Rove Steps Down
A threadbare legacy
At the National Constitution Center last month, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R., Texas) told an audience that President Bush "really doesn't have a domestic policy" aside from his education program.
That's the legacy of Karl Rove, who will step down later this month after 61/2 years as Bush's top adviser.
Rove, 56, had the undeniable political genius to guide a winning presidential candidate in 2000. But then he squandered his creation by advocating divisive politics over broad-based policy at nearly every turn. He charted a course in which partisan politics became administration policy.
Over his 14-year-long partnership with Bush, Rove has been called many names befitting his importance, from "The Architect" to "Bush's Brain" to "Co-President." But once he got to the White House, Rove was ineffective at helping Bush to craft a popular agenda.
This team came into power in 2001 and promptly cut taxes, as promised. With a Republican Congress, it wasn't such a heavy lift. They also worked with Democrats to enact Bush's No Child Left Behind education plan, which is rightly focused on accountability but is underfunded.
Increasingly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Bush administration treated Congress as its rubber stamp. Compromise, in the view of the president and his advisers, consisted of giving him what he wanted on various wartime measures. To raise concerns about civil liberties or the absence of Iraqi WMDs was either cowardly or treasonous. Congress invariably complied, until Democrats took it over this year.
Rove pushed a style of governing that mimics a political campaign. Rather than try to build consensus, his team has promoted ideas that were popular with the GOP base, and tried to bully the opposition into acquiescence.
Exhibit A was Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security. It was rooted in the Rovian goal of dismantling one of the last great social pillars built by the Democratic leaders. Many people didn't trust the privatization plan, but Bush's solution was to keep trumpeting it to friendly audiences. The unyielding strategy made it easier for congressional Democrats simply to say "no."
Once that proposal collapsed, and immigration reform did as well, Rove's domestic cupboard was bare. So deeply does he believe that America is undergoing a once-in-a-century political "realignment," he ignored the need for persuasion and compromise. Bush became a "war president" in part because of the absence of any agenda at home capable of winning popular support.
Consequently, the war is all Bush has left for a legacy. For too much of Bush's presidency, Rove failed him as an adviser of what works here at home. And the Republican Party that Rove sought to strengthen is weaker for it.