Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Karl Rove Visits DeFuniak Springs

(NOTE: This article was submitted for the Feb. 7 issue of the DeFuniak Springs Herald Breeze, but did not make it in due to space limitations.)


Karl Rove's appearance Saturday during the 13th annual Florida Chautauqua Assembly attracted a polite crowd that included city and county officials, as well as actors portraying President Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Florida Governor Sidney J. Catts, and author Louisa May Alcott.

Florida Chautauqua Center, Inc. president Christopher Mitchell informed the capacity crowd at the Methodist Sanctuary that the question and answer session with Rove would follow "an academic format. We are just here to learn. Come to your own conclusions."

The previous day, following Dr. Steven Hochman's appearance, Mitchell informed the media that they were welcome to attend Rove's keynote speech but would not be allowed to ask the Bush administration's former chief of staff any questions.

When an editor from Southern Living magazine, who was here to host an afternoon presentation entitled "So You Want to Be a Travel Writer?" stood up to ask Rove about what he thought President Bush's legacy would be, he was promptly silenced. The audience was allowed to ask questions, but no one from the press was afforded that right.

"God, that felt good," said Rove, who during his speech showed his disdain for the press by referring to "stupid" editorials in the New York Times.

Later, outside the church, the editor said he found Rove's remark "terribly demeaning."

Rove's speech was punctuated by presidential trivia and humor and was generally well-received. He spoke of the personal challenges that befell former presidents and referred to all 43 as "a pretty remarkable group of presidents."

Jim Fowler, from TV's Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom had originally been scheduled to speak Saturday morning, but relinquished his slot to Rove so that he could participate in a wildlife demonstration in the Lake Yard. Rove acknowledged Fowler's presence by referring to some of the more unusual presidential pets.

Theodore Rooosevelt had his snakes, and Woodrow Wilson kept a flock of sheep on the White House lawn. Lincoln, Rove said, wisely refused the King of Siam's gift of a group of elephants.

Rove said during the 2008 presidential campaign, the public could determine how the future leader of the free world might react when under stress.

"You better be in good physical shape," said Rove of presidential hopefuls, "and be unconcerned about your legacy." He said every president had benefited in some way from the previous president's accomplishments.

Rove said a good president must also build coalitions and "put the interests of the country above the party."

During the question and answer session, an audience member asked about the biggest misconception of Bush.

"That he's a good ol' boy," said Rove. "He's Yale and Harvard educated. He reads a lot. He's really smart. A very adroit, very sophisticated and thoughtful person."

A woman who identified herself as "a naturalized citizen" asked Rove who started "this 'Press one for English' thing."

Rove answered that he thought English should be required of all Americans. Later, Rove addressed the immigration controversy, informing the audience that last year 1.3 million illegals had been apprehended and returned across the border.

"It's getting harder, not easier, to get across," said Rove. He noted that deporting all of the estimated 12 million immigrants still residing in the country illegally would be foolhardy and costly. "Rounding them up and saying, 'Get the hell out of here' is not the answer."

Rove said the path to citizenship should be "bleed, sweat, and pay."

Also, Rove told the crowd that terrorism was still the highest priority issue for the country. He said Muslim extremists were determined to destroy western civilization and "restart the golden age of Islam from the ninth and 10th centuries."

Fowler asked Rove, "Have you ever thought of running for president?"

"I ain't that stupid," said Rove. "My wife would kill me."

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