Exit Karl Rove, Everyone’s Useful Demon

The uproar over Karl Rove’s resignation as George Bush’s political advisor is stupendous, but in truth he was no great shakes as Svengali and his exit is of scant consequence.

Though they profess joy that the nation has been freed at last from his malign supervision the Democrats have lost one of their most useful alibis. By inflating Rove into a blend of Macchiavelli and Sir Francis Walsingham, a nonpareil political manipulator, they sought to explain how they failed to stop a mediocre Texas governor and incoherent campaigner from capturing the White House in 2000 and holding onto it in 2004.

Al Gore fought a wretched campaign in 2000 and in the grand finale it was not Rove but five Republican justices on the US Supreme Court who gave Bush the White House on December 12, 2000, refusing to let Gore get a conclusive count of the missing ballots in Florida.

Four years later Bush, if he has been forthright the night he was reelected, would have acknowledged Osama bin Laden for reinventing him as the West’s doughty champion and then saluted Mrs Teresa Heinz Kerry, for persuading Americans that shaky as George might be, John would probably be worse, particularly since George had the pleasing Laura at his side and John the arrogant Portuguese billionairess.

The prime task of a political counselor is to keep his patron’s polling numbers high, and enhance his political clout. Rove leaves his employer with ratings in the low thirties, with almost zero political capital in the bank.

As he confided them to his associates Rove’s three aims for Bush’s second term were to privatize Social Security ­ America’s public pension system — push through an Immigration Act and firm up a permanent Republican majority. In the event social security “reform” was the White House’s prime domestic political disaster in 2005. Rove’s handling of the recent immigration bill was so inept that Republican congressional leaders refused to talk to him and told Bush’s chief of staff to send someone else. The “permanent Republican majority” turned to ashes in the polling booths last November.

Rove’s last turn as arch demon of choice was as the alleged instigator of the firing of several federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, so their arrivals and departures are always part of everyday political logrolling, as practiced by every presidency in historical memory. As with many of Rove’s political duties, this was handled with matchless incompetence and so the Democrats have had a field day.

The Left designated Rove as the arch engineer of America’s supposed lunge in the Bush years into the arms of the Christian right. Indeed the left has so demonized Rove it can’t even accept he’s gone and advances devious explanations: he’s not really resigning at all; he fears impending indictment; he’s preparing to “work behind the scenes”.

The conservative right similarly detests Rove as the man they claim pushed Bush towards socialism. Richard Viguerie, a prominent conservative, bid Rove adieu with these words: “Karl Rove’s departure from the White House is good news for conservatives. As President Bush’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove was a master in the care and feeding of conservative leaders, keeping them mostly silent as the Republican Party moved Left during the Bush presidency.” As evidence of Bush’s left agenda Viguerie cited Bush’s signing of the “No Child Left Behind” education bill, his wildly expensive prescription drug benefits bill, soaring farm subsidies, steel tariffs, higher federal deficits, plus “Nation-building on a scale never attempted before”. Viguerie’s demonization is rather more persuasive than the left’s.

Absurdly, both sides blame everything on Karl Rove. The only thing neither left nor right blame him for is the invasion of Iraq. They blame that on Dick Cheney.

So why did Rove quit? Like many White House counselors in the third or seventh year of their White House sojourns, Rove is getting out before the last humiliating year of a lame-duck presidency, when governors of second tier states won’t answer the White House’s calls. He’ll serve out the stipulated year selling his memoirs, rediscovering his family and learning their names. Then he’ll become a lobbyist.

The administration will plod on, with the grand vizier still ensconced and unlikely to depart until the full term is served. You can bet vice president Cheney will be at Bush’s elbow right to the end, making sure all the names on the pardons list are spelled right.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.