I wonder if Karl Rove's son Andrew's pledge name in his fraternity at Trinity University is 'Turd Blossom Junior', or maybe he played it smart and enrolled under a false name. It can't be easy on a liberal college campus when you're the son of the most hated man in America. You've got to give Karl Rove his due. For a nerdy, awkward and superficially harmless looking kid who was abandoned by his father, whose mother committed suicide and who then dropped out of three different colleges, it's quite an achievement by the age of 57 to be more hated than Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il and Robert Mugabe rolled into one. You have to wonder what kind of debilitating mental disease his wife Darby suffers from that she would be so unwise as to marry such a monster.
Rove's primary crime after starting his career with a Nixonian coup to take over the College Republicans, has been to be awfully good at getting Republicans elected to prominent positions in government, something which is understandably unforgivable. If Republicans in power are inherently evil, how much more evil is the person who put so many of them there, including our current President? Ultimately, doesn't he bear responsibility for every one of the crimes of those he put in a position to do so much evil?
Rove's successful campaigns include putting Phil Gramm, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Ashcroft in the Senate, launching the career of Texas Governor Rick Perry, getting Bill Clements elected as Texas' first two-term governor, helping get Ronald Reagan into the White House, and guiding George W. Bush through successful gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. Apparently Rove's fractured college career resulted in having to read Machiavelli's The Prince a few too many times, because he really took the lessons of the Renaissance political theorist to heart, running his campaigns with a remarkable ruthlessness and a willingness to do anything for victory, a quality which has made him very valuable to those who have hired him and reviled by those he has opposed. Accusations of skullduggery and smears have followed him throughout the years, though none of the pointed fingers have ever been followed up with proof of his involvement, suggesting a real talent for covering his own ass.
Rove has always been looked down on by the Republican elite because he didn't come from the right background, didn't go to the right schools and didn't even manage to graduate from the ones he did go to. He's a bit too plebian and scruffy to get their respect – hence his earning of the name 'Turd Blossom', a Texas term for a flower which grows from a cow patty – but his willingness to get his hands dirty and produce results has kept him employed, and his loyalty to George W. Bush eventually got him to a prominent position in the White House as Deputy Chief of Staff. In that job his role has been as a strategist and hatchet-man, presiding over controversial policy setting meetings on energy and the Iraq War and running damage control on situations like the Plame Affair and Attorney Firings.
The interesting thing about Rove is that there is no evidence that anything he has ever done while working in the White House is illegal, yet he is seen as a force of corruption and deception to dwarf even legendary unscrupulous political operatives like Jim Blaine and even Aaron Burr. He's been called "Bush's Brain" and is portrayed as the ultimate puppet master, working behind the scenes to pull the strings which control the entire administration. The irony is that despite his ability to sell the public on candidates in political campaigns, Rove seems to have have been remarkably inept at presenting his own actions to the public in an appealing way.
Despite actually doing nothing wrong and even being cleared of all guilt in the Plame investigation, Rove's secretive nature and desire to keep a low profile has made him a target of constant suspicion and the subject of paranoid partisan speculation. For example, calling in the oil companies to consult on energy policy looks like a good, responsible idea when you announce what you're doing and make the meetings accessible to the public. But when you do it in secret and try to keep the details out of the press it looks like a conspiracy. Even if exactly the same things would have been said at a private meeting as a public meeting, the appearance of secrecy plays to the worst fears of those inclined to look for conspiracies. The attorney firings is another good example. Clearly nothing illegal could have taken place, given the administration's absolute right to hire and fire employees at will, but the attempt to conceal the reasons why the attorneys were fired and the process by which the firings were executed created the appearance of criminality where it could not exist.
Rove's career demonstrates that the qualities which help you run a winning political campaign may in fact work against you once your candidate gets into office. This is why in most cases the person a politician hires to run his campaign is not the same person he hires to run things and advise him once he's elected. President Bush's tendency to become sentimentally attached to the people he works closely with worked against him with Rove, keeping him around far longer than was wise.
There has been a dismaying effort on the left to demonize and dehumanize Rove beyond anything which is appropriate based on his conduct. Rove has given them plenty of material from which to stir up controversy, but very little of substance to follow through on. It almost makes me wonder if Rove's role in the White House was to distract attention with trivial pseudo-scandals which could never go anywhere, but drew attention away from other activities of a more nefarious nature.
Rove is now on his way out, and few seem sad to see him go. Republicans are breathing a sign of relief and hoping that the partisan attack machine will become a bit more civil with him gone. Democrats are claiming victory and promising to contiue to harass Rove as a private citizen in revenge for his supposed outrages while in the White House.
For me Rove remains an enigma. He has always radiated an aura of peculiar innocence and exuberance which seems totally at odds with the public perception of a machiavellian mastermind. Despite the massive level of personal attacks and verbal abuse loaded on him in the media and in the blogosphere, he seems to have sailed through it all and remained cheerful and self-assured. He has been called every name imaginable from traitor to devil and even been compared with Josef Goebbels. This sort of partisan demonization and dehumanization of political opponents has become more and more common in recent years, and Rove himself has been guilty of it in political campaigns. It's childish and offensive and lowers the quality of political debate, but it has become a mainstay of the angry left's culture of perpetual outrage. The irony is that in attacking Rove they become more and more like Rove, despite the fact that having his example to look at they ought to know better. They are what Rove has made them, and by their actions they legitimize him and become part of the Wrestlemania style of politics he symbolizes.
Rove has resigned, but I doubt he'll disappear from politics despite his claim to want to spend more time with his family. The truth is that he's achieved all that he can working for the Bush administration, and really stayed long beyond his usefulness. He's more at home in the context of a political campaign, and I suspect that's where we'll find him before much time passes, staying well behind the scenes so that his negative public persona won't interfere with his effectiveness. Remember, Rove is still relatively young and still has years of mischief in him. If your hatred of Rove is what keeps you going, you can look forward to a long life, unless all that pent-up rage causes your head to explode.