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Karl Rove & David Axelrod Discuss Leadership in an Age of Political Conflict

Karl Rove & David Axelrod Discuss Leadership in an Age of Political Conflict


>> Good evening. Mr. Axelrod,
Mr. Rove, good evening. And for
those watching via live stream in Hawaii, A low what. On
behalf of the Library of Congress it’s my pleasure to
welcome you this evening as we celebrate a wonderful five-year collaboration with the
Daniel K institute to commemorate the life, legacy and values of the late Senator — they’ve featured
distinguished friends of the late Senator, current and former
cabinet members and other thought leaders. For five decades, the lecture
has brought an expansive themes,
diplomats and historians. From the first lecture with secretaries of state, Madeline
Albright — left an enduring legacy at the library. Some of
you may know that this year our theme at the library is
celebrating our nation’s change makers. And I think you’ll all agree
that our guests tonight fill that bill. And we are excited to hear them
talk about the challenges of our nation’s political system. The
lectures have been made possible by a very generous donation from
the Daniel K. inway institute, we — the
driving force behind its legacy could
not be here this evening but I ask you to join me in recognizing her because
she is watching. (Applause!)
>> Thank you. So now, Ms. Jennifer saf as, director of
inway institute will say a few words. On behalf of the Daniel K inway institute and the inway family,
good evening. It’s hard to believe this is our
final lecture this evening. The underlying theme that we
selected to serve — elected service is
bipartisanship, the power of bipartisanship. And as the librarian said we
began in 2015 with former secretaries of state and we have
continued each year with amazing Democrats and Republicans on
this stage. One of the Senator’s favorite
things was we can disagree without being disagreeable,
which sums up his long time friendship and relationship with Bob Dole, Ted Stevens, Warren RUDMAN. I know that he would never give
up hope that it would one day
return to capitol hill as an important means to move our
agenda forward. A special thanks to our
librarian and her predecessor. And has brought out the best in
each of the speakers. A special shout out to our
institute partner with some of our leaderships in the House
this evening and with the lecture being live streamed on
our campus for our students to enjoy. And finally, in his later years,
the Senator was very fond of saying that America is a great
country. And that nowhere else but in
this country could grandson of Japanese immigrants who came to
Hawaii in search of a better life who would be deemed an enemy alien during World War II
solely because of the color of his skin and who would go on to become the
recipient of the congressional medal of
honor. And then would go on still further to become the president protell me
of the United States Senate and third
in succession to the presidency. Only in America would he say
you’re prepared to dream big, work hard and never give up. Thank you for your support,
friendship and allowing us to share the
with you. Now it’s my pleasure to bring to
you John what is Kell, the director of
community center.>> Thank you. Before we begin
let me take a moment to remind you to silence your cell phones.
And for those of you who are Tweeting the event, we are using the
hashtag inway and includingy. He was an Olympian figure in
Washington, as most of you know, as well as in his home state of
Hawaii. Born in Honolulu in 1924, he
graduated from high school less than six months after Pearl
Harbor. He enlisted in the Army and served in the famous 442 academic
regmeant, who fought with extraordinary
gallantry. In the final weeks in Europe in
1945 he was severely wounded in
battle after taking out two German machine
gun nests. He lost his right arm. He returned home with on that 14
medals and citations. His commitment to
bipartisanship stemmed in pardon by Bob Dole.
He graduated from the University of Hawaii and became Hawaii’s
first representative in 1959, three
years later — Edward Kennedy, of course at that time the
president’s brother. He served for 50 years in the Senate, a rich ligcy that prominent
Senate on the Senate Watergate committee
and decade of — he was awarded as
Jenn pointed out the awarded posthumously the
presidential medal of freedom becoming the first Senator to
receive both honors. Tonight presents the fifth and
final in this five-year distinguished lecture series to commemorate Senator
inway’s commitment to bipartisanship,
moral courage, public service and civic enhancement. I would
now like to introduce our distinguished panelists. Please welcome David Axelrod, Karl Rove, and former
ABC White House core respondent Ann
Compton. (Applause!)>> The fabric of democracy has
never been under so much stress. Leadership is always a challenge
and reporters like me always cover
politics as a fight on a battlefield. So the good news is tonight we
have two real experts, both of them
adversaries but sharing the stage tonight and bringing
together their ideas on their vision of American leadership,
because they have, obviously, seen it up close. We are seeing a graphic example
of political conflict at this very
moment. Karl Rove is what we’re seeing
in the last 72 hours between the White
House and the Congress has some
barrier been broken this weekend that we had not seen before?>> Well, in one way, no,
because we’ve always had ugliness pop up
periodically through American politics. And the ugliness we’re seeing in
Washington has been repeated before. But I do think the last 20 years
have seen a change in the nature of our political discourse
accompanied by changes in how we receive and circulate the
information, namely the explosion of social media,
internet and cable TV. So I worry about this long-term because we’re making it easy for
people to make outlandish comments and
we pay them by giving them lots of
coverage and we engage them like extended
food fight. I think it sickens a lot of people when they see
the discourse in Washington, they say is this the best our
country can do? It’s not one person, it’s not
one party. I’m worried that the system is breaking. I used to be much more of an
optimist than I have in the last four,
five, six years.>> David there is a young man
who launched the young progressives
that have been elected to Congress. He has this criticism of
Democrats. He says up until now we thought
you thought we had to take back the
hypothetical middle class. What I think that means is you
don’t take unnecessary risks and don’t do anything. Whereas he says we have a
completely different change which is the
most different, most badass — can I
say that?>> You just did.
