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PETITION DRIVE TARGETS BUSH ADVISOR
Debaters Oppose Administration Strategy for Public Debate on War
PHOENIX, Arizona, Cross Examination Debate Association national championship tournament, Arizona State University, March 20-25, 2003
ATLANTA, Georgia, National Debate Tournament national championship tournament,
Emory University, April 3-7, 2003
The American intercollegiate debate community has been dedicated to the pursuit of open deliberation on timely policy issues for centuries. The basis of debate practice is openness in argumentation—a willingness to allow the best argument to win, rather than relying on force or power to overwhelm opponents. Some members of the debate community have articulated disappointment with the Bush administration’s strategy for convincing American and world publics of the need for a preventive military first-strike on Iraq, and are joining in a petition drive to highlight the inadequacy of the Bush administration’s approach to gaining consent for war.
Karl Rove, senior political advisor to George W. Bush, was an avid high school debater in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rove’s tactics as a debater appear to have influenced his strategy as a political advisor. James Moore and Wayne Slater have detailed the roots of Rove’s political strategy in their book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2003):
Debaters kept their arguments on 3 X 5 cards, which they carried about in shoeboxes or metal containers. Rove had the most impressive collection of debate cards at Olympus High. If his teammates had a shoebox filled with the cards, Rove carried two, which he plunked down on the table in an ominous display of force. By his senior year, the arsenal had swelled to 5 or 10 boxes. Rove figured that if two or three boxes unnerved an opposing team, why not something truly overwhelming? Why not a table full of cards? Why not buy them by the thousands and wheel them in on hand-carts? Why not throw the fear of God into the enemy before the debate even began? The thing was, the thing nobody knew was, that the cards were mostly fake. “We went out and bought thousands, if not tens of thousands, of debate cards,” says debate partner Emil Langeland, now a lawyer in Salt Lake City. “Everybody was using 3 X 5 cards. And we decided we'd better have 4 X 6 – a little bigger than the next guy. And we had shoeboxes, a table full. We would come in and set up those boxes with file cards in them, color-coded, with tabs sticking up, and there were literally thousands and thousands of them. And you know what? There wasn't a thing on 99 percent of them. If they gave us a 4 X 4 table, we'd make it a 4 X 8 table and we'd stack this information – what appeared to be information – on the table. We'd lay out all these papers. The reality was that the core of our attack or strategy was on 20 or 30 cards. We never used much more than that. But we'd just hand truck them in, then go back out into the hall and hand truck another set in and set them up on the table almost to the point where you couldn't see us. It was all psychological, to psych out your opponent.” Rove didn't just want to win, he wanted his opponents destroyed. His worldview was clear even then: There was his team and the other team, and he would make the other team pay. He would defeat them, slaughter them, and humiliate them. He would win by any means, but he would win (118-119).
Rove’s strategy of totally destroying the opposition in debate competition is mirrored in the American ‘win at all costs’ approach to public diplomacy. The Bush administration has tried to overload public spheres of deliberation with evidence that links Iraq to weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, yet key evidence has turned out to be fabricated or plagiarized in this rhetorical campaign.