I was waiting at baggage claim at JFK yesterday afternoon when read on the CNN crawl that Karl Rove was leaving his White House job at the end of the month. After dismissing my obvious initial reaction--elation that he was fleeing an indictment--as irrationally optimistic, I just tried to shut up my interior narrative and read the blurbs on the screen. The only one that pissed me off was the sentiment that Rove had rendered great service to "the American people." Loyal friend of the president? Fine. Renowned strategist? Okay. Genius? I'm doubtful, but it can be argued.
What's intolerable is the notion that this purely political creature "served" anyone or anything other than the Republican Party and George W. Bush. For me and tens of millions like me, Karl Rove was nothing but an enemy; his goal was to marginalize us as completely as possible from having a voice in the affairs of our own country.
Perhaps strangely, the best take I've read by far of Rove's achievements and legacy comes from another Loyal Bushie: former speechwriter and current right-wing columnist David Frum, writing in the New York Times this morning:
AS a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question.
The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center?
The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need — and how can conservatives achieve it?
Mr. Rove answered his chosen question by courting carefully selected constituencies with poll-tested promises: tax cuts for traditional conservatives; the No Child Left Behind law for suburban moderates; prescription drugs for anxious seniors; open immigration for Hispanics; faith-based programs for evangelicals and Catholics.
These programs often contradicted each other. How do you cut taxes and also create a big new prescription drug benefit? If the schools are failing to educate the nation’s poor, how does it make sense to expand that population by opening the door to even more low-wage immigration?
Instead of seeking solutions to national problems, “compassionate conservatism” started with slogans and went searching for problems to justify them. To what problem, exactly, was the faith-based initiative a solution?
This was a politics of party-building and coalition-assembly. It was a politics that aimed at winning elections. It was a politics that treated the problems of governance as secondary. But of course governance is what incumbents get judged on — and since 2004, the negative verdict on President Bush’s governance has created a lethal political environment for Republican candidates.
Building coalitions is essential to political success. But it is not the same thing as political success. The point of politics is to elect governments, and political organizations are ultimately judged by the quality of government they deliver. Paradoxically, the antigovernment conservatives of the 1980s took the problems of government far more seriously than the pro-government conservatives of the 2000s.
Also in the Times, Joshua Green--an observer considerably less sympathetic to Rove's goals than Frum--observes that the man known as "Turd Blossom" ironically repeated some of the mis-steps of those 1960s liberals he so hated. And Rick Perlstein on Tompaine.com wonders if Rove's change of address just means that he'll be operating with a somewhat freer hand, doing the same odious things for his odious patron.
Let's hope not. Rove's epitaph for our politics could be, as the sisters Bouvier once had engraved for Homer Simpson, "We are richer for having lost him."