>> He said we have got a completely different theory of
change, you do the biggest most badass and then
that’s when are you going to excite people and they will go
vote. David, does he have a point.
>> First of all, I think he said that get Ann Compton to repeat that
in front of an audience. It’s great to be here with both
of you. We are on both sides of the
political tassel but we share a rev Rens
for institutions and norms. That’s why it’s concerning for
all of us. It’s great to be here for Senator Inouye, who is a great American
hero. I think that what he said is a reflection of an attitude that a
lot of young people have and
particularly young people on the progressive side who have been
frustrated. Many of them grew up and came to
political awareness during the last decade, they saw a kind of
blockade aimed at president Obama and
things like what we saw at the end of the
last term relative to the appointment to the Supreme Court
and their conclusion is you have to fight fire with fire, that we can’t play by Marcus of
queensbury rules if they are not. There’s a danger that
we’re in this kind of spiral and that one
thing feeds on another. I took a group of students from the
institute of politics at the University of Chicago where I’m
the director this morning to meet with speaker
Pelosi and we talked about why compromise
is necessary in a democracy. And if we have a kind of
scorched Earth, zero sum game politics
that envelopes everything, we are not going to accomplish
anything and frustrations are going to grow. I’ll make a last point on this. The Affordable Care Act meant a
lot to me. I have a child with — I felt it
would help people including people
like myself. I have a — even after I’d run
into people, progressives who would
say that was a dare licks, then I run into
people that say that law saved my life and my child. People coming up to me in tears. And I thought we could say we
could have helped your child but we didn’t because we couldn’t
get everything we wanted. That would have been a terrible
mistake.>> Every president who faces
leadership faces challenges like that. Historians will point out to you
the revolution and founding the Republican was no picnic then. Has democracy, David, come to a
crews I believe moment where there could be lasting damage
from what we’re saying in the early part of the 21st
Century.>> I wrote a book called
believer so I feel I have to stick to my brand here. It was a belief in this great
self-correcting democracy that we have. Karl and I have had a
lot of talks about this. The danger is with all of these
new developments, the breakdown of parties, the influence of money, the
media environment, social media environment, and misplaced incentives because
how we sort ourselves in redistricting
and so on, has the game changed in such
a way that we could actually lose it. I have been reminded a lot
lately that the fact that democracy was an experiment, it’s a fragile thing
and it requires our engagement. We took too much for granted. I
think I took too much for granted. I think we can lose
it. And there are a lot of things that we should be
concerned about right now. This is a timely discussion. We
could probably settle it right here.
>> Two quick points. One is Affordable Care Act. Why wasn’t it popular when they
were passing it and why is it popular
today? It scared people when they were
talking about. And yet its implementation
effects is 10 million are covered by it. 10 million who got insurance
coverage and 170 to 180 kept their
coverage. It affected not the whole thing. So it was like David’s point
about incrementallism, maybe the system is designed to accept
that and to be afraid of massive huge changes unless they seem
justified by the circumstances of a national emergency. We must A abolish slavery and
must immobilize to win World War II. If it is a big change in a time
of peace, particularly how it affects us. This issue of
deterioration, David’s right. Things have been ugly for most
of the Obama terms. I remember on July 4, 2003, Ted Kennedy gave a speech that Bush
lied about the WMD in Iraq. Kennedy knew it was a lie. He went and gave a speech at
Georgetown and said we shouldn’t remove it by force but diplomacy. And yet by political reasons he
made this assault on the president’s
fundamental integrity. It didn’t keep Bush from working
on it. He said it’s more important for
me as a leader, which is why Bush,
McCain and Kennedy worked very closely on
reform. For me, it was disturbing because for the
purposes of political short-term gain, let’s do something that we
know from a guy who knew it and had
great enormous credibility in leveling
the charge.>> It really goes back further. If you want to really drill down
into how this deterioration started,
I would argue that it started in the
late 80s and early 90s, with the Gingh
rich revolution and newt brought a
sharper edge politics in the house and
Bob Michael became appeasers and
opponents became enemies and that fed on itself. I want to
make a different point, which is here’s my deepest concern about democracy. Democracy and American democracy
is built to move slowly when the
country’s divided as we are today. That is the way our
system was set up so that one side didn’t overrun the other
side and so on. At the same time, there’s enormous anxiety
because we live in a time of warp speed change. Technology
is bringing change at a faster and faster pace that is
wonderful for people who are well
positioned it take advantage of and very unsettling to the
majority of people who are on the other side of that. So you have this mismatch of
change coming faster and faster and
democracy stalld in many ways and I worry about the disenance that creates.
