Clive Crook devotes an entertaining National Journal column to Karl Rove’s appearance at the latte-sipping Aspen Institute conference that Bill Clinton wowed. Crook reports: “Almost everybody who stayed to listen to Rove on the festival’s last day went there mainly in the hope that heavy equipment might fall on him from a great height.” How does a public speaker deal with a, well, hostile audience? Read and learn:
Interviewed by the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson, Rove started with some lighthearted self-deprecation. Driving to Aspen, he said with a grin, he had stopped for a coffee. Returning from the men’s room, he stood in line at the counter and heard a man, just alerted to his presence in the cafe, say, “I’d like to hit that son of a bitch.” Later, he was accosted by the driver of “a very expensive Land Rover,” who shouted “go home” and then drove off. Rove said he was too slow to answer that he was home — he was born in Denver — and to tell the moneyed outsider to get into his private jet and fly back to the East Coast. The man had disappeared before Rove could frame the thought, but it was a good reply after the fact, he said.
It was clever to combine modesty with a pointed jab at the crowd. Despite itself, the audience laughed and was disarmed. Even Clinton would have been impressed.
Crook concludes that one of the greatest assets in politics is to be underestimated. I don’t think that quite does justice to the story Crook tells. Rove appears to have found a topic or two on which he was able to elaborate views congenial to the Aspen Institute crowd. I think I would have groaned to hear Rove recognize the British for their success in reducing carbon emissions. Did anyone in the audience beside Crook leave with a revised estimation of Rove? I doubt it — Crook reports that Rove’s performance earned “polite applause” — but Crook deserves credit for his own heterodox observations on the left’s cartoon villain.