'Bush's brain' overran foes, friends alike
Topic: Karl Rove resigns
By Times-Herald editorial staff
Vallejo Times Herald
Article Launched:08/16/2007 07:50:04 AM PDT
For six-plus years, Karl Rove's critics and fans, supporters and detractors - surely you were one, but not the other - had to have wondered what his departure would be like.
Joy? Sorrow? Delight? Despair? Angst? Anger? For perhaps the most polarizing political figure of his generation, the reactions were sure to be as jolting as his time in the spotlight.
Uh, would you believe apathy?
Shockingly, that's what it finally came down to for the departing White House deputy chief of staff and senior political adviser, who, with President Bush standing by his side, announced that his tumultuous time as the president's go-to political man would end on Aug. 31.
Once upon a time, both foes and friends alike referred to Rove as "Bush's Brain." If the president wasn't jokingly calling Rove "Turd Blossom," he was referring to him as "architect" of his rise to power.
Of course, that was all in the heady days of Rove, the ruthless strategist, guiding Bush, the political novice, to the big time. With Rove working his magic behind the scenes, Bush took the governor's house in Texas, exploited the nation's fatigue with the Clinton-Lewinsky saga to a first - and controversial - White House victory, and played the national security issue to his advantage for a second presidential term.
Back in those days, the "boy genius" spoke boldly of a "permanent Republican majority."
Then came the lowest approval ratings for a president in 30 years.
And loss of Republican control in the Congress which, up until the wee hours of Election Night 2006, Rove insisted wouldn't happen.
And a tattered Republican base that has produced polls showing "none of the above" leading a current GOP field of presidential candidates.
And so it was that Rove left with a whimper this week, marking a fall from grace that has left him at odds with both Republicans and Democrats alike.
Rove's ability to parse the electorate and mold a message to fit its mood has been called genius for good reason. Rove was a master campaigner. He pioneered the use of database and marketing technology to find every potential Republican voter; he employed wedge issues such as gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research to get conservatives to the polls. He taught candidates to stay "on message" - often negative - all the time.
True to his bare-knuckles, hardball and many would say cheap shot tactics - political figures from John McCain to Max Cleland to John Kerry say they carry the scars to prove it - Rove has left a White House legacy that turned the president from "a uniter" to a divider.
In the end, Rove's strategy didn't help his boss govern. The legacy of the Bush presidency will undoubtedly center on the administration's inability to convert that election savvy into effective leadership.
With a Republican congressional majority for his first six years, Bush steamrollered Democrats and often failed to listen to GOP leaders. He did it his way, which was Rove's way, putting the "bully" back in "bully pulpit." The vote in the mid-term elections in 2006 was payback.
While others in the White House, notably Vice President Dick Cheney, were more involved in war strategy, Rove politicized the debate at home, including accusing Democrats of "cutting and running" if they expressed any measure of opposition to the war.
It's a phrase that Bush used repeatedly as he alternately tried to cajole America into supporting the war. That derisive phrase seems ironic now as Rove leaves the White House when the situation in Iraq has never been more grim.
Rove's style - ruthless, relentless, arrogant and divisive - has marked the Bush presidency. Now that it's in a tailspin, it's too late for a fresh start, and too late for Bush to pass significant legislation.
Whether he's leaving in an effort to escape a congressional subpoena, shape another Republican presidential campaign, cash in via book and speeches, or spend time with his family, the resignation of one of the president's most trusted advisers 17 months before the end of Bush's term is emblematic of just how weak this White House has become.