Posted Sunday, July 30, 5:20 p.m.
Karl Rove, White House deputy chief of staff, defended the importance of politicians in his speech at the Graduate School of Political Management’s Commencement ceremony Saturday in Lisner Auditorium.
The strategist widely known for being instrumental in the election and re-election of President George W. Bush, promised to avoid partisan topics during his address, instead focusing on the profession of political management in general. He said the 77 graduates in attendance were in the same league as some of the greatest political minds because of their education at GSPM.
“People say political professionals are ruining American politics,” Rove said before listing a litany of successful politicians – including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. “While much has changed in the world, political leaders like this make it impossible to dismiss the importance of political managers.”
Rove briefly critiqued journalists and columnists and singled out a Harvard professor he disagreed with, but he said that it was a liberal professor who initially sparked his interest in a political career.
Rove, who has worked on 37 winning election campaigns, told the hundreds of graduates, family members and faculty in attendance, that many politicians are wrong in doubting the intelligence of the average American voter.
“The masses aren’t asses,” he said. “They have great instincts and try to do the right thing.”
Audience response was warm among Democrats and Republicans alike.
“I thought it was great,” said graduate Danielle Duffy, “I’m a Democrat and people thought there’d be some issues (with Rove’s partisanship), but there wasn’t.”
Graduate Ben Gann agreed, adding that the speaker selection was appropriate for the school.
“You want the best speaker possible and he’s a great political manager,” said Gann, who admitted he would probably crash next year’s Commencement to listen to 2007’s keynote speaker.
GSPM participates in the University-wide May Commencement but conducts the individual school ceremonies in July to include students finishing their degrees in the summer term.
A tradition of alternating liberal and conservative speakers for its Commencement ceremony led the school to pick from the conservative pool for this year’s speaker, said GSPM Dean Christopher Arterton. The school asked Rove to speak in 2004, but he was unavailable due to the presidential election.
Past speakers have included Senator John Kerry, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman and columnist Arianna Huffington.
“He was chosen because he’s a player, because he’s an astute strategist, because he’s a political manager, and most of all, because he’s a warrior,” Arterton said. “(Rove) is a person of great success and even though some contents of the body politic and student body disagree with him, most of the student body realize . that whether or not they agree with him, they’ll be able to learn from him.”
GSPM was the first school in the United States to exclusively teach professional politics. It confers degrees in applied fields such as political management and legislative affairs. The school, founded in 1986 and acquired by GW in 1995, had 151 graduates this year, with only 77 present Saturday.