Before the main Common Ground event, a group of Hamilton students were invited to a Q&A session with David Axelrod and Karl Rove, in a unique opportunity to meet with the guests in a smaller setting. When they entered the room, the two cracked jokes with each other and the audience, creating a friendly, relaxed environment. But with both speakers eager to start, the event quickly began with questions from the students.

The first student asked if the two speakers thought it possible to move forward from campaigns that focused on wedge social issues. Axelrod started by saying that the best campaigns are the ones that can look past the smaller issues and focus on bringing the country together. Yet, he observed that we are in a period where we have forgotten how to find commonality. Rove noted that culture will always intrude into politics. It is unavoidable to have current issues impact how you campaign. What is important is to not capitalize on the nastier impulses that can arise in the political world.

Another student asked the guests what they found positive about Obama’s administration. Given that Axelrod worked with Obama, the question was more directed at Rove. Accepting the somewhat challenging question, he expressed his admiration for Obama’s handling of the economic problems. He emphasized the bi-partisan nature of the recovery effort.

Keeping with the spirit of graciousness, Axelrod complimented Rove and the Bush administration for being incredibly helpful in the transition of power. Both guests could recall moments when the other side was far from civil in their acceptance of the other side’s win.

 Rove related a story of how some rogue White House staffers had removed keys from keyboards and switched up vital phone lines during the transition between Clinton and Bush. Axelrod, taking a more serious note, talked about security fears during Obama’s inauguration. Axelrod was not allowed to speak of this at the time; he wrote a short announcement to be read if they had to disperse the inauguration crowd quickly in the case of an attack.

The final question was about President Obama’s legacy and if it would survive under President Trump. As a part of the administration, Axelrod said his concern is not about Obama’s legacy, because it feels narcissistic to be focused on the legacy of a single person. The real concern is the impact. The policies that helped are the ones Axelrod wants to stay, like the Affordable Care Act.

At this point, the discussion turned heated as Axelrod and Rove entered into a lengthy debate on healthcare policy. Even though they disagreed on how to go about it, both speakers knew they shared a collective goal of quality, affordable healthcare. Given the complex nature of healthcare policy and the current relevance, the debate lasted for the rest of the event.

Even though they disagreed on a number of issues, Axelrod and Rove never lost the ability to argue with one another in good faith. Throughout the discussion they found the common ground on which the discussion was based. At one point during the event, Axelrod spoke of his hope and his efforts to get younger people interested in and working in politics. In a room full of government students, this simple comment made a big impact. When big names like David Axelrod and Karl Rove express their interest in seeing a younger generation ushered into the political world, the task of getting into government work seems less formidable.  

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