Monday, August 13, 2007

The collapse of the Architect

Karl Rove, the embattled, vilified deputy White House chief of staff, the lightning rod of the Bush #43 presidency and its most polarizing policies, announced Monday his intention to resign his position effective on Aug. 31. For quietly high-fiving Democrats, it’s safe to say, the Prince of Darkness has left the building (or at least stated when he’ll do so).

For Republicans, the departure of the man dubbed “The Architect” and “Bush’s brain,” Rove’s resignation leaves a spiritual and philosophical vacuum in an administration already struggling to matter as events Rove had a hand in creating threaten to overtake that administration some fifteen months before the next election.

And it raises questions for the GOP -- with the Architect gone, what’s left of the structure he tried to build? – and for the President: With Bush’s brain gone, who’ll do his thinking for him?

Karl Rove has long been known for a certain blustery style, a swagger that extended beyond personality into his approach to governance. What may have doomed him – which is to say what may have prompted White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten to demand that he either resign or commit to staying on through the 2008 campaign – was Rove’s heartfelt embrace of hubris in recent years.

Witness his steadfast refusal to testify before Congress about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, claiming executive privilege; his implication in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity; or his combative, take-no-prisoners approach to presidential politics. All played a role in cultivating an us-versus-them sense of governing that plagues the country.

“Karl Rove was an architect of a political strategy that has left the country more divided, the special interests more powerful, and the American people more shut out from their government than any time in memory,” said Sen. Barack Obama.

After leaving the White House and speaking with The Associated Press, Rove downplayed the importance of his own departure. “I think it will be wishful thinking on the part of the president’s critics to think this means anything other than a staff change at the White House,” he said.

Rove couldn’t be more accurate, and more wrong at the same time.

In some ways Rove’s exit is just one of several resignations the Bush White House has been forced to endure for months, in the wake of a disastrous foreign policy, an ill-conceived war and the scuttling of various domestic agendas.

But his leaving was preceded by a change in congressional leadership, a change he was at least partly responsible for. Before the 2006 midterm election, Rove’s unshakeable confidence in a Republican victory was characterized by a brusque assertion of his rightness about everything political. “You're entitled to your math," Rove famously told NPR last October, about ten days before the election. "I'm entitled to the math.”

But Rove’s unerring calculus about the GOP holding onto control of Congress was just wrong [see “Meet the new math.”] That error, however great or small, was part of what cost the Republicans their congressional majority, setting the stage for what may – may – be a GOP defeat in November 2008.

It’s this hubris that Adam Nagourney alluded to in an analysis in today’s New York Times: “Many remember Mr. Rove’s lofty ambitions — his talk of overseeing a political realignment that would marginalize Democrats for a generation — and think he aimed too high. Many wonder if a strategy aimed entirely at methodically identifying and stoking the party’s conservative base, with issues like gay marriage, abortion and terrorism, was ever a recipe for long-term political dominance, much less for governing a country.”

Ken Duberstein, the White House Chief of Staff under Ronald Reagan, put it another way, one in concert with the historical perspective Rove was fond of taking – a foundational view the Architect may have overlooked:

“The art of campaigning is to demolish your opponent: you defeat him, take all his clothes off and kill him," Duberstein said to CBS’s Jeff Greenfield. "The art of governing is putting together coalitions. It’s making love to your opponent. It’s not having any permanent adversaries, but rather it is embracing those adversaries.”

The ardent desire for a permanent state of war with the loyal opposition may be Karl Rove’s legacy, no matter who wins in November 2008. In that sense, what the Architect built in his six years in the White House was a shaky structure, an edifice built on conflict rather than cooperation – a building that probably deserves to be condemned 448 days from now.
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Image credit: U.S. Government (public domain)

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