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Here’s the transcript of my interview with Karl Rove today in which he discusses President Bush’s book, Prop 8, the Ground Zero Mosque and the campaigns ahead. Later today I talk with The New Republic’s Jon Chait, and I will post that transcript here as well when it is available as Chait’s views on Prop 8 and the GZM are, of course, very different. Here’s the Rove interview:
HH: Joined now by Karl Rove, The Architect, author of Courage And Consequence, available at Amazon.com, and now a talk radio show host. Hi, Karl, welcome.
KR: Hugh, how are you?
HH: I’m great. How did you enjoy your time behind the golden mic of the EIB?
KR: Well, it was lots of fun, but boy, I walked away with a healthy respect for people like you and Rush and Sean and others who do this day in and day out. I mean, it took a lot of preparation, and boy, when I walked out of the room, my brain hurt.
HH: Well, you sounded awfully good. I thought I wished you had had more trouble with your marks and things like that. I don’t want people just thinking anyone can walk in off the street and do this stuff.
HH: Hey, and by the way, how is your book doing?
KR: It’s doing great. They’re very happy with it. The publisher, Simon And Schuster, they want to bring out a paperback version in November, and they’ve asked me to write a new chapter, which I’ve done, on President Obama and the Democrats, and we’re putting it in final stages, and it’ll be out in early November.
HH: Then we’re going to do the long sit-down then when the new one comes out. By the way, have you talked with President Bush about his book yet?
KR: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And he’s, it’s pretty well put to bed. They’re honing the plans for its launch on the 9th of November, the week after the election. And it’s going to be, I’ve read a little bit of it. It’s going to be very good.
HH: Do you think it will impact the elections if it’s leaked before then, and do you worry about it being leaked by people inside of publishing?
KR: Well, and it won’t be leaked beforehand. It is, there’s no intent to get pre-publicity by leaking certain elements of it, and putting it in the hands of this journalist or that. It won’t be shipped until literally, you know, it won’t be put on the trucks until the day before, and it won’t hit the warehouses until after. I mean, President Bush did not want to be, his book to be part of the 2010 election, and to give Democrats any sort of ability to shoot at it. And so the plan has always been to bring it out after the election, and they’re taking special steps to make sure. I mean, it’s an embargoed book, so this is a book about which they made a deliberate decision they don’t need to let little tidbits out in order to entice people to read it.
HH: Now that’s part and parcel of your piece in the Wall Street Journal today, the blame Bush strategy won’t work. And of course, they’ll manipulate the manuscript if they could to try and get Bush into this election.
HH: But I agree with you. I don’t, I think this is a blind alley for these folks to try and go down.
KR: Yeah, in fact, look, as I said in my piece, it’s, don’t take your word for it, Hugh, or my word for it. Your listeners ought to take the word of Barack Obama’s pollster, a guy named Beneson, who in a poll for the Third Way, they publicized the finding well, if you say who do you blame, Bush or Obama, it’s 53% blame Bush, and 26% blame Obama. 21% don’t have an opinion, which sort of grabbed my attention when I read that number, because that’s a large percentage of people who don’t have an opinion. And about something like this, you’d think they would. So I dug into the data set, and hidden in the data set, and unmentioned in the commentary, the cover memo, they asked the question another way. They said do you think it was Obama, Bush, Wall Street and the big banks, or American consumers who lived beyond their means. And in that instance, 80% of the people don’t blame Bush. So if you’re Barack Obama going out there and saying well, it’s all Bush’s fault, this economy, this lousy economy is Bush’s fault, you’re running into resistance, because four out of every five Americans don’t think it’s Bush’s fault.
HH: Yeah, that’s remarkable.
HH: It’s a must-read piece in the Wall Street Journal. Now Karl, I want to ask you about some of the other issues out there. Before I do, though, give me a little tip. I’m debating Howard Dean in Houston for KNTH on September 13th. I know you’ve done a few debates with the former chairman of the DNC. What’s the best advice for tangling with Howard?
KR: I’ve got three rules. One is go well armed with the facts, because he won’t, two, make him defend Obama, because he won’t, and three, you know you’ve got him on the ropes when he starts calling you a liar.