>> I think David’s right and that touches my optimistic nerve
because we have been here before. If you think change is today,
think about the change that was in the Gilded Age. Electrification of our cities,
the guygantic urban culture and
gigantic society. It was one of four periods in our history
where the percentage of immigrants of the U.S. population is 15% which is where
we are. There was a Republican named
William McKinley that changed politics for the next 30 years. In American politics when we run
into moments where we appear to be coming apart, what generally
happens is somebody comes along and copies the tempers and
copies the waters. Unfortunately he’s generally occupies a corner in the west
wing.>> There’s no doubt we’re
living now in a new industrial post industrial
age and some of the same tensions that you wrote — you usually plug your book
here so I’m going to do it for you.
>> Thank you.>> Karl wrote a great book
about this —
[Laughter].>> Trust but verify. Let’s see
how good you are.>> I highly recommend it. One of the things that happened
was that government did intervene to
protect child labor, children and
invoked child labor laws, minimum wage, there
were a range of things that were done. We made public education
universal through high school, prepared people to compete and
there were a lot of things that government was able to do to
ameliorate the impacts of all that change. I worry now because we have gone through a 40 year period in
which the brand of government has been so
degraded that we don’t have the tools to intervene. These young
people said we should. They see this massive change and all the
dislocation that it creates and they feel like government should
do something big to deal with that. That’s part of the source of
their frustration.>> Let me ask you, because we
have got two people who know not only the
White House and the campaign so well, but you have been there
when presidents have had to make leadership decisions and when Congress has had to either get
on board or find a way to lead as well. Let me start with
Karl. You and I were together on Air
Force one on that quiet September
morning in 2001. And president Bush had been in office about
nine months. He had been a Governor. Most of the presidents I’ve
covered have been Governors, they had executive experience
and had worked with the legislature. How did George
Bush throughout the Ark of his presidency use or change
his leadership skills or find different ways to use leadership
because he went from the post 9-11 crisis mode into
the Iraq and weapons of mass destruction
and Patriot act which took way so much of the kind of
cooperation he got at the very beginning?>> Well, first of all, he
applied what he had developed, the skills he developed. Remember the first member of the
House he calls is George Miller, the
ranking Democrat on the House labor. The first member of Senate he
talks to is Ted Kennedy. He had this mindset that his job
as president was not to worry first and foremost about his
party or presidency but to worry about the country. I’ll give you one 911 example
that represents his continuing view of this. I don’t know after 9-11 when you
went to Chicago with us. We had united America. We were going to go back in the
area, we had this terrible period with
no air travel, we met in Chicago and
united Chicago was going to — everybody in that crowd knew
somebody on one of those three planes. Lots of tears and so
forth. Bush heard that Gephardt was
going to be in Chicago. He asked gep hard to return to
return to New York. He said we have got a problem in
our economy. My economic people tell me here are some things we
are going to offer to Congress as a package. And number one
was a cut in the corporate tax rate. He said it will be easily be put
in the companies. Gephardt said Mr. President, I can go for
three of those. I can’t get votes for the
accelerated tax rate. I think some Democrats will vote for
that. We got back to the White House
and Bush calls Larry Lindsey and
said we are going to swap this out. And Larry protests. The president says Gephardt says
— Gephardt voted against it. I’m a little pissed off.
>> I would let it go, Karl. That was a long time ago.
>> It’s hard, man. I meet with my therapist all the
time with it.>> Who would want that job?>> Buddy at $300 an hour, a lot
of people. Let me finish. I was rudely interrupted. I’ll
take this up with my therapist next week.
>> Working on that anger management thing.
>> I walked into the oval office and Bush said how was the
vote? Gephardt voted against it. Bush
laughed. He said you were so naive as to
think he was ever going to vote for it?
I said yeah, I was. He told you what he wanted and
told you what would be acceptable and voted against it. He said he’s never going to vote
for it but he knows we listen to him. That’s what’s important
for a president to do. That’s when Ted Kennedy calls
him a liar, Bush was willing to say
I’m the adult and let’s get Ted over
here and see if we can’t get together
about comprehensive immigration reform. Ted Kennedy came
across. His brother had started family unification in 1963 and it was
Ted Kennedy who said to the Catholic church I know you liked
what my brother did but we have to dial it back. If your parents come over here,
you’re financially responsible for them but we need to do this in order to
instill greater confidence in the immigration system. That’s the result of being an
adult in the oval office. Bush tried to do his best.
>> David, let me ask you specifically about the Obama administration
when many presidents I’ve covered when they are elected office often have one if
not both Houses of Congress come that way or keep a majority.
And it doesn’t last in modern times. And president Obama had two
years to get Obamacare done and then he
lost the House. How did it make his leadership and his issues
and his way of leading with Congress different after those
first two years.>> First of all, let me say
parenthetically, I disagree with a lot of what President Bush
did.>> Really?
That’s a surprise to me!>> But I never questioned that
he was doing what he thought was best for the country. And I have said this to Karl
privately and in public before, when we
were elected and there was a transition, no one was more
supportive than president Bush in every way he could, including
having all our counterparts meet with us,
explain how the White House worked what they
did, he hosted a lunch enfor president
Obama. And I viewed that as an act of patriotism. Even though
they had great disagreements that they were trustee of this democracy and that –>> He authorized security
clearance for people working on the transitions.
>> He did everything possible to be helpful to us. This doesn’t involve president
Bush and they had a chance to work together a little bit and they worked
together when layman brothers collapsed.
President Obama were in the campaign and it was a tense
time. We were having a strategy meeting, it was a Sunday, and he
said I spoke to Hank Paul’s on last night and he
told me there’s something that happened tonight that’s going to
have an impact on the economy. I told Hank, to the best as we
possibly could, we would try to be as helpful as possible. Ultimately as people remember, a
week or 10 days later, he was called to the White House for a
big meeting. John McCain asked for the meeting.
>> McCain is running.>> He’s our opponent. It
wasn’t what we wanted to do. We were preparing for a debate. McCain called Obama and said we
need to solve this problem. McCain — solve this problem. But president Bush called and
said McCain really wants this meeting, I would like you to
come. Obama came. At that meeting, John Boehner
announced that the Congress and the House would not support them.
President Bush said very little in the meeting. President Obama said I guess we
can start all over. Bush said we are not starting over. And president Obama and the
House leadership provided the votes to
help pass the TAR. And that was as it should be. It was a tough vote, it wasn’t a
popular vote, but it was essential. What was unsettling was three
months later we now are there, the
economy is in full free fall, we’re engaged
in two wars at the same time, and we anticipated that we could get
some level of cooperation around solving some of these problems,
including implementing the TARP and we did not. And that was deeply
disappointing.>> Can I add a little insight
on that.>>Yes.
>> Because I ended up having dinner at an undisclosed location in
Washington, D.C. at a Korean restaurant in
October of 2001 with Larry Summers, we have
a mutual friend, ben Stein. And I
won’t bore you with the details but we had dinner. And during the course of the
dinner he said to me I’m really surprised that we didn’t get
more Republican support. I was really surprised. Can you
explain why? And I knew the answers to the
questions I was going to ask him in return. I said let me ask you a few
questions. Were you there in the cabinet room when the
president said we won. He said yeah. I said did you see a
problem with that? He said no. I said did you ever
go up to capitol hill and meet with the homeless and say what do you have in the way of
ideas? He said no. I said did you ever contemplate
swapping out anything in your package for what they were
offering? He said oh no, we had the best
ideas. I said why should you be
surprised if you didn’t give them a seat at
the table? You need to give people an
ability to say yes. President Obama did what he thought was
the right thing and got it through and he had the numbers
to do it obviously. But sometimes you need a Nick
Gephardt moment.>> I wasn’t at the restaurant
though I love Korean food and wish I had been invited. I can’t vouch for the full
account but one of the reasons why the recovery — we were criticized by Democrats
because there were the third of the package or more were tax
cuts and part of the reason there were was Republicans were
asking for tax cuts. Anyway …>> We have have been talking
about what happened. I want to explore why and then we are going to take some questions
from Hawaii. Why has this current era, the
last couple of years, been so traumatic?
I have a theory and I think it’s the media. Now, I spent 41 years, proud
years, covering the White House and presidential campaigns. But I blame the digital age for
changing the way Americans get their news. And you look back to 1980s, very
close election, what happened that year?
CNN was born. 20 years later the closest
election from a landslide to the closest
election in 2000. What happened by then?
Lots of cable networks. And the way the media brought
politics and decision making and presented leadership to the
country was completely, completely different. David,
let me start with you. What is the main factor that is
happening to us now that might be able to be corrected or changed or
rechanneled?>> Well, there are some reforms
that we could make which I’ll get to in a second. On your
media point, I think what is absolutely true is that we now
live in a world where we can create our
own virtual reality silo in which all our views are affirmed
and often not informed and everyone outside
that silo is alien and maybe even an enemy
and that has been a dramatically
negative — that has had a dramatically
negative impact on our politics. You have a competitive news
media environment, people fighting for
eyeballs and some have made an ideological pitch. Fox News, Roger Ails had an
inspiration which is there was an audience out there. And Fox News has become, and
Karl is one of their great assets.>> I think ass — I know where
you put the acput the accent. I have more viewers than you do,
pal.>> I don’t doubt it. They have done a remarkable job
of consolidating Republicans under their banner. But social
media, obviously, has been a huge factor. Media is part of
it. Part of it is I remember coming
to Chicago in the early 70s, shortly after the democratic
convention of 68 and like a lot of young liberals of that
time, I was very much about reform. I wanted to see the — take it
away from the party bosses and that was done. And little by little we
basically have reduced the role of parties, which played a
moderating influence in the selection of leaders and gave
leaders some insulation in terms of the decisions that they had
to make. The way we — the huge infusion
of money into politics, I think,
has helped add to this. And then the issue of how we
choose our representat we have refined the art of
redistricting, another gift of technology, to the point where
you can cut the sa lamb I very, very thin and
cut the –>> On both sides.
>> Both sides. And most politicians need only
fear of primary. That has really empowered the
polls in both parties to really be a
dominant force. So all of those things, I think,
have contributed to where we are
right now. Donald Trump is not the cause of this. He is a guy who has exploited it
effectively, butly is not the cause. This has been in the
making for a very long time.>> Go ahead, Karl.
>> I agree with David on the weakening of the parties. I have a slight disagreement,
Ann, on the media. We’ve always had this. How big was television changing
our elections and — cheap daily
newspapers, how much was the del graph, used
to take weeks or months for information to flow. The way we
were going back to the early days in the Republican where we all read our little local
newspaper and it was David’s cocoon. We read our local papers so
we’re back there. I don’t have an answer for it. You’re right,
the media has a role to play in it. We’ve dealt with it before and
we are going to have to deal with it again.
>> On that point, you’re absolutely right about that.
The difference is that those newspapers had to be printed and
there were long lag times before they arrived. Now things travel
instantaneously and the insend areay nature of that
can be very, very know profound. I don’t want to sound like a
Luddite. I think there are great things
that technology affords us. I fear that technology is
advancing faster than our ability to fully
get our arms around it.>> I agree and we’ve found a
way to muddle through it. We’re ignoring two big things. One is part of the problem is
both political parties have largely succeeded and their agendas have run out. Republicans wanted to have
limited government tax cuts and defeat
the commies. Democrats wanted to democratize
the country and institute civil rights and we’ve made great
progress. Both political parties are like exhausted
boxers, they’re running out of ideas. There are things to be seen in
both parties trying to figure out what ought to come next.
The other thing is there was an aftermath of the fiscal crisis
that is with us today. It created a moment of pop lass
mid-America. Bush pass TARP, Obama — pop
lass is not a very well organized,
orderly political ideology. It’s more a sentiment. Right and left shares something
in common. Left pop lymph says the — right
now the rich and the powerful, the corporations and the wealthy
are in control of things and we have to redo the relationship
between the little man and his government. You bailed out the
bankers and nobody went to jail and you bailed them out with my
money and I suffered. The right pop lass says the
relationship with the government and little man has been altered
because the little — the banks got bailed
out and you bailed them out with my money and then you turned around and
bailed out sa lindra. Both of the pap lass eating away
at both parties is saying we can’t trust our government and
parties. We need an upheaval.>> I think one important thing
about that is you’re right about much of what you said but it’s also true —
>> All of what I said, man. All of what I said.
>> In your name mind you’re right about all of what you
said. But in reality –>> Which party smokes more dope
than the other party. I just want to ask that question.
>> One of the realities of the financial crisis and the
economic crisis was that companies rationalized
themselves, technology was used to try and solve the problem of
productivity and it’s just demonistrable in
the data that there were large numbers of Americans who have been kind of
pedaling just to try to keep their place. They have not
recovered. The economy has recovered. These have been
years of great growth, dating back I would point out to
2011. But not everybody has recovered
and that creates a lot of tension as
well in an audience –>> That’s exactly my point.
>> Well, then you were right.>> Yeah, thank you. Now we’re starting — it’s like
the last two years have been — the
first two years in the recovery in which wages for working
people rose faster than wages for supervisory personnel and
the reason the tight labor market. I get it. There was a period even after,
and TARP was the right thing to do. We actually made money on it.
Out there in the middle of the country people said you know what,
either I’m a left winger and by god you’re
screwing me or I’m a right winger and
you’re screwing me.>> By the way, it wasn’t just
the attitude of a lot of these folks
was bail outs for the wealthy,
handouts for the poor, and I’m stuck in the middle.
>> Right.>> That was more the right wing
pop lass argument.>> One more question before we
take questions from the students and folks in Hawaii. Why do so few Americans actually
get out and vote? And another question which had
been passed along to me is can a
successful presidential campaign also be a principled campaign? Number one, why doesn’t America
have a much, much higher voting?
>> They don’t want to encourage the bastards. I’m serious. I
think a lot of people say I’m so sick of politics. There’s nothing in it for me,
I’m not going to participate.>> But that doesn’t leave you
with much.>> Well, I know. The good news is we’re in a
secular period in which presidential participation has been rising
since 1996. It sort of may be about ready to
peek. I doubt it. I think we are going to have a period which is unusual in American
History. I bet you 2020 is even higher.
The problem sometimes solves itself by people saying there’s
something in this that causes me to feel I have something to do
to help my country.>> Also, we should note that
the turn out in the midterm elections was
astronomically than four years earlier. And I suspect the turn
out in this presidential election will be higher. And
whatever else you say about Donald Trump, he certainly has
inspired people to pay attention. And I think that he
is responsible for some of that increased turn out.
>> If you chart the midterm increase, it’s like the
presidential year except that the 2014 to 2018 goes like
this. And I think David’s right, we
may pre-stage an even bigger increase.
