Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meet the new math

The pursuit of revisionist mathematics by White House senior adviser, Deputy Chief of Staff and Prince of Darkness Karl Rove continues, even in the face of a clear and resounding election defeat.

Some of the latest evidence of that is the Nov. 12 interview Rove conducted with the Washington Post’s Peter Baker. In that interview, Rove bends over backwards to elaborate on the mistaken calculus he used before the election to explain why the Republicans would again prevail where it counts, at the polls.

But despite all of his errant figuring, it is clear from the outcome of the election that Rove, like his party, truly underestimated the impact of the Iraq war on the hearts and minds of the voter. The Architect is a man clearly not above building a house whose foundation sits squarely in the middle of a swamp.

Bear in mind, the words “swamp” and “quagmire” are hardly antonyms.

Denial persists in the White House. To judge from the post-election expressions of the faces of Rove and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, as they attended a press conference where their boss, President Bush, offered his own election postmortem, you’d think they had won. They wouldn’t have looked any different if they had.

Part of this is testosterone bravado. The glass-jawed palooka who gets his brains beaten out in the ring still musters up that little shred of ego after the fight. As he staggers to his feet to shake one of his opponent’s six hands, the expression flits across his face: “You didn’t hurt me that bad. I want a rematch. This was nothing!

Bolten and Rove looked like that, in the Washington style. But despite their tough-it-out attitude, there’s been some piling on by a multitude of conservative friends presumably in their corner: Richard Perle, Richard Viguerie, Andrew Sullivan, David Gergen, and more besides.

Talking with The Post’s Baker, Rove reflected an inability to work that math he’s been so proud of. From Baker’s story:

“In an expansive interview last week, Rove said [his election] strategy was working until the House page sex scandal involving ex-representative [Mark] Foley (R-Fla.) put the Republican campaign "back on its heels," as he put it. ‘We were on a roll, and it stopped it,’ he said. ‘It revived all the stuff about Abramoff and added to it.’

“The various scandals surrounding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other ethics allegations, Rove said, had as much, if not more, to do with the defeat than the Iraq war. In Rove's analysis, 10 of the 28 House seats Republicans lost were sacrificed because of various scandals. Another six, he said, were lost because incumbents did not recognize and react quickly enough to the threat. That leaves 12 other seats lost, fewer than the 15 that Democrats needed to capture the House. So without corruption and complacency, he argued, Republicans could have kept control regardless of Bush's troubles and the war.”

With such reveleations, it’s clearer than ever that Rove just doesn’t get it, doesn’t appreciate the deeper reasons for the GOP defeat on Nov. 7 and 8. Last we heard, for example, corruption and complacency were good reasons for turning a Congress out.

Rove rationalizes away the election results with a conveniently tidy argument courtesy of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

“ … if Iraq is the determining factor and it is a dominant opinion, then in a blue state like Connecticut you should not have 60 percent of the voters vote for one of the candidates who said, 'Stay, fight and win,' " Rove told Baker, referring to Lieberman’s victory over challenger Ned Lamont while running as an independent candidate. “I don't deny that it's a factor, but it is hard to declare" it was the leading factor, Rove told Baker.

It's a narrow view, and utterly reflexive in its partisanship. Rove forgets that Lieberman also had the long-term accumulated goodwill a favorite son acquires after almost 20 years in Congress, and more years in state government.

Rove needed to look a few states over, at Rhode Island, and the more emotionally typical case of Lincoln Chafee, a sitting liberal Republican senator beloved by his party and moderate Democrats alike – a man sent packing on Nov. 7 largely because the citizens of Rhode Island voted this time to send more of a message about the party than about the candidate.

Rove goes on to intimate that losing 28 House seats, six Senate seats and the congressional majority was no big deal, since it was, to quote Baker quoting Rove, “roughly comparable to losses suffered by the party in the White House in the sixth year of other presidencies.”

The very idea that Rove would try to compare this administration’s sixth year to that of “other presidencies,” utterly failing to understand the unique nature of this particular debacle in the making, indicates the depth of the disconnect between Rove and a large segment of American reality.

Much of the post-election Republican thinking seems to embrace the idea that the losses at the polls were the result of a momentary miscalculation. In the eyes of Rove and the Republican leadership, the GOP’s failure has been ascribed to either a mammoth (if single) misinterpretation of polling data and intelligence, or a single equally mammoth deus ex machina (like either of the Abramoff or Foley scandals) that arose to pervert the inevitable.

What’s largely missing from Republican retrospectives is glaringly obvious:

First, the Republican Party failed to hold its majorities in Congress because of a fundamental shift in the mindset of the American public, a change created and intensified by the needless slow undoing of the war in Iraq. Second, the Republicans lost because they didn't appreciate the gravity of that change in American thinking, relying instead on the habits of hubris to rescue them again, and totally failing to see the ways in which the voters made this election as much a referendum on the country's direction as the one we'll be having in less than two years' time.

Whether his miscalculation lasts will play itself out over the next two years, as the Democrats take the congressional reins. But however narrowly, Karl Rove misread the numbers, and this time it was the bigger numbers. This time, Bush's number-crunching brain couldn't handle the tidal arithmetic of the American mood.

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