Ball: The unasked question

For those who remember the Bush administration — for the many who awaited its demise, stopwatch in hand — the September 7 visit of President Bush’s deceiver-in-chief, Karl Rove, provided an opportunity not only to revive one’s anger at the old White House, but also to call one of its servants to account. In grating expectation I took myself to Mr. Rove’s talk before the Yale Political Union. Though, or perhaps because, he is a political vandal who has done nearly ten years’ damage to the national life and discourse, he had a fawning reception. Surrounded with upturned faces, bathing in smiles, Karl Rove preened and was loved like a soap opera actor in a shopping mall.

In the Levinson auditorium, with 500 seated and the walls lined with leaners, many of the men younger than twenty and wearing bow ties, the bonhomie rose high as the guest gamboled through a 45-minute screed against the new health care law. I’m a new lecturer in the English Department, and it may be that as a fledgling in New Haven I don’t understand the obsequiousness that must be extended to men of power. The back-slapping Mr. Rove used his acquired Texas accent (he was born in Colorado but seems to have picked up a Southern shtick) to field some grounders — polite queries, nothing sharp. The majesty of 1,000 news profiles not only seems to summon forgiveness for his White House years, it also provides the comfort of a very large speaking fee.

I stand alongside those who felt sadness during the Bush presidency and repugnance at every diktat that issued from the Rove-Cheney-Bush syndicate. I had looked forward to having a few words with the former propagandist and chef of dirty tricks. I wanted him to answer for one or two connivances of the 200 that I remember.

And yet, no. The chairman of the meeting, during the question and answer session, recognized 10 raised hands, but not mine. A pity.

This is a question that Rove might have heard. What he should have heard:

My name is Edward Ball, and I introduce myself so as not to subject you, Mr. Rove, to anonymous examination. You’ve demonstrated, however, that uncredited sabotage and disinformation yield the results you want. Please, if you might tell the audience, Mr. Rove, there is something the community at Yale would like to know. This community understands that you didn’t attend Yale, that you chose instead to study at the esteemed University of Utah, from which you ultimately failed to graduate. Scholarship aside, this community takes an interest in your recent employment at the White House. This audience would like to know which among your venal political ploys, two of which I will presently describe, you would prefer to be remembered for. Granted, these are only two taken from an unrivaled catalogue. Would one of your favorite antics be your personal but unsigned 2003 stunt involving undercover C.I.A. agent Valerie Plame, whose career you ended by providing her name to the press, so as to silence her and punish her family for contradicting the lies of the White House about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (those WMDs, whose fiction you helped sell to the public in order to prompt a $5 trillion dollar war)? Would that act, among your uncountable duplicities, stand as the most cynical? Or was it, instead, your successful scheme to purge the Justice Department, finding ways to fire capable U.S. attorneys who did not champion the pitiful justice of might and money that the White House you served offered as a perverse substitute for jurisprudence? This audience would like to know which of these two secret and corrupt acts of yours do you regard as the more virulent, the more successful at undermining the democracy?

Or, if you like, take any from your thick, soily folio of stunts and tell us: which of them makes you, in retrospect, the most proud?

This community would like to know. It would furthermore like you to know that history will judge you. History will make your family carry a burden of shame, which will be attached to your name. History will, in a decade or two, define you as one of the pitiful courtiers of this country’s most detestable season of government — a government that was loathed around the world, and now in memory.

I wish I had had the chance to ask Rove my not-quite-question. The Obama administration has declined to pursue criminal action against the former occupants of the White House. Yet the Bush years were a nightmare from which we are still trying to awake. I predict the effort to shake them off will continue for many years.

There is a feeling about politics that it’s just talk and good fun. It is a feeling quite strong at the Yale Political Union, I would imagine. But the professional life of Karl Rove, his cynicism and corruption, and the wreckage he helped make and scatter, did not call, the other night, for good cheer and repartee.

Edward Ball is a lecturer in the English department.


  • YaleMom

    Thank you, thank you Mr. Ball! You speak powerful words to the Truth! Sometimes, I’m ashamed to be sending little Ashley to such a place, where the lies and corruption and fetid hatred swirl! The Yale Politics Union ought to bow their heads in tearfulness.

  • koochakis

    Dear Mr. Ball,

    First of all, I believe I saw you in the balcony attempting to ask your question. That’s not a very conducive environment to having your questions answered. Secondly, this was a YPU debate in which students debating, members of the various parties, were allowed to ask questions.

    Yet, you still insist that your voice be heard for a question that had absolutely nothing to do with the debate at hand. This was resolve: repeal obamacare *not* **resolve: indict the bush administration.** I am glad that you were unable to ask your question because it would have added nothing to the debate at hand. Whether or not Karl Rove and the Bush administration deceived Americans has nothing to do with whether obamacare will fail. While I wholeheartedly agree with your views of Karl Rove, that debate was no place for your divisive question.