>> We have an unusual treat tonight. Questions from two
elected members of the Hawaii state legislature. Let us role question number one.>> Hi, I’m representative Scott
— a democratic member of the Hawaii state House of
Representatives. My question is when you’re having a discussion
with someone with fundamentally viewpoints of your own, what are
the tips and tricks you use to keep that discussion civil and
productive?>> Or do you keep it civil and
productive?>> This gets back to that
marijuana thing. [Laughter]
>> Just like a Democrat.>> You know, there’s a coffee
group in Austin, Austin, incidentally,
you may not know this but is a pretty
liberal town like a blueberry in this
sea of red. There are four guys this this coffee group and
they’re all great writers and they’re all left of center
ranging from slightly left of center to way out there. I feel honored because they let
me join their group. It’s civility. Maybe I can persuade them or not
but I’m not going to get angry about
it and vice versa. I don’t know how to recreate that. This may
surprise you. Y’all think of Texas as red neck. You know we — 20 Republican
state senators, when I moved to Texas there are two out of 21. Out of 150 members of the House
I went to work and worked for the senior Republican in the
House. We had 13. There are now 88 or 90. And we don’t organize it on a
partisan basis. There’s Democrat representative
of House and Senate. My member had been a — outside
of big profile, redistricting and
bathroom bill, we try to get things done.
The second most popular State of the Union, 140 days under — we are
going to pay you $600 a month. And it works.
>> Plus tips.>> And it works. This year, the budget for our
state passed the Senate unanimously
and passed the Texas House 147 to 3. And why?
Because members had to get there, they had limited time,
they had to get together and find a way out of it. They all particularly learned
from the last session when we had the bathroom bill up that time’s wasted.>> I think we have to somehow
find the humanity in each other again. Karl and I — I do this podcast
called the Axe files and Karl and I
were in a conference and we sat down and
do this. I started this thing because I
thought if you learned about who people
were, even if you disagreed about
issues, that you could find common things. We have a common tragic thing,
which is that we both had parents who committed suicide. We spent a fair amount of time
in that show talking about that. We’ve done things together since
on suicide prevention. I don’t agree with Karl on a lot of things, but I recognize him as a
person, as a human being, we’re friends. There are lots of
things to talk about other than the things that we disagree
about. Maybe president Trump has
brought us closer together, I don’t know. But I think that part of what
you were saying earlier, part of what happened was legislators live at home
now, not in Washington. And when people lived with each
other and they went to the same church or synagogue or the same little
league team, or the kids went to schools together, they got to know each
other. Barack Obama when he was in the
state Senate had tremendous success because the legislation would go to
Springfield, small town, and live down there and spend a lot
of time together. Socially at a poker every week
where he took money from the Republicans.>> Should have been warned.
>> He was able to pass things like death penalty reform and racial profiling laws and to help shape
the welfare reform bill in Illinois and do it with large majority,
Republican and Democrat, because he knew these
folks and he was able to negotiate in good faith. If you treat people like they
are the enemy, if you — because I
disagree with Karl I decide he’s not as
American as I am, it makes it a hell of a lot
harder to and to some agreement.>> And the trend in Washington
has gone just the opposite. Members don’t necessarily live
in Washington and keep their families here. I’m going to
take question two from the Hawaii legislature and actually
we found a Republican.>> I’m — Republican member of
the Hawaii House of Representatives. I represent district 36 which
covers — as a newly elected
representative and one of five Republican members of the Hawaii
House of Representatives, it is a challenge to get electric in a
blue state because of the effect of politics on a national level. My question is what are the
biggest obstacles to civil and
logic-based discourse in this country and
what can you do to fix it?>> I like where she says
obstacles to civil and logic based discourse?
>> Yeah, logic.>> How do you introduce that
back into the political mix?>> Voters ought to reward
people who are aspirational. The toughest thing is to tell
people what you do and the easy thing
is to trash your opponent. We’ve gotten really good in
politics of trashing your opponent. President like president Obama,
what an incredible message. I don’t want to be the president
of red or blue states but the United States. That’s exactly
what people wanted to hear. If you look back again, I
recommend my own book, the try umps of
William McKinley. It’s got sex, violence, back
stabbing, betrayal and really cool
nicknames. One of the reasons he wins the election, he strikes
these moments of national unity. For example, here’s the
decorated war veteran, these were the men on
the other side of the guns who were trying to kill him and he gentlemen — asked
for their vote. The first presidential candidate from either party to appear with
black voters. He did so openly. And this was unknown. If you were a Democrat you
didn’t deal with blacks at all. Republicans dealt with them at a
distance. Here’s a man who appears with
black audiences and explains we’re all in this together. I hope we have more politicians
in both parties who are aspirational, who can accept the
fact that they are not going to get everything they want and
don’t demand that and put more emphasis in the conduct of their
campaigns on things that cause people to say this is what
they’re for and they’ve drawn me to them because of it.>> We have to align the
incentives so that they actually get rewarded for that, not
punished for that. It goes back to in part what I mentioned
before. If the loudest voices in our
debate are the dominant voices in
primary contests, it makes it — it does
not reward fact-based, logic-based
–>> Is there more of a burden in
a place like the Hawaii legislature where the Democrats
have the overwhelm majority, is it a burden on them to make sure
that the Republicans are at least at the table and have a
voice and are heard?>> I would think so, yeah. And
I would think there’s probably an incentive. What I heard in that question
was she was not a Washington style
politician and out of necessity tries to
work across those lines. And hopefully people reach back.>> This may be parochial but we
had last year in the Texas Republicans preparers a bunch of contests
based on what you would success the hard asses inside the
Republican primary and then people who had a broader view of
things. There was a concerted effort to go in and aid the
people who were the more let’s say aspirational candidates.
