To say Karl Rove's Sunday talk was emotionally charged would be an understatement.
Boos exuberantly punctuated the UI Lecture Committee's introduction and dozens in the audience stood, turning their backs when President Bush's former deputy chief of staff and top aide took the stage. A woman charged up an aisle, her hands shaking, as she called for Rove to be arrested. And in a row near the front, a veteran told a different 84-year-old veteran to "F--- off" when he asked him to stop shouting.
"I've lived in Iowa City more than 60 years, and I have never been more ashamed than I am tonight of the disrespect shown by these people," 84-year-old Bill Olin said.
Meanwhile, the "architect" on stage remained seemingly unshaken. Armed with a sarcastic humor and several quotations from prominent Democrats to support his contentions, Rove took on the audience of roughly 1,100 - telling a woman who yelled that that UI wanted the $40,000 speaking fee they paid back, simply, "You can't have it."
He told another man his comment showed, "a simple, stupid mind, with all due respect."
"Look, you've had a chance to make your chants and protests and statements, and I want to have mine," Rove told the audience.
But his critics gave him very little chance, repeatedly interrupting him to call him a liar and war criminal.
Sharon Benzoni, the UI Lecture Committee chairwoman, said she had hoped bringing the controversial figure would generate conversation, and she was pleased with the result.
"We feel like we really accomplished our goal of stirring up dialogue both inside the lecture hall and outside as people were leaving," she said. "That's what we wanted to do."
As the president's most trusted political strategist, Rove was ensconced in the White House before his August 2007 resignation with a indisputable influence over Oval Office policy - an influence that generated allegations of misdeed in his final year.
Rove resigned while under fire for his alleged involvement in what some see as political terminations of several U.S. attorneys, which was a controversy that also fueled calls for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. The UI College of Law had invited Gonzales to give last year's commencement address, but officials said scheduling conflicts prevented his appearance.
Rove left the Bush administration after federal prosecutors decided they would not charge Rove with any crimes for his link to the outing for former CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Additionally, critics have lambasted Rove for his role in crafting communications leading up the invasion of Iraq - which was the first item on the agenda for moderator Frank Durham, a UI associate professor of journalism tasked with conducted the on-stage interview.
Durham asked how the former aide would have helped him answer a phone call he received from a woman grieving the death of a soldier, a woman who also blamed Durham for sponsoring Rove's appearance.
Rove told him he's handled plenty of situations like that - getting flags for mothers and stepmothers of those killed in combat.
"Have you ever shed a tear?" a member of the audience yelled.
"I've shed lots of tears, but I've also been inspired because most moms and dads believe their son or daughter did not die in vain," Rove responded. He later added that he has seen great passion and commitment for the mission from loved ones of fallen soldiers - to which the audience booed.
They applauded, however, when Rove said Iraq "had nothing to do with 9/11."
"What it had to do was change the circumstances in the 20th century of transatlantic terrorism," Rove said.
The tense atmosphere was something Rove said he, as acontroversial figure who worked for a controversial administration, expected before the talk .
He is so controversial that when officials at Choate Rosemary Hall, a Connecticut prep school, announced Rove would deliver the school's 2008 commencement address, angry student and parent reaction led the school's headmaster to change the forum to the question-and-answer address that occurred last month.
The UI campus protests were long orchestrated, with six community coalitions allying to form "The Karl Rove Welcoming Committee" which called on Iowa City police and UI police to detain Rove for treason, war crimes, and crimes against humanity until U.S. marshals could be dispatched to arrest him.
Other antiwar protesters prepared for Rove's talk by gathering at a local restaurant to share original musical remonstrations, mostly inspired by 1960s protest songs by the likes of Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.
But Rove, defending his own actions and those of the Bush administration to the end, said, "If we ignore the enemy and his plan, we do so at our own peril."
He said he would be satisfied that the war in Iraq is won when it is a "stable, democratic ally on the global war on terror."
© 2008 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE