The Jaundiced Rove of Texas

Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Karl Rove?

Not bloody likely. If you think otherwise, you've got greater faith in the power of wolf's bane, garlic and wooden stakes than I have.

But why is he leaving that Cloud Cuckooland of Make-Believe known as the White House on such seeming short notice? Part of me conjures Claude Rains asking Bogart why he exiled himself to Casablanca: "I like to think you killed a man. It's the romantic in me."

No such luck, but everyone's pretty much in agreement that it's not for the official reason, that he wants to mosey on back to Texas to spend more time with his wife and son, who's already in college. There's a well-informed body of opinion that he's getting out of Dodge just a few hoofbeats ahead of the sheriff's posse.

Having successfully eluded indictment in the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame case, perhaps he can hear the whisper of the ax as the investigation of the US attorneys' firings and subsequent cover-ups gets closer to home. He's still under subpoena -- and still refusing, citing executive privilege -- to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If indicted, his resignation puts a little air between him and his president but not a lot.

And that's not the only potential legal minefield for Rove. Lest we forget, the Jack Abramoff corruption probe is ongoing, with Federal investigators continuing to examine the lobbyist's dealings with at least half a dozen members of Congress, staff members and other government officials. Abramoff's former assistant Susan Ralston was Rove's confidential assistant in the White House and frequently acted as a go-between for the two men. Last fall's report from the House Government Reform Committee cited 485 contacts between Abramoff, his staff and key White House officials, including Rove.

Ms. Ralston's testimony may also prove useful to the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Special Counsel into whether private briefings on the 2006 midterm elections held by Rove's office for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies were in violation of the Hatch Act, which is supposed to protect federal agencies from the outside intrusion of partisan politics.

As the Washington Post reported in late April, the inquiry began when one such briefing, at the General Services Administration, triggered "an investigation into whether officials at the briefing felt coerced into steering federal activities to favor those Republican candidates cited as vulnerable."

But wait, there's more! Yet another investigation is examining alleged improper White House use of Republican National Committee e-mail accounts. Rove's on the list of potential culprits. So much skullduggery, so little time.

Nevertheless, whether all the sleuthing, subpoenas and depositions lead to any smoking guns could be no more the reason for his departure than the simple truth that Rove may just have played out his string and had nowhere to go but toward the exit sign. His dreams for a permanent Republican majority, a fundamental realignment of the domestic body politic, a conservative Camelot with himself as Machiavellian Merlin, are a bucket of ashes. And to a large extent, he has no one to blame but himself.

A remarkable, prescient article in the new Atlantic Monthly lays it all out. In "The Rove Presidency," Joshua Green writes, "Rove's tendency, like Bush's, is always to choose the most ambitious option in a list and then pursue it by the most aggressive means possible -- an approach that generally works better in campaigns than in governing. Instead of modest bipartisanship, the administration's preferred style of governing became something much closer to the way Rove runs campaigns: Steamroll the opposition whenever possible, and reach across the aisle only in the rare cases, like No Child Left Behind, when it is absolutely necessary...

"After 9/11, any pretense of shared sacrifice or of reaching across the aisle was abandoned. The administration could demand -- and get -- almost anything it wanted, easily flattening Democratic opposition, which it did with increasing frequency on issues like the PATRIOT Act and the right of Department of Homeland Security workers to unionize. The crisis atmosphere allowed the White House to ignore what normally would have been some of its most basic duties -- working with Republicans in Congress (let alone Democrats) and laying the groundwork in Congress and with the American public for what it hoped to achieve."

With a deadly mixture of arrogance and ignorance of legislative protocol and tradition, Rove alienated both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Post 9/11 goodwill was squandered in divisiveness, so when the time came to seek congressional cooperation on Social Security and immigration reform, Rove's steamroller stalled bigtime. As far as Congress was concerned, in the words of former House GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey, "You can't call her ugly all year and expect her to go to the prom with you."

Combine this with Iraq, Katrina and a White House policy process former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill described as "kids rolling around on the lawn" and you get the disaster we have before us today. "Rove," Green concludes, "forever in thrall to the mechanics of winning by dividing, consistently lacked the ability to transcend the campaign mind-set and see beyond the struggle nearest at hand. In a world made new by September 11, he put terrorism and war to work in an electoral rather than a historical context, and used them as wedge issues instead of as the unifying basis for the new political order he sought."

We see the Rove (and Cheney) legacy of using terrorism and fear as a wedge continued in the way Democrats folded like a cheap suitcase a week and a half ago, when the White House rammed through legislation authorizing warrantless searches and surveillance of phone calls and e-mail's. As Senator Russ Feingold noted, "They have figured out that all they have to do is start talking about an imminent terrorist threat, back it up against a Congressional recess, and they know the Democrats will cave."

We see it, too, perhaps most frighteningly, in the growing neo-con clamor for military action against Iran. Writing last week on the Talking Points Memo website, Anne-Marie Slaughter, respected dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, described a hellish scenario: "The Cheneyites succeed in creating a situation in which Bush does decide to bomb Iran. Iran retaliates, as they openly threaten to do, with terrorist attacks against us on U.S. soil. That tilts the election. I can imagine a Karl Rove political calculation that would buttress a Cheney-Addington [David Addington, Cheney's neo-con chief of staff] national security calculation...

"This scenario is one that any Democrat, of any type, and any moderate Republican... should be taking seriously and fighting against."

Mario Cuomo famously said that campaigning is poetry; governing is prose. Karl Rove, with the help of his friends, has taken the poetry and prose and rendered both the stuff of nightmares.

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.

(c) Copyright 2007 Messenger Post Newspapers

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