And the Republicans succeeded in every single contest except one. And that one contest, the
candidate of the hard right, put in two million dollars of his
own money in the Republican primary of the state House seat.
Seemed to have an impact. The rest of them, because community
and business leaders who said we want someone who is going to put the
education, not the bathroom bill, we want somebody to
recognize they are going to Australian and working
in a bipartisan environment. One of the issues was should we continue this great Texas
tradition of organizing the legislation on
merit and not party. In all but three, the good guys prevailed and the two races they
won in the primary they lost in the general election. And all
the rest of them the good guys held the seat in the fall.
>> It should be noted in the congressional races last year,
you had 31 Democrats won in districts
that president Trump carried. And by and large they fit that
bill. They don’t get a lot of attention because the nature of
being moderate is you don’t draw attention to yourself. That is the story of 2018 were
those 31.>> Back to your point about the
media, I’ve read a rough draft of a column that’s going to be in the Wall
Street Journal.>> Karl writes a great column
in the Wall Street Journal.>> Every Thursday morning.>> I’m going to make a fortune
here.>> I owe you. One of the
interesting things is the media do not hold some of the fringe
members responsible for what they say and do. For all due respect of the AOC,
that draft resolution for the green New Deal where it talks about cow flat
Lance was weird, and earlier on July fifth
in an interview on the New Yorker radio program, she said I want to
abolish GSH, it was an egregious mistake. Really?
Everyone can get on the airplanes with box cutters? And immediately what she said
was immediately Tweeted out talking about reorganizing is
responsible. Well, you didn’t say reorganize,
you said abolish it. And yet the media treats her as
be a serious legislator. Go write the bill if you want to
abolish it and be precise in your language. The media do not hold people on
the fringes of both parties for
nutty ideas.>> She wouldn’t have been the
first to suggest that department be reorganized.>> No, but she would be among
the first to say it should be abolished. And maybe the reporters wrote it
that way –>> No, no, I’ve quoted her
extensively. I’ll let you make that
distinction on Thursday morning when you pick up the Wall Street
Journal.>> I have another question I’m
going to read to you from Colin Moore, director of the public
policy center at the University of Hawaii. To what extent has the rise of
the political consulting industry contributed to political
polarization in America? And do you expect the role in
politics to change in the near future?
>> Hey, I gotta run. Do you want to take this?
>> Well, the consultants have always been with us. The problem is the parties have
been weakened. It used to be the chief
organizer and the Republican bad guys was
James S. ret Clark son and he was their
chief operative. We’ve always had consultants around. Now, as you weak enparties, you strengthen the roles of actors
and campaigns. They are not responsible for going into the
party Chairman and saying I’m with you, pal. It’s how can I throw the fire
bomb or pull the pin on the grenade and
cause bad things to happen for you and good things to happen to
me in the primary contest. I helped to organize the super
pack. American crossroads. We raised $185,000,000 in the
cycle.>> And all you gave me was a
lousy 20?>> I do it as a volunteer
because I don’t want to take a single
dime. I wish to God we didn’t have to
do it. Political parties have tended to be vehicles that tended to be
mostly, not always, to keep things towards
the center of American policies. They’re practical people. They
want to win. It’s who can put together the votes to win. We’ve weakened the abilities of parties to act on behalf of the
— they’ve made themselves office holders. Martin Van Buren became Vice
President because he carefully constructed theterrive of 1828 to help
electric the president of the United States.
He’s made it possible for me to win Pennsylvania and New York to
diminish the Whig strength in the northeast, put that guy on
the ticket, smart guy. Particularly I’m on a — it’s
just all about –>> The issues. There’s more money than there’s
ever been in the system and so again
it’s a question of incentives. The incentive is there to try
and grab some of that cash and there is
an unbridled nature to it. There are no guardrails or
norms.>> I have got two more
questions. This is from Denise cone an. Denise asks has the popularity
of social media polarized politics
and led to the downfall of civility in
every day discourse? In the way we treat our
neighbors and our families and our community?>> I worry about the kourossive
effect of Twitter. I don’t read my Twitter account.
