In light of the big retirement announcement, the media has spent the day gushing over Karl Rove. But it's worth asking some tough questions. Besides the fact that he got an intellectual lightweight with no particular qualifications for the office elected to the presidency, what has Karl Rove done? That is, what will he be remembered for post-2000? Andrew Sullivan takes a crack:
The man's legacy is a conservative movement largely discredited and disunited, a president with lower consistent approval ratings than any in modern history, a generational shift to the Democrats, a resurgent al Qaeda, an endless catastrophe in Iraq, a long hard struggle in Afghanistan, a fiscal legacy that means bankrupting America within a decade, and the poisoning of American religion with politics and vice-versa.
Too much blame? One could argue that Rove always got too much credit, and this is simply the flip side of the coin. Regardless, there's no way to spin this man's legacy as a success. Sullivan's not done. "Rove is one of the worst political strategists in recent times," he writes. "He took a chance to realign the country and to unite it in a war — and threw it away in a binge of hate-filled niche campaigning, polarization and short-term expediency." Conservatism is not entrenched in the American identity, as Rove had intended. It is a dying breed in many parts of the country, and increasingly unpopular even in its former strongholds.
Dan Froomkin of the Post agrees, writing that Rove "leaves his party in worse shape than he found it, with his boss profoundly discredited in the eyes of the American people." Froomkin also writes that part of the blame for this failed administration will "accrue to Rove for choosing to use national security as a wedge issue."
And that's the key point. Rove, a campaigner, was handed the keys to the White House car in every instance. Remember when faith-based initiatives czar John DiIulio resigned in disgust and said, "What you've got is everything and I mean everything being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis"? When you actually govern with the exclusive aim of building partisan advantage, you are inevitably headed for disaster. The United States of America's priorities are not the same as the GOP's priorities, and while the goal of the presidency is to further the former, this administration was always interested in the latter. Throw in hubris, incompetency, and an obstinate unwillingness to hear outside views, and you've got one of the worst presidencies in the history of the Republic. Quite a genius, that Karl.
Photo courtesy of Time, where they've captured Rove through the ages.
Late update: Not surprisingly, Harold Meyerson agrees with me.
[Rove] and Bush overlooked the epochal growth of economic insecurity in America. They refused to see that the very economic changes they celebrated had made Americans understandably nervous and pessimistic to an unprecedented extent about the nation's long-term economic prospects. And so, as employers were abandoning their provision of retirement benefits to employees, Bush and Rove called for abandoning the government's commitment as well. At a time when ordinary Americans' incomes were stagnating, and when growing numbers of Americans understood that they were in some nebulous competition with millions of lower-paid workers in other lands that the government seemed powerless to mitigate, Bush and Rove proposed legalizing the undocumented immigrants who had flowed across the border.
Could there have been a more profound misreading of the American temper?