The news lately has been more depressing than usual. Miners are trapped in Utah. Bodies are being found at the site of the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Grim reports continue to flow from Iraq. The New York Times's front page article yesterday discussed how the Bush administration failed to sustain victory in Afghanistan, finding itself bogged down in Iraq.
So, one has to savor good news when it arrives, and today is just such a day. Karl Rove announced that he is resigning, effective August 31. Ding, dong, the witch is dead.
Most people who even occasionally keep up with politics know what kind of horrible qualities Rove represents in an arena where if you want to be known for being dirty, you really have to go above and beyond. But with cable news networks more concerned with Paris Hilton than Paris, France, it should come as no surprise that the average American may not know who Rove is, and certainly most likely does not know the amount of power he wielded in the White House. Rove was more than just the architect of Bush's election campaigns. And yet, so little about his background is generally known to the man or woman on the street. A little digging shows that he stood as an appropriate symbol of everything that is wrong with the Bush administration.
It has been widely reported that Rove's first teenage foray into politics involved him stealing stationery from the headquarters of a Democratic candidate for Illinois state treasurer and using it to print up invitations for "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing" that he promptly circulated to the city's soup kitchens and in the red light district.
It's not like his dirty tricks approach to politics ended there. Rove was a protege of Donald Segretti, an "original gansta" political trickster who did time for his role in the Watergate affair. Segretti coined the lovely term "ratfucking" for his practice of making up lies about Democratic candidates, like forging a letter on the stationery of Sen. Edmund Muskie that falsely accused Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson of fathering an illegitimate child with a 17-year-old girl. (What is it with these guys and stealing stationery?)
One particular angry writer called Rove "America's Joseph Goebbels," presciently taking him to task in 2002 for painting presidential candidate George McGovern as a "peacenik" in 1972, even though McGovern was a fighter pilot and war hero during World War II. In 2004, Rove would pull the same trick on Sen. John Kerry, painting the man who served and was wounded in Vietnam as the coward, while offering his guy, who sat out the war and didn't even bother to finish his unfairly-attained National Guard duty, as the true patriot. It's no surprise, given that Rove, like his boss, got an exemption from the Vietnam draft under dubious circumstances (according to Wikipedia, he maintained his student 2-S exemption status for six months beyond the date he dropped out of the University of Utah).
Rove also fit in perfectly with Bush's anti-"Best and the Brightest" approach to hiring staffers. I wonder if Americans know that the man who held the title of Deputy Chief of Staff and was one of the president's most powerful advisors was a college dropout, leaving school after a year to work for Lee Atwater, the man who used the racially charged Willie Horton advertisement to smear Gov. Michael Dukakis in the 1988 campaign of W's father. You have to hand it to Rove: When comes to being a morally empty political trickster, he didn't mess around, learning from the very best in the field.
It doesn't take a PhD to draw the line from stealing stationery to outing an undercover CIA agent as payback for her husband's New York Times op-ed piece challenging the administration's pre-Iraq war intelligence. (I wrote about the Plame outing on June 5, 2007.) It was in Rove's DNA.
As you may recall, Bush ran in 2000 on a platform of bringing honor back to Washington. Call me crazy, but I would argue that having a top advisor be one of the biggest political dirty trick instigators of all time is far less honorable than engaging in oral sex with an intern. But that really sums up Bush's time in office; it was always appearance over reality. Bush could say he was a "compassionate" conservative, and that made it okay that he actually curtailed federal stem cell research funding, connived the country into a catastrophic war in Iraq it had no business engaging in (all while losing ground in the war against the real enemy in Afghanistan), and stuffed his administration with under-educated, under-experienced cronies based on their geographic (i.e. being from Texas) or religious (i.e. graduating from Pat Robertson's bottom-quartile university) background (which I wrote about on April 16, 2007).
Rove knew that the American electorate was lazy and not engaged, and as a result, he could trick them into believing what he wanted them to believe about his candidate. So while the blame lies with the citizens that voted Bush into office twice (and the nearly half of the electorate that didn't bother to vote either time), Rove has to take his share of the blame as the man who manipulated the system. Bush is a president who loves to talk about the American values of freedom and democracy, but few embody those qualities less than Rove.
Ultimately, Rove will have to live with the legacy of being known as a political dirty tricks artist who manipulated candidates into office. Clearly, he has no problem with that characterization. But the American people should be more disturbed, and they can show it by making sure that Rove's beloved party is shown the door in the November 2008 election. If it doesn't happen, the Democrats won't have Rove to blame. To see the culprit, they'll only have to look in the mirror.