HH: All right. That’s good. I’ll put that away. Now let’s talk about three issues – Proposition 8, Ground Zero Mosque, and the Missouri vote on Obamacare. To what extent to these issues impact the November set up, Karl, which is primarily about the economy and about Obamacare, but we can’t ignore, these are three big issues out there.
KR: Yeah, I think the Missouri referendum has a direct impact. The others have a tangential impact, but they will have an impact. You know, in states, in some of these vulnerable Democrats in states like Arkansas and in Mississippi and Kentucky, and the more conservative parts of Pennsylvania, and Ohio, this decision by the federal judge in California to throw out the will of the people of California in Proposition 8 is going to be an issue. People are going to want to know where candidates are on the issue of traditional marriage, even if there’s nothing that they think their member of Congress or their governor or their senator can do about it. The fact that this has been intruded back into the process by the activate judge, overturning the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box, is going to be an issue. The Missouri one will be a huge impact. I mean, think about this. This is the quintessential battleground state. I mean, it’s Missouri, won in the 2008 election by 8,000 votes by John McCain. This is a battleground each and every presidential election. And for the huge turnout that this thing had, and to have 71% vote note, I mean, look. About 15% of the Democrats, at least 15% of the Democrats who came out and voted in the Democratic primaries, voted against Obamacare. And it looks like, I mean, Missouri is one of these states where you get to pick a primary that you vote in, and that’s your party.
KR: You’re…it’s an open state, open primary state. There are 40,000 people who vote in the ballot referenda against Obamacare who don’t bother to cast a ballot in the Republican senate primary. Of course, it wasn’t much of a contested primary, but they came in, into the primary, to register their vote against Obamacare. That’s a pretty big indication in a quintessential battleground state on how this issue is coming down.
HH: And that everyone on the Republican side ought to be talking about Obamacare all day, everyday.
HH: But what about the Ground Zero Mosque? What’s your advice to people on this? It’s just not going to go away as an issue.
KR: It’s not, and look, I respect Mayor Bloomberg’s opinion on this, but this is wrong for this mosque to be built in this place. This is a lack of religious sensitivity on the part of its sponsors. And the absence of transparency in the financing of this add further weight to the argument that these people are attempting to be triumphant. They’re trying to build a mosque…I mean, even the name, you know, when you look underneath the surface, gives you a little bit of discomfort. I mean, the Cordoba Revival, I mean, named after the city in Spain that was conquered by Islam, and sealed the fate of previously Christian Spain. And what they did was they took the oldest Catholic church, Christian church in the country, and turned it into a mosque. And to go out of your way to name this thing after that seems to me to be, to give us a sense of who it is. And the actors about this are insensitive and bad guys. I mean, the imam in question has said very ugly things in the aftermath of 9/11, and the people who are running with him, to me, are people who are clearly looking to score points in an ideological war, not to provide a community center for Muslims to peaceably assemble and discuss things. I mean…
HH: All right, last question. Karl, I’ve got to get one more in…
HH: …and that is simply that Democrats are attacking some of our nominees as wacky. You know, they’re going after Angle and Paul and now Ken Buck. From a party with Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, that’s bold. But what’s the best response? We’ve got about 45 seconds.
KR: Well, I think the best response is to go straight back at them. And look, when they’ve called Sharon Angle wacky, say look, what Harry Reid has done and said over the years is wacky. We need to confront them directly. Go straight at the issues, and say when Barbara Boxer attacks you, say look, you know, talk about wacky, here’s somebody who did the following when a general addressed her as ma’am. When they attack Buck as wacky, say no, no, no. Wacky is voting for the stimulus, voting for cap and trade, and voting for Obamacare. Now that’s wacky.
HH: Karl Rove, always a pleasure. The book is Courage And Consequence. Look forward to a long sit-down about it when the paperback comes out.
UPDATE: Here’s the Chait transcript:
HH: Joined now by the New Republic’s senior editor, Jon Chait. Jon, welcome, good to have you back again.
JC: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: Rich Rodriguez, are you inspired, are you confident about Michigan’s prospects for the upcoming Big 10 season?
JC: Yes, I am. We will revisit this as the season goes on, but yeah. No, I think the team will be all right.
