Karl RoveIt's hard to imagine how Karl Rove's appearance could fit his role any more perfectly than it does.
Portly, balding, malicious, simpering, he looks like a cross between Sesame Street's Mr. Hooper and the Third Reich's Heinrich Himmler. And he acts like a cross between Heinrich Himmler and Henry Kissinger. Whom he also looks like. And not in a good way.
Oh yeah, he's a man who compromised national security, putting lives of American agents in danger. Wait, I forgot a word there. What was it? Oh, I remember! Allegedly.
Rove is an old-school political operator who would have been right at home working on Huey Long's campaign. Of course, Long did a lot of good things for his constituents, to offset the sleaze and corruption. Rove's protege, George W Bush, has a ways to go in that regard.
Rove was a "Young Republican" back when being a Young Republican wasn't cool (a historical era ranging from 1959 through the present). As a student at the prestigious University of Utah, Rove (who still had hair at the time) teamed up with a young Lee Atwater to seize control of the College Republicans political club in the early 1970s.
By all accounts, the race for the coveted chairmanship of the meaningless College Republicans organization was a portent of things to come. According to the Washington Post, the two men executed a balls-to-the-wall campaign to put Rove in the catbird's seat, and once there, he wasted no time getting his group involved in dirty tricks on behalf of Richard M Nixon's 1972 campaign. You may remember that campaign, it was the beginning of Watergate.
Oxymoronically, Rove dropped out of college to become executive director of the College Republicans, all the while practicing dirty tricks on behalf of the candidates of his choice. According the Post, these tricks included identity theft, petty larceny and campaign fraud. Rove characterized these felonies and misdemeanors as a "youthful prank."
A political visionary, Rove recognized early on that he had the opportunity to leech onto not one, but two failed, third-rate presidents in the form of what is comically referred to as the "Bush Dynasty." Rove worked as an assistant to George Bush Sr. in the Republican National Committee during what is arguably the lowest point in the history of the Republican Party, the aftermath of the Nixon presidency.
For the next decade or so, Rove kept his nose buried up the ass of the nearest Bush. He helped George Jr. embarrass himself in a 1978 congressional bid, then bailed out of Bush Sr.'s first and failed presidential bid in 1979.
He maintained a close buddyship with the future president Junior, however. In a high point of Time Magazine's history of powerful journalistic coverage, a 2001 report revealed that George W. Bush's pet name for Rove is "Turd Blossom." No, really.
Rove helped Bush Jr. transform himself from rich-dilletante wastrel into rich-dilletante-wastrel-with-power in 1994, acting as his political adviser in Dubya's successful run for Texas governor. According to ABC News, more than half of the campaign's nearly $1 million budget went to Rove. Considering the challenge of making Bush look good, the sum was probably not out of line.
Rove's tactics tend toward making politics more about playing percentages than kissing babies. An early adopter of direct mail and targeted computer lists, Rove is widely credited with making the Texas GOP the cash cow is today. He also specialized in converting conservative Democrats who were already Republicans in every meaningful sense into Republicans in name as well, including arch-conservative and failed presidential candidate Phil Gramm, who suspiciously resembles a much thinner version of Rove himself.
Brought in to shepherd Junior to his rightful place as chief executive of the last superpower, Rove was largely responsible for creating the veneer of "compassionate conservatism" that led George Jr. to his triumphant loss in the 2000 presidential election.
First, Rove and his little buddy had to beat off a surprise primary challenge from charismatic war hero John McCain, whose sacrifices in a military prison camp in Vietnam looked all the more impressive against Bush's no-show National Guard travesty. Rove conducted a whisper-campaign to spread sleaze, pushing ridiculous allegations, such as that McCain was a stoolie while imprisoned in Vietnam. Rove was reputedly the brains behind a sleazy e-mail forward that alleged McCain had fathered an illegitimate black daughter, a lie which was "proven" by actual pictures of McCain with his black daughter, whom he had actually adopted.
Obviously, McCain should have been drinking and snorting coke throughout the '70s, rather than serving his country, enduring torture and adopting children. Bush trampled the challenger handily, and moved on to the general election, where he faced Vice President Al Gore.
Despite running against the stiffest Democratic candidate since Adlai Stevenson, Dubya couldn't quite clear the hurdle in the nationwide popular vote, which he lost by a margin five times larger than Nixon lost to Kennedy in 1960. But the pesky little electoral college thing sank Gore, thanks to Jeb and Florida. As early as Labor Day, Rove was doing the usual political dance and predicting it would be a close race. And how close it was! As mentioned above, Gore won the popular vote by a small but convincing margin. However, the electoral college — which actually dictates who will become president — was right down to the wire. The outcome of the election rode on the election results in Florida, which Gov. Jeb Bush had promised to "deliver" for his brother.
You all remember Florida. We won't beat it to death again here. Karl Rove's role in Florida was "damage control," and there was a lot of damage to control. Rove's basic public strategy consisted of "we won, so leave us alone." Voting irregularities, mandated recounts -- these things were trivia, bureaucracy, Democratic dirty tricks. "We won" was the message of the day.
Privately, of course, the Bush team was far from certain that they had, in fact, won. Jeb Bush promised to stay out of the recount debate, and instead entrusted it to his political appointees, who lived for no other reason than to curry favor. Rove didn't like the looks of this, so he stacked the deck in every conceivable way.
Among the tactics he employed: Loading Republican operatives from Washington, D.C., onto a bus and sending them to Florida, where they played the part of "angry mob" shouting and intimidating the hapless bureaucrats who had been lumped with the unenviable job of evaluating the ballots. Ah, those youthful pranks!
In the end, Bush came out on top, of course, catapulting Rove into a position of power that few Mr. Hooper-lookalikes have ever achieved. Although the White House repeatedly insisted that Rove had no policy-making role, the advice of his "White House Office of Strategic Initiatives" was sought on virtually every major decision that Bush administration faced.
After September 11, Rove found himself feeling cranky, according to investigative reporter Bob Woodward. Rove was pissed off because he wasn't being allowed to sit in on National Security Council and war cabinet meetings. Bush and Dick Cheney were afraid the politico's presence would send the wrong message.
Bear in mind, it wasn't that Rove wasn't being consulted. He was consulted about every single thing that happened in the White House and every decision that emerged from the Oval Office. He just wasn't being allowed to sit at the meetings himself. He had to get his updates after the fact from Bush, Cheney and Condoleezza Rice.
Despite his enormous power, Rove was mostly spared any real scrutiny by the mainstream media, which preferred to write with grudging admiration about his alleged political skills and chuckle over the "Turd Blossom" thing. By the time the Iraq invasion rolled around, Rove was back to sitting in the meetings.
His thoughtful evaluation (told to Woodward) of the ramifications of invading a sovereign country and deposing its leader? "The victor is always right."
Until late 2003, anyway, when an ugly little incident revealed just how dark the dark side of Karl Rove could be, in a burgeoning scandal that could have serious consequences for the Bush White House.
A former U.S. ambassador by the name of Joseph Wilson was one of the biggest political liabilities the White House faced in 2003. Wilson had been dispatched to Niger early in 2002 to investigate whether Iraq was trying to buy uranium there. Turns out, they weren't.
He reported this information back to the White House, which promptly ignored it. Bush cited the uranium story in his 2003 State of the Union address, Cheney cited it repeatedly, and the State Department cited it in several of its endless justifications for why the U.S. just had to invade Iraq.
When the war was "over" and still no Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found, Wilson pointed out to the media that he had TOLD the White House that there was no uranium purchase. He wrote about his fact-finding trip in the New York Times as well.
This did not please the White House. It was bad for politics, bad for poll numbers. And when the poll numbers are threatened, Karl Rove gets cranky. Homicidally cranky, apparently. Did I say apparently? I meant allegedly.
In July 2003, arch-conservative Robert Novak reported that Wilson's wife was a CIA agent, blowing her cover and endangering her life, not to mention national security. (Inexplicably, no one has gone after Novak over this issue.)
Wilson and his wife didn't take this lying down. They came out swinging. Wilson accused Rove of being the source for the leak that endangered his wife's life and destroyed her career.
"Rove is someone who at a minimum would have condoned it and certainly did nothing to knock it down for over a week after the article appeared. The outing of my wife was obviously a political or communications move. The head of the political operation is Karl Rove," Wilson told reporters.
In late September, the Justice Department launched a full criminal investigation into the leak, which is an aggravated felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine (which actually seems a little low for treasonous activity and political intimidation designed to silence political opposition and whistleblowing).
The White House has refused to speculate on the source of the leak. Not only has it refused it speculate, it's actually refused to care. Despite widespread outrage, the White House declined to launch an internal investigation of the leak, with a Bush flak saying that it was "ridiculous" to suggest Rove was involved, and that "there has been absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement." I guess they don't get CNN on the cable system there.
Needless to say, the prospect of the Bush Justice Department investigating a Bush political operative doesn't thrill Democrats, who have already called for an independent counsel investigation.
Fortunately for Republicans, the party leadership cleverly disabused the nation about the worth of special prosecutors and impeachment proceedings a few years ago, when they hounded Bill Clinton into a constitutional crisis over blow jobs.
Considering the mounting list of actual scandals the Bushies are racking up, that strategy is proving to be prescient. Most Americans are about as thrilled at the prospect of a special prosecutor as they are at the prospect of a root canal.
In the meantime, just remember: don't cross Karl Rove. Whoops! We just did... dammit!