WILLIAMSBURG — The United States can rescue itself from recession by relying on the values of innovation, free enterprise and hard work that helped build the country, Republican strategist Karl Rove said Tuesday.
"Now is the time for prudent optimism," he said. "Now is the time for expansion ... while everything else is frozen."
Rove, who served as senior adviser to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009, spoke to about 1,800 people at the University of the Cumberlands' "Leadership in Today's Economy" event.
While Rove is known for his strategy — former Republican National Committee Chairman R. Mike Duncan called him "the greatest political mind of my lifetime" while introducing Rove on Tuesday night — his speech was more motivational than political.
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He didn't mention the 2010 elections. And he made only vague references to Washington, where Democrats control Congress and the White House, saying there was "an uncertain regulatory environment."
"And we have a new concern about what this newfangled health care bill is going to do to this country," he said.
But most of his 45-minute remarks focused on what Americans, specifically many of the University of the Cumberlands students in the audience, can do to jump-start the economy and continue the American legacy.
He listed innovators, such as Alexander Hamilton, Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates, who rose from modest beginnings with good ideas, curiosity and dedication.
"These things didn't happen because of government," Rove said.
And Rove touted the importance of service and selflessness. He acknowledged six businessmen and philanthropists who were being honored at the leadership event, including Lexington banker Elmer Whitaker, Stanford banker Jess Correll and Correll's father, Somerset businessman Ward Correll.
"The greatness of America is not to be found simply in the material wealth that these people have created, not to be found in the opportunity for the jobs and prosperity that they have provided literally thousands of people through their enterprise," Rove said. "The greatness of America is to be found in the acts of each one of these men ... a cause greater than himself."
Rove now serves as a political analyst on Fox News and has been promoting his book, Courage and Consequence. His speech was the keynote of the fifth such event sponsored by the Forcht Group of Kentucky Center for Excellence in Leadership.
Several GOP candidates in the May primaries — including U.S. Senate candidate Trey Grayson and 6th Congressional District candidates Mike Templeman, Andy Barr and Matt Lockett — made the trek to Williamsburg to hear Rove's speech.