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August 14, 2007

The Stains of Karl Rove Won’t Scrub Away Easily


And, in the end, it ended not with a frog march, but with a simple resignation.

Karl Rove’s Monday morning resignation meant the end of one of the most controversial tenures of the last 20 years, no less so because he was neither elected nor appointed to a high position.

Among progressives, Rove was the dark overlord of dirty tricks, a man with an uncanny ability to win elections while destroying reputations. Or he was an overrated, mediocre operative who squandered the political capital of the 2004 election by playing games straight out of Lee Atwater’s bag of dirty tricks, and who failed to achieve his objective of a permanent Republican majority.


To conservatives, he was a man who continuously gave fits to Democrats, a man whose mere presence could prompt unhinged denunciations and talk of dark conspiracies.


In the end, his departure came when the screaming for his head – which was never below a dull roar – had died to its lowest ebb in months. It was an announcement that played to his political foes’ darkest beliefs – that Rove’s decision-making was first and foremost based on what made life more difficult for the nation’s progressives.


While liberal pundits and activists fumed, Democratic lawmakers said investigations into Rove’s activities would continue, leaving open the possibility that leftists might get their wish and see him dragged off to jail. But, it was a hollow promise, one that felt like it was made by a fisherman standing onshore promising that some day he’d reel in the big one that got away.


The excuse given for his departure – to spend more time with his family – was so mundane as to be nearly un-Rove-like in its quality, almost inappropriate. One expected his fate to go to the wire – where the nation would hold its breath on that last-minute pardon so that he could ride out of D.C., his head held high – a final insult to those who despised him.


Karl Rove, who’d come in with the reputation of a boy genius when it came to politics, was leaving like just another schmoe who’d tired of Beltway machinations.


Rove’s tenure saw the rise of his boss, George W. Bush, from an unpopular president headed for one term to record high numbers after Sept. 11, and then right back down as first he lost the nation’s confidence and then its trust. Rove cheerfully predicted victory for the president, that his popularity was about to turn around – a statement reminiscent of the promises by his boss on progress in Iraq.


He came to Washington D.C. with his long-time friend, the personification of the Mayberry Machiavellis, who made it their mission to give the Republican Party a near-permanent control, and they took seriously Grover Norquist’s words that bipartisan cooperation is a form of date rape. They placed all their chips on victory, and shredded the last strands of bipartisan cooperation in a scorched Earth campaign against the Democratic Party.


Their decline started when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore and the Ninth Ward drowned while the president cut birthday cake and played guitar on the West Coast; and finally crashed and burned when Iraq proved to be a tougher nut to crack than the Electoral College. In the last days of 2006, the near-permanent Republican majority had became Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and we had a president whose popularity wallowed at levels not seen before or since Nixon resigned in disgrace.


His legacy isn’t what he failed to achieve politically, however, but as the face of the administration he served. Rove stands as the personification of this – the manipulation through terror-threat warnings, the appointment of lackeys whose sole qualification was passing a political litmus test and the politicization of federal agencies from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the U.S. Surgeon General. They were the face of putting the good of the party before the common good, and they played cynical politics. The nation’s people responded by becoming even less trusting of politicians, and now instinctively assume that every time an elected official says something that he’s trying to play the American people like a gang of rubes.


Once people lose trust in something, it requires hard work and diligence to restore. Karl Rove might leave Washington on his own steam, and might never be hauled off to jail for committing a crime, but the stain he left behind will take a long time and great effort to scrub away.


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