By Caren Bohan
U.S. voters often tune out policy debates but it’s wrong to think of them as stupid, uninformed and gullible, top White House political strategist Karl Rove said on Saturday.
Rove, who is gearing up for a fight to help Republicans keep control of Congress in November, described Americans as swayed more by instinct than by the nuances of legislative proposals or candidates’ position papers.
In a commencement speech at George Washington University’s graduate school of political management, Rove rejected what he called a cynical view of politics pushed by many strategists and journalists.
"There are practitioners of politics who hold that voters are dumb, ill-informed and easily misled, that voters can be manipulated by a clever ad or smart money," Rove said.
But Rove, seen as the mastermind behind President George W. Bush’s White House victories in 2000 and 2004, said, "It’s wrong to underestimate the intelligence of the American voter."
Rove said work, family, friends and other interests consume much of voters’ time and crowd out campaigns and policy.
"The American people are not policy wonks," he said. "But they have great instincts and they try to do the right thing."
Even as he complimented voters, Rove lambasted journalists for playing what he said was a "corrosive role" in politics by "focusing on process, not substance."
While Rove’s political talents are revered by many Republicans, the man Bush jokingly refers to as "The Architect" had a rough spell last year amid the failure of Bush’s push to overhaul Social Security and a probe into Rove’s role in a CIA leak case.
His future brightened last month when Rove was advised by the U.S. special counsel’s office that he would not be charged in the leak case involving former CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Plame and her husband are still pressing the case through a lawsuit filed against Rove and other White House officials.
In a change in his brief that the White House said was unrelated to the Plame case, Rove’s role as a key player in day-to-day policy decisions was narrowed, allowing him to focus on broader strategy issues with midterm elections looming in November.
Although Bush’s approval ratings have suffered because of disenchantment with the Iraq war, Rove has said he believes Republicans should make national security a top theme this year, as Bush did in his 2004 re-election campaign.
© Reuters 2006