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Rove vs. New York

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Wednesday’s piece on Karl Rove’s trip to the Upper West Side on Tuesday evening is more of a scene-setter than anything else. My greatest challenge was trying to condense about two hours of debate into a couple sentences. And then, my editor cut all of the quotes from Mr. Rove’s debate opponents.

So I wanted to give you a few of the best exchanges from the debate, which was an entertaining, highly charged but also civil affair. And if you want to read the entire transcript, you can find that by clicking here.

Much of the debate centered around the Iraq war, the response to 9/11, civil liberties, etc. But there were some very interesting exchanges on issues that Slate’s Jacob Weisberg called “partial successes,” but then said President Bush had failed in those areas as well.

I was actually surprised when Mr. Weisberg criticized Mr. Bush’s almost universally lauded AIDS relief programs in Africa. I remember listening to European Union Ambassador John Bruton describe last summer how, even in Europe, those who do not like the Bush administration can do nothing but applaud the president for his work in Africa.

Mr. Weisberg said that he “thought Bush was right to spend a lot of money fighting AIDS in Africa.”

“And then I watched him save far fewer lives than he might have, because of religious extremists, again in his own party, who believe abstinence propaganda’s more effective than condoms,” said Mr. Weisberg, author of “The Bush Tragedy.”

Mr. Rove, a former top political adviser to Mr. Bush in the White House, was particularly livid about this criticism of the president’s expenditure of $15 bilion over the last five years, which the administration says has been used to treat over 10 million people in Africa.

“I heard a dismissal of this incredible effort, by the generosity of the American people, that is today providing over two million people in Africa with life saving retroviral drugs,” Mr. Rove said, and then addressed Mr. Weisberg’s specific criticism.

“Now sure, we insist upon encouraging programs to have to educate people about abstinence and faithfulness within marriage, and how those can help break the cycle of the spread of AIDS. And it’s working,” Mr. Rove said.

At his mention of the word “abstinence,” several members of the audience hissed loudly.

Mr. Weisberg also faulted Mr. Bush on immigration reform and free trade, which he favors.

“I thought Bush was right about the need for immigration reform. And then I watched him surrender to the xenophobes and nativists in his own party,” Mr. Weisberg said. “I thought Bush was right about free trade, and then I watched his lack of leadership lead to the collapse of the most important item on the global trade agenda, the Doha development route.”

Mr. Rove charged back on this as well, though he cleverly avoided addressing whether there were “xenophobes and nativists” within the GOP.

“We heard about immigration, with a, a line that said, somehow or other the President threw in with the immigration restrictions,” Mr. Rove said. “You know what, I don’t think that bill we brought to the floor of the United States Senate was an immigration restrictions bill. It was a bill that resolved the problem in a comprehensive way, and the President showed courage by standing for it and making it possible.”

Rove and Weisberg kept at it through the night. One other good exchange came when Mr. Jenkins accused the Bush administration of arresting Muslims in the U.S. and imprisoning them without trial, such as Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen who was imprisoned for over three years in a military prison before being given a public trial.

Here’s the back and forth:

SIMON JENKINS
You will never persuade the outside world that you have not restricted liberty in America. You will never persuade them that you have not taken out Muslims as a particular group, and you will never, and you never persuade them that you really needed to do these things.

WILLIAM KRISTOL
What things?

SIMON JENKINS
Because—

WILLIAM KRISTOL
What have we done to Muslims in America? What has happened?

SIMON JENKINS
Arrested them.

WILLIAM KRISTOL
We’ve arrested Muslims in America? [LAUGHTER]

SIMON JENKINS
Incarcerated them without trial.

WILLIAM KRISTOL
We’ve incarcerated—

KARL ROVE
Rounded them up?

WILLIAM KRISTOL
…Muslims in America without trial?

KARL ROVE
Rounded, rounded them up? Name one?

WILLIAM KRISTOL
Nonsense.

KARL ROVE
Name one instance.

SIMON JENKINS
The, [UNCLEAR] belabor me all day with lists of people who have
vanished. Vanished.

KARL ROVE
You know—

WILLIAM KRISTOL
Well, that—

KARL ROVE
This is on the border of lunacy, with all due respect.

SIMON JENKINS
But you didn’t need to do it, you didn’t need to do it—

KARL ROVE
We didn’t do it!

 

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