Black Bart Rides Off Into The Sunset

Karl Rove is leaving the White House, going back to Texas so that he can "spend more time with his family." This transparent little white lie told by Washington's elites for leaving a top job in government is usually given to mask policy or personality differences or to express a general unhappiness with the job being vacated.

In Rove's case, it is probably a combination of exhaustion, unhappiness at his reduced role in government, and perhaps a recognition that there's precious little he can do from here on out to help Bush implement policy or to change his legacy.

He should have been fired after it was revealed he helped "out" Valerie Plame. Not to rehash the whole, boring episode but even if Plame was a shameless publicity hound and everyone knew her status as an analyst with the CIA, you don't go putting it on the record with the press. You don't reveal the names of people who work for the CIA - covert or not. Rove knew better and did it anyway. Whether or not he lied to the FBI or whether he simply forgot pertinent details, the fact is he's lucky he had a great lawyer and that Fitzgerald couldn't make anything stick. By all accounts, he was very close to being indicted on similar charges that Scooter Libby was convicted for and received a jail sentence.

Granted, the Administration was pushing back against Plame's husband Joe Wilson - a man whose lies about the events surrounding his trip to Niger have been exposed by two separate Congressional Committees. But skirting the edge of the law and playing fast and loose with the identities of employees in our intelligence agencies is wrong. Rove should have paid the price for his extremely poor judgment.

This is not a popular view on the right. But when the left goes back to bashing the CIA and trying to undermine their mission - as they did for 50 years prior to their sudden conversion during the Plame Affair to the idea that the CIA is a clandestine organization, vital to our national security - conservatives will have no moral standing to criticize the outing of real covert agents and the missions being carried out to protect us. How many Phillip Agees are out there waiting to receive plaudits and praise from liberals for undermining the effectiveness of our intelligence operatives? I'm sure we'll find out in the years ahead. And thanks to Rove, the disapprobation that should fall on those who engage in this practice will be mitigated by the example he set.

If you think Rove should have hung on despite his transgressions in the Plame Affair, how about canning him for his spectacular failure in the 2006 elections? While the entire disaster cannot be laid at his feet, his strategy of maximizing Republican/evangelical turnout while doing little or nothing to court right-leaning independents almost certainly cost the GOP the Senate as well as up to a dozen House seats in districts Bush carried by wide margins in 2004.

Rove was the driving force behind putting anti-gay marriage proposals on ballots in dozens of states. While these measures passed easily, many of the voters then turned around and voted for Democrats. And the entire issue turned off many independent and libertarian voters who might have been expected to vote Republican. It was a bad strategy that failed miserably and he should have been fired for being one of its major architects.

But on the other hand, the extraordinary hate and loathing directed against him by the left over these last 7 years has been without precedent in my experience. I cannot ever recall a presidential aide being the target of such vile and distasteful smears as Rove has experienced since coming to Washington.

Part of the vituperation directed Rove's way has been the time honored practice of the left to assign a Machiavelli character to Republican Administrations going back to Eisenhower. The meme advanced for decades is that conservative Republican presidents are stupid and are manipulated by a power behind the throne. Rove has been vilified precisely because most on the left see him (or Dick Cheney) as a putative president, pulling George Bush's strings in order to advance the interests of other, more powerful men outside of government.

There is no doubt that Rove was an influential - perhaps the most influential - voice in government over the past 7 years. It is also clear that Bush has a mind of his own. The President's stubbornness on many issues sometimes borders on the irrational. The idea that Rove could manipulate such a man is pretty far fetched. He almost certainly was a trusted advisor whose advice on politics and many policy issues was embraced by the President. But when push came to shove on many issues, the President's own ideas would usually win out - sometimes to his detriment.

But why the hate directed toward Karl Rove by the left? Rove may be the toughest political operative produced by either major party in quite a while. He was a combination hatchet man and back alley brawler. I disagree with those who believe he politicized the War on Terror. Certainly he didn't hesitate to exploit the political advantages presented by the domestic obsession with security following 9/11. But there is a fine line between creating fear and using it for political purposes.

Rove did not create the threats we face. But he never hesitated to remind people of the differences between how the Democrats wanted to fight the War on Terror and how Republicans were managing the threats we face. I challenge any Democrat to say with a straight face that a president from their party would have acted any differently as far as exploiting the philosophical and political differences between the parties on the war. Terrorism is too easy an issue to hit a home run with the public. And like a batter who gets thrown a hanging curve ball, the temptation to swing and knock one out of the park is just too great. If the next president is a Democrat, watch for many of the same charges hurled by the left against Bush about politicizing the War on Terror to be echoed by the right. It probably can't be helped in this age of polarized, partisan politics - something Rove rarely if ever tried to address in a positive way.

Rove's never called the opposition to the President treasonous - not in so many words. But there is little doubt that he sought to paint the President's opponents as unreliable when it came to national security. Did he deliberately leave the impression that opposition to the President with regards to Iraq was disloyalty? I suppose if I were a liberal Democrat, I would probably be left with that notion. I would also suppose that Rove believed it. Unfair or not, as point man for the Administration, Rove and most Republicans have been embittered by the way the Democrats themselves have politicized the War in Iraq. Charges of "Bush lied people died" are answered with "Traitors!" Such is the state of our national polity early in the 21st century.

I imagine in some Democratic quarters, they are breathing a sigh of relief at Rove's departure. Extremely smart, knowledgeable, a brilliant political tactician, and very, very tough, Rove will almost certainly be missed by the President if not his political opponents. He was a lightening rod for Bush, absorbing much of the negative energy directed against the Administration by its enemies. And Rove's own legacy, like that of his boss, will probably be a mixed one.