No middle ground found


Karl Rove and Howard Dean took on health care, government spending and the economy Friday night in a partisan shouting match in which the participants, one Republican, one Democrat, couldn't agree on anything.

Rove, the former aide to President George W. Bush and a Fox News commentator, accused congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama's White House of bungling the economy and enacting health care legislation that will bankrupt the U.S. in about eight years.

Dean, the ex-Vermont governor and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said Obama (and, to a lesser extent, his predecessor) saved the economy from collapsing and that health care reform was "a decent first step."

They met in an auditorium at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as part of the Barrick Lecture Series. About 1,300 people attended, organizers said.

Both men had significant support from the crowd, although Rove's was at least to be louder, if not more numerous.

Rove, as he did throughout the evening, strung together poll numbers, deficit projections, policy criticisms and other details to paint a picture of ill-considered actions on the part of Democrats. On health care reform, he said, Democrats mortgaged the future of the country with expenses that won't come due for years.

"It will make the problem worse," he said. "We simply cannot afford it."

Dean said he's not much of a fan of the recent health care reform legislation, although he ticked off some of its benefits -- people with pre-existing conditions are more secure, for example, and more people will have access to health insurance.

He said he supported it because "it is a start," and because it became "a battle between two teams, and I know what team I'm on."

Rove also took aim at the stimulus bill, saying Obama was running up huge deficits with an approach that isn't creating promised jobs. The administration's own measures for the stimulus plan show it coming up short, he said, and the government debt is soaking up money that could be invested in the private sector.

"There are green shoots of economic growth," Rove conceded. But those could shrivel if "government gets in and screws it up."

Not so, said Dean, who said the country "would be in a depression right now" without the stimulus actions taken by Obama and Bush.

He called Rove's comments sophistry.

"This is such a spinmeister routine," Dean said. "It's just not true. It's just a theatrical piece of mumbo-jumbo."

The proceedings were interrupted briefly by two protesters who stood and yelled at the stage. One of them was wearing a "Rove is a war criminal" sign.

There was also a small, disorganized group of protesters outside the auditorium. Members of Code Pink, a peace group, distributed "Make Out, Not War" stickers.

Separately, there was a sign calling Sept. 11, 2001, an "inside job," while another man carried two signs proclaiming that "America is being destroyed from within" and "Our children will be slaves to the global elite."

A man with a megaphone, meanwhile, entertained people entering the lecture. "We're just here looking for the weapons of mass destruction that our government couldn't find," he said. "We were just wondering if any of you have them."