The first time I read it, I had hair and it wasn’t gray. People
are ugly. It says something to me about a
society for getting rewarded by attention for being rude and
crude and angry and over the top. That seems to be a lot of what
social media is.>> It’s also misleading if
there are any journalists here and I’m speaking to one here,
one of the things that’s happened to campaign coverage is
way too much attention is paid to
Twitter and there’s interesting survey that
showed that Democrats who are frequent
users of Twitter were supportive of the
abolition of ICE, but they weren’t the
largest part of Democrats and
overwhelmingly the other cohort of Democrats have exactly the
opposite view. So I think one of the things
that’s happened to political coverage
is we cover Twitter and polls but we
don’t cover people enough.>> This question comes from a
student in Hawaii. Megan O’Connor. Do you think
president Trump emboldence or undercuts traditional Republican
values? And she adds, does anyone care
anymore?>> First, before I answer that
question, let me say something about Hawaii. I just got back
from Hawaii. And my wife and I flew out of
Honolulu. I don’t know if you’ve gone to Honolulu airport but there’s
this unbelievable exhibit about
Senator Inouye. It’s got his pictures and life
story. It is deeply moving that a man
that was so mistreated by his country
— it’s a testimony to the man and our
country. Even though the state only has
five Republicans in the state House. I think this is a big
question because I think a lot of Republicans say to
themselves, I like what he’s doing, but I don’t like how he’s
doing it. And the parties are so broken
that right now, if you attack on
either party, if the leader of the
party is attacked, everybody rallies
around them. Whether this is going to be —
the big thing facing the Republican party is in the
future what is it going to be. Trump is trying to sort of have
an ideology but his most successful
parts been to follow dogma, tax cuts,
conservative judges, deregulation, all in energy
policy. So the real question is going to be what comes after
Trump. What’s also going to be true is
what comes after whoever the Democratnom ne is. Because as I said earlier, I
think both parties are exhausted. There are two boxers
in the ring and beating each other up and that’s
why we’re seeing a battle inside the democratic party with the
hard left. The idea with Medicare for all. Everybody on the stage, who’s in
favor of free healthcare for immigrants. This is going on
for both parties. It’s not going to be pretty but
how it’s resolved is –>> I will say if a democratic
president — we’re headed for a record
deficits. We are involved in a trade war. If a democratic president had
done those things, there are a lot of Republicans, I would
expect Karl Rove who would be pretty hard on them. But this
is Donald Trump’s Republican party now. And I think there’s
a great deal of retsense and we’ve seen it in
the last couple of days, don’t tangle
with him because he will come back and take you out. We’ve
seen it with a number of members of Congress. His agenda has some of the old
Republican agenda is part of his agenda. And his agenda has superseded
some of the old Republican agenda. But make no mistake about it,
it’s his party right now.>> He’s done an amazing thing. He’s turned Republicans into —
hard to see.>> My closing question to you
is looking forward. If Karl, you say the parties are
at a state of exhaustion. David, you have looked across
the landscape and worry about the future of it as well. What is it the American voters
should demand of the candidates and the
parties and possibly of a move away from
a two-party system, is a
third-party ever going to have a major impact in this country.
Karl, you’re shaking your head.>> No, the electral college and
web of state laws are going to make us a two-party system. Here’s where my optimism, I
admit that I’m less optimistic than six or seven years ago but
there’s a fundamental optimism. And that is there comes a moment
where the good common sense of the American people reasserts
itself. And it happens periodically. And along comes
somebody who is worthy of that support and things
change. It happened, we seemed a country
lost in the late 1970s. We had gone through a terrible period of urban unrest and deep
divisions of war in Vietnam. Seemed like we had lost our
mojo. And along came an actor from
California and restored our confidence. Voices of populace were rising
up, along came the man crippled by
polio who said we have nothing to fear but
fear itself. Along comes McKinley, you think
politics today is ugly, I’m reading — one Democrat from Georgia says
of another member of Congress, I
would not blank you if you were a dog. You can fill it in. Who he was attacking was the
democratic speaker of the House. Two years of Republican
government, House, Senate, presidency, two
years of democratic government and the rest of the 24 years and the other 20
years were divided government which little got done because they were not only
deeply divided and they’re still fighting the Civil War. Democrats take control of the
House in 1874 for the first time in 16 years, it’s called the victory of the
bringing dears. And they got elected by simply
wiping out the black vote in the south
by violence that is hard to comprehend today. Has it been
bad before? Yeah. At some point American
people say enough. This person represents our aspirational
goals for a better country, better future, better nation and
it happens.>> I agree with all that. As I said earlier, I think there
is a self-correcting nature to our democracy. And the fact
that more people are paying attention and participating I
think is an encouraging sign. I think there are obstacles that
exist today that are significant that
we didn’t face in the past. We face them in a more primitive
form. So we are going to have to work in terms of how we
communicate and so on. I’ll tell you what, if you ask me
what makes me optimistic. I work every day at the institute
of politics at the University of Chicago, and I come into contact
with young people who are skeptical about
where we are, skeptical about government,
but totally committed to trying to
make their contribution in the world. And they are more open to each
other, they’re in my view, more
tolerant, and I have great hope for this next generation. One
of the reasons I do the job I do is because I want to go home
hopeful every day and they do it for me. Many of them are now
working here and elsewhere doing things that are actually making
a difference and changing lives and pointing us in the right
direction. So my hope is invested in them.>> And this country is in the
hands of the American people and those coming along in the future
and exactly the kind of ideals that the Inouye
Foundation has promoted during this series of five remarkable
years of lectures. Please thank our extraordinary
panel, David Axelrod, Karl Rove. (Applause!)>> You know, over five years in
this series, Ann Compton has dealt
with cabinet secretaries, corporate
CEOs, former cabinet secretaries, journalists and now political consultants
and every time has brought it home. Special thanks to Ann for
five years. (Applause! )>> Thank you all for spending
your evening here with us at Library of Congress.


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