Prominent speakers representing a variety of opinions from across the political spectrum came to campus last semester to share their views on politics and the American political system. The speakers were sponsored by a wide range of groups, including the offices of the president and provost, the Duke Conservative Union, the political science department, the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, and Duke Law School.
A December speech by Karl Rove, former deputy White House chief of staff, was well attended, with a crowd of 1,000 in Page Auditorium and an overflow crowd in Reynolds Theater. It was also divisive. Several audience members applauded his remarks about U.S. antiterrorism efforts, while others hoisted protest signs and voiced concerns about the war in Iraq and the treatment of detainees.
Much of Rove's discussion with Peter Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke who formerly worked on the White House National Security Council, focused on the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq. Rove, who stepped down from his White House post in August, said the U.S. does not sanction torture of terrorism suspects. He also said both Republican and Democratic leaders agreed to the timing of a war resolution, and that removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq had made the world a safer place. "The United States has nothing to apologize for in its conduct in the world," he said.
Rove denied that he had been a force for negative campaigning, either in primary or general-election campaigns. He predicted that if Senator Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president, she may have a difficult time winning the general election, despite her name recognition. He also said that in recent elections Republicans have performed better than expected, blaming scandals—and not the war—for Republican defeats in 2006.
Other speakers shared different ideas. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman discussed his latest book, The Conscience of a Liberal. He emphasized the influence of racial politics and said with the Bush presidency coming to an end, we must study the past—in particular, the Republicans' skilled use of charged political messages—in order to predict the future of our political system. "Ultimately, this book is about what can, what should, come next," he said.
Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer and CNN legal analyst, talked about his own book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, with David F. Levi, dean of Duke Law School, and Neil Siegel, an associate professor of law who clerked at the Supreme Court. Toobin's book explores the last fifteen years of Supreme Court history, focusing on the individual justices, their interactions on the court, and the basis of their legal decision making. Toobin and Levi disagreed on the Senate's vetting of potential Supreme Court justices, with Toobin insisting that senators have an obligation to question nominees in depth about their legal views.
The law school also hosted Jack Goldsmith, author of The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which advises the president and attorney general. Goldsmith said that upon taking office in 2003, he found some of the legal memoranda written by his predecessor "deeply, deeply flawed." In addition to containing legal errors, these opinions—including the now-infamous "torture memo"—were far too broad in scope, he said.
OLC lawyers asked to determine the legality of counterterrorism policies were under pressure to "push the law as far as it would go," as the administration perceived a very real threat of another terrorist attack, he said. Procedural shortcuts also undercut the quality of the legal work. Goldsmith resigned in 2004, on the day he withdrew the torture memo.
The unilateralism of the Bush administration in its approach to the war on terror has ultimately weakened the presidency, Goldsmith said. "The president has suffered defeats in the courts and is subject to almost paralyzing litigation along … many dimensions. I'm confident that the court defeats and litigation would have been minimized had the president gone to Congress earlier and worked with Congress on all the areas that are the subject of litigation."
In a separate lecture, Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who was voted out of office in 2006, talked about the threat of "Islamic jihad" and the need for Americans to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Speakers Spark Debate
April 1, 2008