HH: Because I just saw my ESPN magazine, and my Sports Illustrated. They’re not ranked very high.
JC: No, not ranked high.
JC: (laughing) I think this squad’s going to do better, but we will see.
HH: All right, we’ll check back. Jon, let’s cover a few things you’ve written over at www.tnr.com in your blog.
HH: First, the Prop. 8 decision, you appear to be, from your most recent posting, comfortable with the idea that no judicial review necessary.
JC: You know, I’m morally comfortable with it. Legally, again, that’s way over my head, but you know, I linked to a guy making an argument that it won’t happen, so it seems like an interesting argument.
HH: Now you write that the fundamental issue with gay marriage is that opponents have never been able to adequately explain who is hurt by letting gays marry.
HH: In this instance, is it fair to say that the people who sponsored and spent money and time on Prop. 8 following the laws of California, and the provisions of California Constitution, investing all that time and effort, win the vote, win the California Supreme Court case upholding the vote, that a single federal judge striking them down, manipulating the process as he does so by dismissing Imperial County, that they would not be injured by virtue of his ruling here?
JC: Well, I don’t know what you mean by manipulating the process. That’s not an accusation I’ve heard at all.
HH: Dismissal of Imperial County, it’s, among legal scholars, it’s been talked about quite a lot.
JC: Right, again, like if you’re talking about it as a legal issue, you know, this is not the thing I know. When I was quoting, I was quoting a legal expert who’s making an argument about, a legal argument about standing. What I’m making is a moral argument, and I would say there’s a parallel between the legal issue and the moral issue. The moral issue is no one is hurt by gay marriage, so that’s basically my commentary and my position.
HH: And I wasn’t going to join that debate. I was just going to ask you if you think people are hurt by following the law, spending all that time and money getting an initiative qualified, winning the campaigning, defending it before the California Supreme Court, are they injured by that process to then be told nah, never mind, by a single federal judge? Is that an injury not to the people who want to get married who are the same sex, but to people who use the political process in good faith?
JC: Is that an injury? You know, you’re saying not in a legal way but in a moral way.
JC: You know, maybe it is. You know, maybe you’re right about that.
HH: All right. It’s just something to think about, because I do think people are overlooking the fact there’s an awful lot of reliance on the laws of California that are being put in peril here by this judge’s suggestion there’s no review necessary. Now I want to talk about Ground Zero Mosque.
HH: Charles Krauthammer, you say, is at least open to the construction of mosques, outside of this mosque’s exclusion. And of course, he’s actually said mosques everywhere, just not here, hasn’t he?
JC: Yeah, right.
HH: So it’s overstatement a little bit for the purpose of your thing. But you also write Krauthammer’s approach…
JC: No, I think that’s what I think. He’s saying there should be a mosque exclusion zone of some undetermined size in Lower Manhattan. But it shouldn’t extend beyond that.
HH: But you wrote he is at least open to. In fact, he’s endorsed…
JC: Well, I wrote Krauthammer at least is open to the construction of mosques elsewhere.
HH: And that significantly understates his position, which is I think the classic liberal position of free exercise of religion outside of a few particular places.
JC: Right. He’s open to the construction of mosques elsewhere.
HH: Okay, I thought it was overstated. But you also write, Krauthammer’s approach…
JC: He’s not demanding them. He’s just saying he’s open to it. It’s fine.
HH: Krauthammer’s approach is to treat all Muslims as political terrorists. Do you think that’s overstatement?
JC: As potential terrorists.
JC: I think that is the proper interpretation of what he wrote. What he wrote was who’s to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter, which is true. You know, he’s fixating on the potential that any mosque will one day bring in some kind of terrorist or the spiritual mentor to a terrorist, which is, you know, of course possible. But that’s not, I don’t think that’s a proper way to treat them.
HH: Is that accurately conveyed when you write that his approach is to treat all Muslims as potential terrorists?
JC: That’s exactly what he’s doing here, yes. He’s saying, he’s not, he’s saying there’s no, he’s saying without any particular reason to think that this mosque will harbor terrorists, he’s saying who’s to say that they won’t.
