Ronna Colilla / Lantern photographer
James Carville and Karl Rove might have been under pressure when they formerly served as presidential aides under President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush, respectively. But Tuesday they were under a different type of pressure – the microscope of an auditorium full of college students.
As part of an Ohio Union Activities Board-sponsored event, Democrat Carville and Republican Rove conducted a debate on the 2012 election Tuesday in Mershon Auditorium.
The debate lasted a little over an hour and provided time at the end for questions tweeted by students.
Ohio State professor of political science Herb Asher mediated the event.
“I think that those in the presidential debates should take advice from the speakers tonight,” Asher said.
The debate started when Asher asked if America is better off now than four years ago.
“Yes,” Rove said. “(President Barack) Obama brought the war to an end, and, with the Patriot Act, America is safer.”
But Rove continued on to say with the devastating rate of unemployment and the dropped median household income, economically, America is not better off.
The debaters were animated throughout the event, often abandoning their podiums to address the crowd more directly. Carville heavily referenced charts, while Rove countered his arguments.
From the loud applause that followed each speaker’s arguments, it was evident the audience was comprised of a sufficient mix of political parties. While Carville used humor to convey his points and hold the students’ attention, Rove addressed the audience in a strong, bellowing manner.
Main issues addressed were the economy, national debt, increasing political polarization of Congress and the future of political parties. The analysts also offered background on their career accomplishments.
Neither speaker hesitated to attack the other’s respective political party at any opportunity.
“States that have Republican governors are statistically better than states without them,” Rove said. He then expressed his disdain for Obama’s negligence to take responsibility for the problems in the U.S.
Later on in the debate, Carville got a laugh out of the audience when he made fun of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“I’m glad Romney ran,” Carville said. “Every time I look at Mitt Romney, I think of Indiana football.”
Last season, Indiana football went 1-11.
Carville also said Romney was “not an impressive candidate.”
At one point in debating the current state of the economy, Carville blamed Bush’s tax cuts and said, “Obama has created more jobs in four years than Bush did in eight.”
Without hesitation, Rove gave his own stance.
“If Bush’s tax cuts are to blame for the economy, why didn’t Obama revoke them as soon as he got into office?” Rove said. “In fact, he gave them an extension.”
One exchange stemmed from a new provision of Obama’s health care plan that offers free contraceptive service to women. Catholic organizations and other religious groups have filed lawsuits against the provision.
Interrupting Rove’s response, Carville said: “Do you know what percentage of Catholic women use birth control? 98 percent.”
Later, Rove referenced the Sept. 11 assassination of Chris Stevens, who was the U.S. ambassador in Libya.
“I don’t think it was an accident that one of our ambassadors was killed on 9/11,” Rove said. “That date may be receding from our minds, but it’s not (receding) from Jihads’.”
Rove then mentioned the possibility of an “October surprise,” which is a news event that has the capacity to change the result of the November election.
Another quotable moment occurred when Carville pointed out that while Republicans are focusing on the older, white vote, they are losing the young. Meanwhile, Democrats are gaining educated women, he said.
“When we lost Bubba with the gun rack in the back of the truck, little did we know we were picking up Ashley with the MBA,” Carville said.
Just about the only topic the polar-opposite analysts agreed on was that gerrymandering, or redrawing of district lines to favor a certain party, is a problem in politics today.
As the debate drew to a close, Asher asked one last question: “What makes Ohio so special?”
Apart from being a swing state, it’s because Ohio consists of “confident people who don’t need their egos struck,” Rove said.
The crowd flocked into the lobby after the debate, where Carville’s and Rove’s latest books, titled “It’s the Middle Class, Stupid!” and “Courage and Consequence,” respectively, were available for signing.
Some students seemed hyped-up after the debate, ready to express their own opinions.
Erik Leiden, a second-year in international business and political science, said he came to hear the debate because he is questioning who he will support in November. But the debate did not sway him either way.
“They both made a lot of points, that, if they were to be fact checked, wouldn’t show up too well,” Leiden said. “Carville was an incredible showman, whereas Rove’s a great statesman. It was incredible to watch their two debate styles, side by side.”
Leiden said he also thought the charts, along with Rove’s tennis shoes, were “obnoxious.”
Andrew Bobek, a first-year in pre-business and accounting, said he thought the debate was worthwhile.
“It’s good for young people to be informed politically because they are making their own decisions about their future today,” Bobek said.
Vytas Aukstuolis, a second-year in public affairs, said he attended the debate to hear a new point of view. And in doing so it enticed him to do some research, mainly on the causes of the national budget deficit.
“Both sides were using statistics,” Aukstuolis said. “Yet they failed to agree on a cause.”
However, Aukstuolis said he felt the debate was meant simply to reaffirm existing viewpoints rather than change peoples’ minds on the candidates.
“Both sides were so polarized that there was no convincing to be done,” Aukstuolis said.