    Furthmore, instead of attacking his “scholarship,” maybe you should have listened to his masterful speech. Whether you agreed with him our not, he put together an incredibly compelling speech (albeit much of which I had heard before) that laid out the issues at hand. While most of it was propaganda, Karl Rove was able to articulate his argument in a way that leaves me only to wish that President Obama was there himself to hear and respond to his propositions. His facts and figures added way more to the debate than your supposed facts about his past ever would have.

    Sir, you and your views on Karl Rove had no place in this debate. That night was about healthcare- not about you trying to point a finger at Karl Rove and pursue your own agenda.

  • Hieronymus

    What close-minded, self-satisfied, elitist mincing. In other words: par for the course.

    [time passes]

    Oh wow: I was *going* to comment on the sesquipedalianism and overuse of adjectives, very typical of sophomores with a bit o’ learning under their belts, when I realized that the author is FACULTY. In ENGLISH no less! (I am not here faking or, as is often the case, indulging in outrage; I am generally surprised, which is, itself, surprising). I was *going* to weave in “naïveté” and make a plea for more Hemingway, but I see now that a request for new learning would be fruitless. My bad.

    So… an MA from UIowa feels free to twit UUtah? How… precious. (Not that I hold UIowa in contempt, mind you, just some of its graduates.) And you *do* know how Yale thinks of brown (er, Brown), right?

    “[A]s a fledgling in New Haven I don’t understand the obsequiousness that must be extended to men of power.” And, I suspect, you never will. I guess it must really hurt when a UUtah dropout has accomplished more than an Edward Bell can possibly look forward to. Ouch!

    (As an aside, I often respect those I dislike, e.g., the depth of empty-shirtedness of our President has *got* to be admired–he has accomplished so much with so little. Rove, whatever one may think of him, is a genius at what he does.)

    Love your curse: “History will make your family carry a burden of shame, which will be attached to your name.” How medieval!

    And thank you for once again showing us that fears of liberal indoctrination in academia are so much crying wolf: I wonder what a student of a conservative bent would suffer from a lecturer who holds that “[the Bush years represent the] most detestable season of government — a government that was loathed around the world, and now in memory,” which is, I think it safe to say, a bit of hyperbole (but likely an opinion the author indeed holds, and holds dearly).

    Lastly: I do appreciate your boldness and transparency (the latter attribute a true rarity among many prevaricating Liberals). A benefit of this is that conservative students will be sure to avoid your classes (in order to preserve their GPAs); the down-side is that, as has likely been the case for much of your life, you will remain ignorant of differing opinions. “No one I know voted for Nixon!” (Yes, yes: an imperfect quote, but its thrust is appropriate here.)

  • FailBoat

    In Mr. Ball’s defense, Iowa has a renowned English department. In Mr. Rove’s defense, the sophomoric tone of this piece is an embarrassment to both the great state of Iowa and to the Yale English department.

    Such a piece could only be penned by a faculty member, because it reveals the sort of anger and shallow thinking that Yale students indulge in during dinner time conversation, rather than in the pages of the YDN.

    *Note: I commend the YDN for letting us read this train-wreck as is. As everyone now knows, it was not Rove who disclosed Plame’s name, but Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s second-in-command.*

  • Hieronymus

    Failboat: Not every worthy program produces worthy graduates; just ask Mr. Ball his opinion of Yale versus his opinion of, say, the Georges Bush…

    Non-sequitur and note to Mr. Ball, who elsewhere wrote “*I wish I could be with you to talk about Priscilla, the African girl taken from Sierra Leone in 1756 and sold in America to my family… [who] died a slave to my grandfather’s grandfather [in the U.S.]…*” You documented how Priscilla’s U.S. descendants fared; how have her Sierra Leonian descendants fared, comparatively?

    In fairness, I have not read Mr. Ball’s book, so this issue may well be addressed, but I note that Sierra Leone is in 180th place on the UN’s Human Development Index (just above Afghanistan; elsewhere, just above Ethiopia on the Poverty Index); 170th in life expectancy (at 47.3 years! Put another way: about a third of the population will not reach age 40); 144th in adult literacy (~38%), and so on. One assumes that the U.S. descendants are faring… better? Might they even be… grateful, in some way?

    The Canadian International Development Agency [ranks][1] Human Development differently:

    *Highest* 20 Countries (HDI)
    1. Norway
    2. Sweden
    3. Australia
    4. Canada

    **8. United States**
    9. Japan

    *Lowest* 20 Countries (HDI)
    1. Timor-Leste
    2. Rwanda

    19. Niger
    **20. Sierra Leone**

    Just sayin’…

    [Ed. note: Way kudos, YDN, on the new “edit” feature; much obliged!]


  • theantiyale

    **ALL** White Houses lie.

    The valid question you raise of anonymity and its cowardly power interests me, especially when the vehemence of so many Yale posting -board contributions is hidden behind the curtain of pseudonymity, a bit of cowardice in itself.

    Do posters really think their opinions will affect their grades and class standing? Or their ability to get a date?

    Why hide—–unless you are ashamed of what you believe.

