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Critics challenge Karl Rove at UMass talk attended by 400

  • A group of people rally against Karl Rove before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of people rally against Karl Rove before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people hold "war criminal", "Karl Rove is a warmonger" and "Karl Rove should be in jail" signs before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    A group of people hold "war criminal", "Karl Rove is a warmonger" and "Karl Rove should be in jail" signs before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • UMass Police remove a group of protesters, top, who interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    UMass Police remove a group of protesters, top, who interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
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  • An unidentified protester is removed by UMass Police after he interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    An unidentified protester is removed by UMass Police after he interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Two unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech before they were removed by UMass Police Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Two unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech before they were removed by UMass Police Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • An group of unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    An group of unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeff Napolitano, program coordinator of the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, talks about Karl Rove before Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Jeff Napolitano, program coordinator of the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, talks about Karl Rove before Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A group of people rally against Karl Rove before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • A group of people hold "war criminal", "Karl Rove is a warmonger" and "Karl Rove should be in jail" signs before his speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • UMass Police remove a group of protesters, top, who interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • An unidentified protester is removed by UMass Police after he interrupted Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Two unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech before they were removed by UMass Police Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • An group of unidentified protesters interrupt Karl Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Jeff Napolitano, program coordinator of the Western Massachusetts American Friends Service Committee, talks about Karl Rove before Rove's speech Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Karl Rove speaks Tuesday at the University of Massachusetts Student Union.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

Several people were escorted out the building for incessantly heckling Rove, and more than 200 people were turned away at the doors because the house was full. It took nearly 15 minutes before the audience settled down to let Rove speak without constant interruption. A fiery Rove shot back at times, telling one agitator to wait for the question-and-answer session and to “sit down and shut up.”

“You’re welcome to stand up to the microphone and say any goofy thing you want to say,” Rove said. “You’re being intolerant of your fellow students.”

On a night when many expected Rove to address the direction and state of the Republican Party, he instead focused on the federal budget deficit and economy and criticized the spending policies of the Obama administration.

“We need to get this debt, this deficit of nearly a trillion dollars under control,” Rove said. “The problem of this country is we’re spending way too much money. Without action, this problem is only going to get worse.”

He described the Affordable Care Act as an entitlement program full of broken promises and reckless borrowing, including using interest payments on federal loans paid by students to fund the program.

“Why are we taxing students to pay for the Affordable Care Act?” Rove asked to cheers from the largely student crowd. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Colorado native riddled his terse speech with an array of numbers, drawing comparisons between median incomes, manufacturing job growth and borrowing before and after the Obama administration.

“We have tried ... spending our way to prosperity and it hasn’t worked,” Rove said. “We need to put our fiscal house in order and bring prosperity back to this country.

“This is the weakest recovery in the economic history of the United States and we cannot afford it,” he said.

In the hour leading up to Rove’s talk, a group of about 75 protesters organized on the steps of the Student Union. Some members of the group Represent.Us, which seeks to get secret political money out of politics, were dressed head-to-toe in $100 bill outfits. They noted Rove’s association with Crossroads GPS, a group that spent tens of millions of dollars from anonymous donors in the 2012 election.

“We are dirty money,” said UMass senior Michael Spahr when asked by a reporter why he was dressed in U.S. currency.

Others outside the Student Union railed against Rove’s record as former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Bush had famously described Rove as “the architect” of his re-election victory in 2004.

“Really, he’s the architect of where this country is right now, the Iraq War, and the money in politics, and I think that needs to be spoken out against,” said protestor Erin Judge, a UMass graduate student who was handing out leaflets that described Rove as “the architect of unlimited imperial power.”

When pressed and criticized by audience members about his role in executing the Iraq War, Rove defended his decision to support the war and retorted that all members of Congress at the time, including former Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, must also be asked why they supported the war.

“Every one of these people looked at the same intelligence and came to the same conclusion,” Rove said.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq came up again during the question-and-answer session and Rove said, looking back, he still would have supported the decision, though perhaps not disbanded the Iraqi army.

“This world is a safer place with Saddam Hussein gone,” he said. “He was a tyrant, a dictator ... a bloodthirsty murderer.”

Rove touched briefly on foreign affairs and said that while the end of Moammar Gadhafi’s reign in Libya and U.S. drone strikes have made Americans safer, the United States faces big challenges and ones where the president needs to play a stronger role.

“We face more hostility, not less from countries like North Korea, Russia, Syria and Iran,” he said.

He highlighted the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi in Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. He characterized it as an incident that was “ill-handled” at the highest reaches of the White House.

“The word of the president of the United States matters,” Rove said as he ended his half-hour speech to take questions. “If the president picks up the phone and calls a world leader, they do something. We need to have a president engaged.”

Several audience members continued to badger Rove as he took questions, though far more were genuinely interested in hearing what the longtime political strategist had to say.

Andy Meeker, a UMass graduate student and self-described left-leaning Democrat, said he saw one of the fliers advertising Rove’s visit at a bus stop and it piqued his interest.

“I was curious to see where the Republicans are headed,” Meeker said, just moments before Rove came to the podium. “If you can’t sit in a room with someone you disagree with, you’re never going to solve any problems. You’re never going to get anywhere.”

David Kaufman, president of the Republican Club at the University of Massachusetts, said the group paid Rove $15,000 for his speaking engagement. The club brings a keynote speaker each spring to the campus and the event was co-sponsored by the Smith College Republican Club.

“I think, in general, this is probably the most exciting time to bring him,” said Kaufman, a sophomore at UMass. “A lot of people are calling us out of touch, a party of the rich, there’s this split between the tea party and the establishment. I really think he (Rove) is the face of the moderate Republicans.”

Since resigning from the White House in August 2007, Rove, 62, has continued to work as a political analyst and as a contributor to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. He has spent considerable time on the speaking circuit, and his appearances have at times drawn protests at other school campuses.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

I couldn't agree more with David Kaufman that Rove "is the face of moderate Republicans." Allowing 9/11, starting perpetual, imperial wars of choice, killing 100's of 1000's of innocents, lavishing excessive luxury on the rich, stealing elections, crashing the economy, playing their base like the puppets they are, all while blaming the Democrats; yes, those are all standard fare for mainstream republicans. Now, if we can only remember that.

First of all, Karl Rove's speech wasn't free—it was 30, 000 dollars—not bad for a half hour's work. Second, if you're a free speech advocate, why are you demanding expulsion for the student's using their right to free speech to protest his war mongering, which is the cause of our huge budget deficit? Intolerant radicals, indeed!

The people who interrupted the speech should be expelled from UMass Amherst or whatever school they may attend. These intolerant left-wing radicals are moronic thugs. The fact that they unsuccessfully tried to deprive people from listening to Rove shows that they do not belong in an an academic institution. They have no appreciation of freedom of speech and are intellectually unable to engage in reasoned discourse. If they do not like Rove, they can ask questions or picket the event. They belong in a communist country where diversity of ideas is not allowed. The irony is that they make themselves look like idiots. Congratulations to David Kaufman and the College Republicans at UMass and Smith College for bringing in fresh ideas! A job well done.

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