HH: No, he’s saying if they were to hire a known terrorist, that would be an objection. He’s not saying treat every Muslim as a potential terrorist, which is quite radically different, isn’t it, Jon?
JC: No, I think it is. What he says is who’s to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual mentor of the…again, that, what he’s saying there is that they should be considered, essentially, potential terrorists.
HH: I don’t think so.
JC: But the fact that there’s no evidence that they are doesn’t mean that they won’t be.
HH: No, he named a specific, well-known terrorist who’s hiding out in Yemen, and is responsible for inciting mass violence against Americans. That’s very different from saying treat all Muslims as potential terrorists.
JC: He said that the mosque could hire, could bring someone like that on board, without any reason to believe that they would.
HH: Isn’t…are you at all concerned about attributing to someone a degree of anti-Muslim phobia that they don’t even remotely harbor, Jon?
JC: I would not do that.
HH: Okay, look at that sentence again. Were you a member of Journolist?
HH: Were you reading Ackerman’s piece when he suggested people attack Fred Barnes as a racist?
JC: I don’t think so.
HH: You didn’t read that one?
JC: I probably, I don’t know. I mean, he, he tends to fly off the handle and write things. You know, it wouldn’t necessarily strike me, I wouldn’t necessarily remember it if he did.
HH: What about the morality of that proposal?
JC: Well, it’s insane.
HH: Insane, but is it immoral?
JC: Oh, yeah.
HH: Ought he to apologize for it?
JC: You know, I don’t know if you need to publicly apologize for saying some crazy thing in private. Haven’t you ever said something in private that you know, you don’t really mean, that you’re angry about somebody and say that guy should be shot, you know, blah, blah, blah? Have you ever said something like that?
HH: I don’t think so, but if I had and it became public, I would apologize to the person about whom I said it.
JC: Fair enough. No, the thing is, this is, you know, this is a guy who first of all, you don’t need to go on covering Journolist to find an example of Spencer Ackerman saying crazy things. I mean, just read his blog. People have been treating this as a revelation. That’s what he does.
HH: Well, anyone who read it with specificity, ought they to have written him back immediately, that’s insane, Spencer, you can’t do that, he’s an innocent man, you can’t charge him with a very serious moral thing like that?
JC: You know, honestly, if it was someone else, I think people would have done that. I think people just got used to the idea that he goes completely over the top so often that people just tune it out.
HH: All right, now I want to go back to Ground Zero Mosque. Are there any restrictions that you would accept in the area around Ground Zero as appropriate for protection of a sacred space?
JC: Probably. I mean, there’s nothing I’m thinking of off the top of my head, but I’m certainly open to those that are, yeah, that are, I think, done in a fair-minded spirit.
HH: So if they are neutrally applied, such that they would ban any use that attempted to exploit proximity to Ground Zero, would you be comfortable with that?
JC: I wouldn’t be comfortable with any such regulation, but I would be open to regulations that are such as the ones you’re describing, yes.
HH: You think they’d be Constitutional?
JC: Well, it would depend on the regulation.
HH: Well, let’s say that we do not want any house of worship of any sort – Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, Jewish…
HH: …within a half mile of Ground Zero. Would that be, in your mind, acceptable?
JC: That’s a zoning restriction, right?
JC: I mean, we have zoning restrictions, so yeah.
HH: Okay, so when we come back, I’ll take a brief break here with Jonathan Chait from the New Republic. I’m going to ask him then what’s up with Mayor Bloomberg, who seemed to treat the idea that any kind of restriction there would be an assault on the Constitution.
– – – –
HH: Okay, Jon, so Mayor Bloomberg accused everyone of being basically bigots who opposed the Ground Zero Mosque. Do you think he overstated that?
JC: I don’t know exactly what he said. I mean, if he said that everyone who opposes it is a bigot, then that’s not true. That’s certainly, I don’t think people are, everyone who’s opposing this is doing so out of bigotry.
HH: All right.
JC: But I do think that’s the effect of it.
HH: And do you, would it matter if it was not Faisal Abdul Rauf, who is behind the Ground Zero Mosque, but a known extremist who advocated violence against the United States. Would that be grounds for preventing it from being built?
JC: Grounds for, did he say violence?
