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Rove vs. Dean at UAlbany

Howard Dean, left, and Karl Rove duke it out at a political debate at the University at Albany. Photo by Emily Claire Atkin, The Legislative Gazette.
April 12, 2010
A debate between political heavyweights Karl Rove and Howard Dean last Thursday at the University at Albany brought cheers, outbursts and protests as they squared off on issues such as health care reform, the outcome of the 2010 elections and Gov. David A. Paterson's proposed soda tax.

The debate became heated within the first 10 minutes as moderator Jeffrey D. Straussman, dean of the Rockefeller School of Public Affairs at UAlbany, asked their thoughts on health care reform.

Rove, former senior adviser to George W. Bush during his presidency, said the bill was an "Enron and Bernie Madoff idea" and it was a problem that both Democrats and Republicans voted against the bill.

"A bill based on Bernie Madoff-style financing … is not a Republican idea," Rove said in response to Dean claiming the bill was based on one former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney passed in his state.

Dean, former governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National Party, said the bill is essential for the public to view Obama as a strong president, and hailed it as a political victory. Though he said he is not a huge supporter of the bill, he acknowledged it is a good start.

"We have to go by what the [Congressional Budget Office] says," Dean said, "and the CBO says this reduces the deficit in the first 10 years by $138 billion and reduces the deficit in the second decade by $1.3 trillion."

Another question pertained to the upcoming 2010 national elections, which Rove put a bet on the table for $1,000 to be donated to the UAlbany Scholarship Fund that three times as many Democratic incumbents will be voted out of office.

Both agreed the elections will be influenced by high unemployment, as opposed to health care, but Dean said the Democrats will keep the House, but only by a close margin.

Although both are on opposite sides of the political debate, in a topic closer to New York state, Dean and Rove agreed that a soda tax has the potential of being politically dangerous and not a good idea.

"I think you need to be careful about the idea to put taxes on things in order to change people's behavior with zero evidence, and it turns out maybe this stuff is addictive," said Dean adding that he would not tax sugary drinks. "I think we ought to approach this with real caution before we start doing that."

Although Rove agreed with Dean on the topic, he expressed stronger views as he feared a soda tax would lead to too much government regulation.

"I think if in New York state, the government said, 'We're going to tax soft drinks because we're concerned about people drinking too many soft drinks,' it's an example of a nanny state, and we don't need it," said Rove. "Then somebody else is sort of saying, 'We're not going to use revenue sources in order to raise the necessary money needed to fund the government, we're going to use revenue sources to impose our frame of behavior and our thoughts and our ideas on ordinary people.' I think that's wrong."

More than 2,500 people crammed into the SEFCU Arena to see both Dean and Rove clash on issues such as government control of student loans, President Barack Obama's dealings with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the success of Obama's stimulus bill, but the debate ended on a more comical note.

In a video question posed by a student, Rove was asked what led to his impromptu rap song at the 2007 Radio and Television Correspondents Associations' annual dinner. A moment, Rove quipped, was "the worst moment of my life."

"This is a vicious personal attack," Rove said. "First of all, let's get one thing clear, I'm Norwegian, we don't dance; we twitch."

Dean responded with perfect comedic timing recalling his 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus stump speech.

"Well, I happened to be at that dinner and it was every bit as awesome as Karl just said," Dean said as he drew laughter from the crowd. "I jumped up and said, 'He is great. We're gonna' go together, we're gonna' go to Michigan…"

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