially now, when the stuff that has been coming from the top is the equivalent of two whining 6-year-olds in a schoolyard tiff.