HH: No, grounds for preventing the mosque from being built if the proponent of the mosque was in fact a known and admitted terrorist sympathizer.
JC: Right. I think so. I think that would change, yeah, I mean, I think…well, let’s put it this way. If someone was actually trying to construct what the critics have described, which is a kind of victory mosque to celebrate al Qaeda’s triumph, then yes, I think there would be strong grounds for opposition.
HH: Now you see, Jon, that’s where I think the left runs into trouble on this, because that’s not a rule of reason that can be applied. Then, you’re looking at motive. You’re looking at identity, and you’re trusting, you’re going to search out people’s, you’re going to search out their motivations, which will involve the government in inspection of religious beliefs. That’s why…
JC: You’re right. Well, I’m not saying that they should, that they would necessarily have legal grounds. But I do think that would be a good reason to do what the opponents are doing, which is to try to appeal to moral suasion, and say do not build this.
HH: Could the government stop it, though, if it was a known terrorist, if it was, you know, the Blind Sheikh on parole or one of his followers who had attacked the World Trade Center?
JC: That’s the whole thing about known terrorists. If he’s a known terrorist, I think they could stop it by arresting him.
HH: But if a known sympathizer, could they stop a known sympathizer, though not a convicted terrorist?
JC: I’m not, I don’t know if I have the legal expertise to answer that question.
HH: What do you think the law should be in that instance?
JC: What do they say? Hard cases make for bad law, where you know, you devise a tricky hypothetical law that challenges your basic principles? I think that’s kind of what’s, what you’re up to here. Now I’m sure that’s probably what you spent all of law school doing, but you know, I’m not really sure what’s the gray spot in the law where you can try to come up with some neutral legal principle that doesn’t discriminate against Muslims against another religion while still having that in. I suspect you just probably wouldn’t be able to do anything.
HH: There’s a piece in the New Republic by Reuel Marc Gerecht. Have you had a chance to read it yet on Faisal Abdul Rauf?
JC: No, I’ve not. I saw it, but I haven’t gotten to it.
HH: Oh, when you get a chance to read it, we’ll come back to that. Now I want to finish up by talking with you about the state of intellectual conservatism. Are you objecting to the Weekly Standard’s having fun with the word refudiation?
JC: No, I’m poking fun at the whole intellectual tenor of first the editorial, and then the attempt to make money off of it.
HH: Do you think you can draw any conclusions about the intellectual standing of conservatism based upon a parody and a joke?
JC: I don’t think it’s a parody. I think it’s an actual campaign. What, for the listeners who don’t know what it is, so first Sarah Palin talked about refudiating liberalism, refudiating Obama. Then, Kristol wrote an editorial for the Standard heartily endorsing her call. And now, they’re running ads selling bumper stickers and T-shirts with the Refudiate Obama and Refudiate Socialism.
JC: So you know, I think the problem here is that, as though, is that their thinking can be reduced to a T-shirt and a bumper sticker, which is itself a problem. I mean, if you look at the history of neo-conservatism, it’s often credited with having an important role in the intellectual development of the right. And you had the Public Interest, which was this really great magazine for several years, back in the late 60s and early 70s, which was founded on this project of subjecting liberalism and government to empirical scrutiny to find out what works and what doesn’t, and having really rigorous, tough-minded intellectual standards, as opposed to simply, you know, wantonly starting government programs because the purpose sounded nice.
HH: Well, isn’t sometimes just a joke a joke, and a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt?
JC: You know, I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek it is. I mean honestly, I think it’s just, it’s a magazine that has devolved, to a point. So Bill Kristol obviously is the son of Irving Kristol, who was one of those Public Interest editors, and it’s just kind of devolved to the point where you really can just boil everything they believe down to a bumper sticker, which I don’t think speaks well of them.
HH: So you really think the Refudiate Obama bumper sticker and T-shirt is an indictment of the intellectual project of the right?
JC: Yeah. You know, even the original Weekly Standard of 1995, which wasn’t the highest standards of any magazine, would probably have, I think certainly had people who…
HH: Okay, you’re consistent. You think Michigan’s going to bounce back as well.
JC: 8 wins.
HH: Jon Chait, always a pleasure from the New Republic.