Stanford in Government and the Stanford Speakers Bureau hosted former chief
GOP strategist Karl Rove and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
to discuss which party is better suited to lead the country. The central irony of the
afternoon, however, was how each opponent unwittingly disregarded a central
theme of their respective positions: bi-partisan reform.
Rove argued forcefully if aggressively, rattling off facts and details at an impressive
clip. Gibbs was more restrained in his approach, and frequently stuck to generalities.
Both figures clung to their respective party lines when responding to moderator
Rob Reich’s pointed questions, which included questions on previous policies and
the current political climate.
Asked about Obama’s cool, supplicatory character—which some have criticized as
a cause for legislative inefficacy in DC—Gibbs argued the gridlock was due solely
to the obstructionist character of House Republicans. Rove challenged Gibbs on
Obama’s record on immigration reform, claiming the President did not deliver
on his campaign promises, despite the decided Democratic majorities in both the
Senate and the House until 2010. Again, Gibbs cited obstructionist Republicans,
eliding GOP minority status until 2010, and failed to consider what may have been
inadequate governance on the President’s part.
Rove’s debate tactics were no less partisan. Reich asked the former strategist to
comment on the tendency of Republicans to be seemingly “divorced from fact.”
Reich cited Senator Jon Kyl’s statement that abortion related cases represent over
90% of Planned Parenthood services. In reality, only 3% of services are abortion
related. Another example was the view, popular for some time among Republicans,
that President Obama was a foreign born Muslim.
Rove’s primary and most vociferous response was to cite parallel
misrepresentations by Democrats. Thus, he basically evaded what may be a
substantive critique of GOP political culture. Further, when interrogated about the
danger Super PACs represent to the democratic process, Rove mainly cited parallel
reliance on Super PAC financing by Democrats. Rove himself is an advisor to one of
the largest Super PACs, American Crossroads.
The primary strategy for each side was to blame the other. While both decried the
grave problems facing the American people that require genuine bipartisan effort,
the failure to compromise lay squarely in the other camp. Thus, while each figure
sharply criticized the obstinacy of Washington politics, their debate performance
exemplified the very problems they challenged.