    Paul Keane

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • roflairplane

    Simply dreadful column. By 2006, hundreds of chemical weapons (classified by the United Nations as—you guessed it—WMDs) had been found in Iraq. With regard to the justice department business, those fired attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. Finally, with regard to your poking fun at Karl Rove’s schooling, you went to Brown and the University of Iowa.

    At the end of the day, Karl Rove was the senior advisor to a two-term President of the United States; you are an English lecturer. Get over yourself.

  • Hieronymus

    Rats: the “edit” feature expires. In my screed above, “**generally**” = “**genuinely**.”

    What would Freud say?

  • theantiyale

    Freud would say you were toilet trained too early and too aggressively and have an anal retentive compulsion to control.

    But I didn’t need Freud to figure THAT out H.

  • Locke

    It seems to me that those who attack Mr. Ball as an individual have missed the point of the piece. Sure, it contains an attack on Mr. Rove and his practices, but focusing on that ignores the commentary he makes about the culture of politics, which is the larger argument. His attack on Rove is not just an attempt to raise questions about the decision of the YPU to host a guest with such a checkered past. It is a reminder of what happens when we treat politics as a game, and no person more embodies that treatment than Karl Rove. It is only fitting that his criticism be met with Rove-style attacks.

    To address some of the more specific criticisms, if you actually read the NGIC report from 2006, the phrase referring to chemical weapons isn’t as incriminating as it’s been made out. For reference:

    “Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.”

    These WMDs were not the product of revitalized Iraqi production, but rather were decomposed weapons unused since the Gulf War. They were neither dangerous, nor unknown to us.

    Finally, I am disturbed by the defense of slavery. I don’t think I need to say more.

  • Hieronymus

    “Finally, I am disturbed by the defense of slavery. I don’t think I need to say more.”

    Oh please.

    As Locke well knows, no one here is defending slavery. I find his incendiary inference (followed by the refusal to comment further) a common technique on the playground, most typically among the six- to ten-year-old set.

    Why not just come out with a full-on “**RAAAAACIST**!”?

  • FailBoat


    I am not ashamed of what I believe. My views have been published under my own name in publications. But I prefer not to have a future employer judge my record by the off-hand comments I post on a website in my spare time.

    You are lucky that you have the luxury not to care what others think.

    Yours in peace,


  • torgo

    Well done, Mr. Ball!!

    A few points:

    1) As the son of a U of Iowa graduate, I can attest to the quality of that fine institution – especially of its graduate writing program.

    2) As someone who is neither a cynic nor an emotionally bankrupt minion of Satan, I can state with near certainty that Karl Rove is indeed both of those things, and that Mr. Ball’s analysis is spot-on. Not only that, but the expression “thick, soily folio” is surely an instant classic.

    3) Is Karl Rove’s head made of squishy rubber? I think it is, but as I was unable to attend and find out for myself, I may never know.

  • theantiyale

    @ FailBoat,

    I am not singling any one poster out, although clearly there are those who are wrapped at bit too tight for their future emotional health, and I worry for them.

    I’m just uncomfortable with the whole idea of pseudonymous posting. It’s like the unsigned hate note slipped under someone’s door . There’s a menacing quality to it.

    Three years ago I posted under whatever pseudonym suited the occasion. Then, when the cartoon controversy and the campus murder occurred, I made a conscious decision to post under my real name because I felt the news was no longer “light and chaffy” at Yale , but a matter of other people’s life and death. I also did not want to stoop to the level of the hate posters and I felt signing my name would keep me standing up straight.

    I can UNDERSTAND your position, but I am uncomfortable with it.

    Paul Keane

  • theantiyale


    And speaking of the new *YDN* software and its oddities: Has the removal of the “post without registration” option emasculated the *YDN Posting Board* or did half of your clientele simply graduate last year?

    Has anyone else noticed that the posting board has about 1/3 the number of last year’s contributors?

    Maybe it’s because last year’s news was more riveting. At first I thought it was removal of the required “Do it yourself title” to posts.

    I dunno.



    [link text][1]

    [1]: “The Anti-Yale”

  • Hitch2

    I don’t actually find the content of this editorial all that objectionable–it’s actually quite par for the course inside the echo chamber of the resentful, academic castrati. To me, the really criminal thing about this editorial is the prose style. I mean, seeriously. This guy is a lecturer in the English Department? I this a joke? If this guy were in WGSS or Sociology or something, I wouldn’t be tooo surprised.

    I mean…. “I stand alongside those who felt sadness during the Bush presidency and repugnance at every diktat that issued from the Rove-Cheney-Bush syndicate. I had looked forward to having a few words with the former propagandist and chef of dirty tricks. I wanted him to answer for one or two connivances of the 200 that I remember.” Henry James this is not…

    Good thing he didn’t ask the question. He would have been mistaken for a right-wing satirist.

  • gzuckier

    It’s all connected, isn’t it? You let somebody like Rove pass without questioning the damage he has done to the political process and to the nation, and sure enough the next thing you know, we are being told that We Found WMD In Iraq After All. Next step, that nice Bush kid’s on Mt. Rushmore as The President Who Saved Us From 9/11.