Karl Rove's pitch to capitalize on health care reform and get the Republican Party back in control of the House of Representatives didn't sound like the divide-and-conquer strategist he's known to be.
"We can't say 'repeal,' " he told the audience at Assemblyman Tom Berryhill's Modesto fund-raiser last week. "We must say 'revise.' "
Is that a sign of a bridge to a back- and-forth debate between the right and left on top national priorities?
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Rove preceded his health care remarks with some of his harshest words of the night about President Barack Obama, calling him "arrogant," "unengaged" and "diffident."
"He wants us to be like Greece on steroids," Rove said, linking that country's disastrous economy with the costs of health care reform here.
But as much as Rove sounded revved up for November's congressional elections, the thrust of his remarks centered on the past -- namely on promoting President George W. Bush's legacy as a "decisive leader with moral clarity" who would be regarded well as time passes.
"Part of it is that I'm going to have a little hand in writing that history," he said, alluding to his new book, "Courage and Consequences."
He stilled the audience with descriptions of Bush on Sept. 11 and cast the former president as someone who made the right decisions in moments of crisis. His reverence for the White House comes through, even if you are diametrically opposed to his politics.
It was a short walk outside the DoubleTree fund-raiser to find someone who disagreed with Rove's take.
A dozen people from Valley Progressives picketed the event, criticizing Bush's White House for hyping faulty intelligence on Iraq, pushing through the first bank bailout in the fall of 2008 and creating conditions that led to the United States becoming identified with torture.
"We just feel the American people have been played for the last eight years," said Troy Spears, one of the Democrats who wanted to give Rove a piece of his mind. "We want our $2 trillion back for the wars we didn't have to be in or didn't have to be as expensive as they are. We want the trillion dollars they gave away to rich people to play the derivative market."
If our national politics could come color-coded like terror threat levels, we'd be on Glenn Beck Red. And it's only April of a midterm election year. The real scuffles are months away.
BIG MONEY, BIG MONEY: Think Sarah Palin can top the $200,000 Rove helped raise for Berryhill when she visits California State University, Stanislaus, in June?
HERE THEY COME: GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman swung through Modesto two weeks ago. Her opponent, Steve Poizner, is dropping by Saturday.
Poizner sewed up support from a number of San Joaquin Valley Republicans early on, but he could lose their backing as Whitman gains steam and differences emerge between him and the valley lawmakers over the $11 billion water bond voters will see in November. Poizner has been critical of that package, but it's a priority for valley interests who want more water storage.
Poizner's Modesto town hall is to take place at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Eichel Building, 118 W. Orangeburg Ave.
VOTE FOR WHAT'S HIS NAME? Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson last week released a poll his campaign conducted showing him with a 30 percentage point lead over challenger Rob Jackson heading into their June 8 election.
Take it or leave it given the source, but the results reflect Christianson's advantage in name recognition. That's the incumbent bonus. It doesn't mean Jackson can't overcome Christianson's jump with two months to go.
ONE MORE SALUTE: Rove twice on Tuesday singled out Michael and Angela Anderson, parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Anderson Jr. Their son was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, and the Andersons have kept his memory alive through advocacy with Gold Star Families.
The Andersons got a heartfelt standing ovation from the audience when Rove said: "It's families like the Andersons to whom we are eternally grateful."
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.