Rove spoke at Concordia College last fall and a member of the debate team asked him about his experience in debate. He referred people to his book where he discusses debate's impact on his life. I've only just remembered it and was lucky to find an excerpt where he mentions debate online. It's possible that the book mentions it further but I'm not about to buy it. The chapter is interesting and has the potential to serve as a decent framework card. Even if the wording isn't particularly powerful it serves to prove the argument that the Spanos email makes.
As we settled into a modest house in Holladay in the fall of 1966, I entered Olympus High School in suburban Salt Lake City feeling lost. I didn't know anyone. I was a non-Mormon in a school where 90% or more of the students did follow that faith. I had no particular skill at sports or with girls. But I did have an ability: I could talk and argue. I was fortunate that at Olympus specifically, and in Utah generally, high-school debate was a big deal, an activity where a bookish boy could find affirmation. I joined the debate team, found my tribe, and was off.
The coach, Diana Childs, paired me with Mark Dangerfield, who was a year ahead of me. Mark and I clicked right away. He had a great smile, a sharp mind, a competitive spirit and the ability to scrape away some of my rough edges. We turned out to be alike in many ways.
For example, we were obsessive about preparation. We wanted better research and more of it than any of our competitors (a habit I still have to this day). We spent a small fortune on 4-by-6-inch cards on which we wrote our information in precise block lettering or typed it with a small manual typewriter we had scored at a secondhand sale. We then meticulously arranged the cards in giant boxes behind dividers that made possible the quick recovery of facts, quotes and authorities. I developed an elaborate color scheme to help us pluck just the right card at that special moment to confound the opposing pair of debaters.
In high-school debate, you had to be ready to argue both sides of the question on a moment's notice. So we picked apart our own arguments, anticipated the counterarguments, and picked those apart, too. Gaming the debate out as many moves in advance as possible was great training for politics. Debate gave me the habit of examining the case of my candidate and that of his opponent. In a campaign, you need to think not just about what you want to say now, but how that train of arguments, and even events, will play out over time. It taught me that staying on offense was important and that once you were on defense, it was hard to regain control of the dialogue.
Being fanatical about research, Mark and I came up with a favorite tactic. We'd quote authorities the opposition had never heard of, and when they rose to dismiss our source, we'd roll out their impressive title such as the "assistant secretary of defense for international security af fairs" and express astonishment that our worthy opponents had never heard of that significant policy leader.
The debates were staged in high-school classrooms, generally in front of speech, history or world-affairs classes. They were often tough audi ences, uninterested in what we had to say but stuck in their seats and forced to listen to the scrawny guys in three-piece suits. If we got them to laugh or otherwise favorably respond, it was almost as good as getting the most points on a judge's score sheet. We became the only undefeated team in the statewide high-school speech and debate competition, and won an important Western regional meet as well.
I had a front-row seat in a rare, memorable, and consequential year in American politics, all courtesy of a liberal high-school teacher who loved politics and his students. I was permanently bitten. I even became a candidate myself. In fact, for the first time I watched a savvy campaign manager (my world history teacher) pick a neophyte candidate (me), run a clever campaign, and produce a winner.