A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


So, what about Karl Rove?

The San Francisco Chronicle yesterday ran an overview of blogs and op-ed pieces summing up the departure of Karl Rove from the Bush administration. Lots of links there to appeal to a variety of political persuasions.

Love him or hate him, Rove influenced political strategy and introduced the concept of "narrow-casting," that is, picking out a hot-button issue and pitching it to a normally non-voting segment of the electorate in order to get them to the polls. Yes, it sounds manipulative, but John Kerry and the Democratic Party realized it worked and latched onto it pretty quickly.

Thoughts about Rove's legacy to American politics? Maybe we could go deeper here than "ding dong the witch is dead" or "boy genius will be missed."



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

I confess (yes, I do) that my first thought and worry on the announcement of Rove's departure was: Will George W. Bush know what to do? (Hoping, of course, that Cheney will not jump into the lacunae.) Then, I thought about Lee Atwater, who engineered the election of George H.W. Bush, and who, at the time, seemed a merciless political consultant--though I don't think he followed HW into the White House as directly as Rove has. And then, having grown up in Chicago, so familiar with the jokes about voting early and often, I mediated on the rather low-key corruption that once won--or not--elections for the Democrats. And then, I thought about the fallen bridge in Minneapolis and those (such as, Bush and Rove) dedicate to remaking government by cutting taxes, with the result that Americans are woefully naive about how much it costs just to keep a country going, to say nothing of dealing with unattended problems. If Rove was Bush's brain, as pundits liked to say, will Bush do better or worse without him. Better or worse not politically, but just getting us through the next 17 months without a major tragedy. Lord, hear our prayer!

I left Chicago as a baby and have rarely been back, but my late father, who worked for Harry Truman in 1948, used to claim that the Chicago vote manipulations did no more than offset the stuff that went on downstate.Anyone know if that is true?That is all, and rather more than all, than I have to say about Mr. Rove, except that if he comes anywhere close to Mr. Atwater's late life revelation I will be very, very surprised.

Gene,I had heard that this is why Nixon did not challenge the Illinois vote in 1960, i.e., because he knew downstate could not bear scrutiny any more than Chicago could.

Karl Rove, and Chaney, represent a political animal that is unacceptable and truly unamerican. Most allow that a political campaign can be bloody and it is not for the delicate. But when the elections are over there is a traditional coming together for the good of the country. Not this group. These guys are into building dynasties rather than good government and have disgraced the country terribly.As a result the democrats will win by huge landslides in 2008 unless they get as insane as this group.Karl Rove is synonomous with winning elections and bad government. It is not a partisan issue. It is a departure from a great American tradition.

Rove's gone -- Big Deal. First, he was never the Machiavellian genius he was made out to be, not only by himself but by the Democrats, who've now lost a useful Medusa's head with which to raise support. Rove didn't put Bush in the White House -- five Supreme Court Justices did. After the 2004 election, Rove advised Bush to put Social Security privatization and immigration reform at the top of his agenda. We've seen how well that worked out. Now that Bush's Presidency lies in ruins, Rove is jumping ship. And don't salivate over any prospective indictments -- he's always been able to dodge bullets. Focusing on Rove was always ridiculous; if there's a "brain" in the White House, it belongs to Cheney, not to a mean-spirited little autodictat like Rove.Because Rove was a useful demon whose invocation could draw attention away from their own fecklessness, the Democrats are going to wish that Rove was still in the White House. They've demonstrated utter incompetence and cowardice on the issue of the war in Iraq, and their supine deference to Bush over domestic surveillance should demonstrate to everyone how spineless they are. All of us who voted for Nader can now feel vindicated, if also far from happy.

As a life-long Democrat, and as much as I detest Rove et al, I think Democrats should not be too quick to totally demonize Rove. A look at the history of the Dem party in the US will reveal less-than saintly behavior. DC's Marion Barry, the Chicago Daley machines and ongoing Boston politics come immediately to mind.That said, Rove and Newt Gingrich knew how to galvanize the Republican Congress and voter base to accomplish well-disciplined goals and objectives. Well-disciplined is NOT a trait that applies to the Democratic operatives and, hence, we are still sitting with a mediocre Congress today. Pelosi and Reid could take lessons from the how Gingrich transformed the Contract for/on America objectives into concrete actions once they took over.I almost dread it if a Democrat becomes president in 2008 and the Dems pick up a slightly bigger majority in the Congress then as well.

I agree with Professor McCarraher's assessment. At best, Rove's departure is a tactical retreat and hardly warrants the triumphalism of the left-wing blogosphere. If anything, that triumphalism is a distraction from the fundamental problems of trying to forge the coalitions needed for progressives to win in 2008.At any rate, after rescuing the Bush candidacy in 2000, Rove will still be viewed as an operative who can turn dross into gold. I don't expect him to be unemployed for long, if at all.

In my world, I hear rightists say that what Rove does is "just politics", just like the way I often hear them say that the things they do are "just business". So I suppose we should ask ourselves whether it is possible to bracket out aspects of life as amoral and expect that some of this won't bleed back into everything else.

Karl Rove and other so-called smash-mouth political consultants such as Lee Atwater and James Carville are simply products of the post-Tip O'Neill / Jim Wright politcal envirnment, so in that respect, there is not much novel. I do think you have a point on the narrow-casting. I would posit that his "metrics" methodology will be his true legacy to the political consulting world. On the partisan front, it is probably his central role in the realignment of Texas politics in the 1980's that will be his most important contribution.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment