August 13, 2007
It must be sad to have your very identity turned into a cliche, but such is Karl Rove's fate in life. (The same goes for pop celebrities such as Paris Hilton or Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will forever be typecast for the way in which they first burst onto the national scene.) That's why this morning's news that President Bush's top advisor plans to step down at the end of the month will elicit predictable mourns from his partisan supporters (who hail him as "The Architect") and cheers from his detractors (who mock him as "Bush's Brain"). Rove has created such a larger-than-life myth about himself that it is hard to remember that not everything that happens in Washington (or the Executive Branch, at least) is because of him. The news came to light in a Wall Street Journal interview with Paul Gigot, who noted that Rove's "crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and 'a different kind of Republican.'" In other words, an impartial observer would have to give credit for the successes of the Bush administration, even if those successes are currently overshadowed.
Just like all good political figures who say goodbye to Washington, Rove explained that he wanted to spend more time with his family; see Washington Post. [Andrew Sullivan] calls that line "piffle." Josh Marshall wonders why he is resigning now, of all times, speculating that some new scandal or indictment is looming. I doubt it; it's just that Rove is obliged to either resign now or stay with Bush until the very end of his term.
As everyone knows, George W. Bush and Rove go way back. Just on a hunch, I did some checking, and found that Rove was apparently a key person behind Bush's purchase of a share in the Texas Rangers in 1989. Bush eventually made a net profit of over $14 million when the franchise was sold, thanks largely to public funding for the Ballpark in Arlington, now known as Ameriquest Field. (See everything2.com.) That source also reveals that Rove never graduated from college -- something besides outward physical appearance that he shares with Rush Limbaugh!
Rove is associated with the peculiar brand of hardball, pandering politics practiced by his mentor George W. Bush. Those who practice that style were described by one former White House aide as "Mayberry Machiavellis." The fundamental problem with that low-brow approach is that it ignores public policy formation, treating every issue in terms of how it can be manipulated to win the next election -- as opposed to solving a problem. (Immigration is the classic example of this failure under the Bush administration.) Rove makes everybody mad at him, but he makes everybody madder at Bush's political rivals. Under normal circumstances, it would be no big deal, just politics as usual, but it so happens that we are at war, and our national unity is badly frayed. I agree with most of what Andrew Sullivan had to say along these lines:
The man's legacy is a conservative movement largely discredited and disunited, a president with lower consistent approval ratings than any in modern history, a generational shift to the Democrats, a resurgent al Qaeda, an endless catastrophe in Iraq, a long hard struggle in Afghanistan, a fiscal legacy that means bankrupting America within a decade, and the poisoning of American religion with politics and vice-versa.
Ouch! I don't think Rove was calling the shots on foreign policy, but otherwise I think that indictment is correct. So, every time you see one of those angry slogans linking the Democrats to the Jihadists, thank Karl Rove for promoting that kind of rhetoric.
But don't be fooled by Rove's talk about going home to his family in Texas. He'll be back in the political fray all too soon, probably with one of the leading GOP candidates in the next few months. That's what Hugh Hewitt predicts, anyway. The very fact that Rove is so widely feared and despised will give him more power, and it may even make his chosen candidate look stronger for daring to appoint someone as out of favor with the press as Rove is. Love him or hate him, he does get results.
Markos Moulitsas, of the Daily Kos blog, appeared on Meet the Press with Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), one of the centrists in the Democratic Leadership Council. (Markos recently grabbed a lot of attention at the "Yearly Kos" convention that grew out of his blog; Hillary Clinton was actually booed by some in the audience!) Both Markos and Rep. Ford scored points, with Ford appearing more dignified but with Markos holding his own. In the context of the ongoing squabbling within the Republican Party, it was fascinating to see the same dynamic play out: The pragmatist who favors appealing to centrist voters versus the hard-core, true-believing partisan.
Seriously, who really cares "who's ahead" this early in the process? Kudos to Giuliani and McCain for staying out. Mike Huckabee did better than expected, meaning he's on the inside track for the V.P. nomination, while Tommy Thompson lost big time, prompting his formal withdrawal. I was barely even aware that he was a candidate.