AUSTIN -- OK, here's what I think the problem is with George W. Bush and Karl Rove. After the 36-day, post-election war, the R's kept saying to the D's, "Get over it."
Although not kindly intended, this happened to be very good advice. The problem now is not that the D's can't get over it -- the problem is that the R's are in denial. They are in total denial of the fact that they not only lost the popular vote by fairly spectacular numbers, but they also lost Florida.
I'm not here to beat a dead horse -- Bush won a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court, and that's the way it goes. I'm just talking about what would make a smart guy like Rove drop the ball this big-time. Denial, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, is not just a river in Egypt.
The single most dangerous thing you can do in politics is shut off information from people who don't agree with you. Surround yourself with sycophants, listen only to the yea-sayers . . . then stick a fork in it, you're done.
The dinner in Austin last week honoring Rove as the greatest political genius of our time is not the kind of thing that's conducive to clear thinking. Bush himself is no genius, but he has in the past surrounded himself with smart people. Bob Bullock, the late lieutenant governor of Texas and Bush's political mentor, was capable of behaving like a blind mule for short periods, but when did Bullock ever fail to have an active intelligence operation out among the opposition?
Bullock cribbed ideas and help from the LBJ School (which is the Texas equivalent of the John F. Kennedy School of Government) and was proud of it, too.
Of course, you can cut the American Bar Association out of judging judges and ring in the Madison Society, with Ken Starr and all his friends, instead. (And may I say on behalf of Little Jamie Madison, that giant of man, that the movement conservatives are doing disservice to his name.)
I watched Rove and Bullock steer George W. through most of his time as governor of Texas. I say again: With Bush, what you see is not what you get; what you hear is not what you get; what you get is all you get. We already knew the W. Bush motto: "Talk moderate; govern right."
But you can't govern from the right of where you ran if you didn't win in the first place. What is the point of behaving as though you had a mandate when you don't have a mandate?
In almost every speech, Bush says, "I was elected because the people expected me to (do X, Y or Z)." Or his staff says after yet another controversial call, "People knew this was what he stood for when they voted for him." But they didn't.
If you will recall, the polls consistently favored Al Gore on most issues, even though Bush carefully presented himself as a moderate, not a right-winger.
Bush's tax program, which he originally sold as the perfect package for a booming economy, has mysteriously morphed into a recession cure. But you can't stimulate the economy by giving the richest people in the country an enormous tax break effective 10 years from now.
Arsenic in the drinking water, subsidizing the timber industry by having the taxpayers fund roads in the national forests, dropping the Kyoto treaty, cutting funds to safeguard Russia's crumbling nuclear weapons system -- none of this is smart, politically or in terms of policy.
However, there is one sign that the administration is alert at least to media reactions. On March 28, they announced that Bush would hold no more formal press conferences. The next day, he held one, and they announced that there would be one a month.
Granted, Bush is no Jack Kennedy when it comes to wowing people at press conferences, but the people are always willing to cut an inarticulate president a lot of slack, even if the press isn't -- viz., Dwight D. Eisenhower and Daddy Bush.
The complaint that there's a pro-Bush fraternity of reporters who traveled with him on the campaign and that they're the only ones who get called on may be just sour grapes. But it does follow his Texas pattern. Lou DuBose of the `Austin Chronicle' (and my co-author on a Bush book) observed on Fox News last week that most of the Texas press corps had the same relationship with Bush that Monica Lewinsky had with Bill Clinton.
On the other hand, Bush continues his jihad against organized labor and, according to `The Wall Street Journal,' will announce today that it is dropping rules that require federal agencies to assess whether companies seeking government contracts are habitual violators of labor, environmental or other laws.
Favoring companies that obey the law over those who break it is not a radical step. In fact, it's kind of hard to argue that three-strikes-and-you're-out should apply to individuals, but not to corporations that have figured out they can afford to ignore the law and just continue to pay fines in the unlikely event of being caught.
When one tries to understand why this bizarre lurch to the right is occurring, the only answer seems to be denial, denial, denial. I have a suggestion: Get over it.
Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Star-Telegram.
© 2001 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas