Karl Rove and the Atwater Legacy
October 31, 2008 - 2:25am ET
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After discussing the late political consultant Lee Atwater, it was hard not to think of one of his successors, Karl Rove. Here's a quick tour of three pieces that spring to mind.
Here's Joshua Green on Rove in 2004, with the election looming:
He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.
Here's Scott Horton in 2007 (commenting in part on another piece by Green):
The question is this: What do we mean by politics? Viewed properly, the way the great philosophers of man and state have viewed it from Aristotle onwards, politics is about the great issues of how humankind arranges its affairs. It is particularly about justice, about the establishment of social ideals, about the advancement of our species. But then we have Karl Rove’s conceptualization of politics, and we learn that it’s all about winning elections and the installation of a political lock on state power for the benefit of a voracious political party. That attitude comes very close to what the ancients meant when they used the words “tyrannical” and “corrupt.” And indeed it is.
The great failure of political analysis in America over the last six years is the arrival of a class of fools, the chattering class of political commentators, who share Karl Rove’s vision of what politics is all about. America as a nation has suffered immensely for this. And with Karl Rove’s demission, perhaps their time will also soon come.
And here's Matt Taibbi in 2008:
Rove is not a genius, or even very clever: He's totally and completely immoral. It doesn't take genius to claim, as Rove ludicrously did last fall, that it was the Democrats in Congress and not George W. Bush who pushed the Iraq War resolution in 2002. It doesn't take brains to compare a triple-amputee war veteran to Osama bin Laden; you just have to be a mean, rotten cocksucker.
The reason Rove continues to survive is the same reason that Johnnie Cochran was called a genius for keeping a double-murderer on the golf course — because this generation of Americans has become so steeped in greed and social Darwinism that it can no longer distinguish between cheating and achieving, between enterprise and crime, and can't bring itself to criticize winners any more than it knows how to be nice to losers. He survives because an increasing number of Americans secretly agree with Rove's vision of rules, laws and "the truth" as quaint, faintly embarrassing rituals that only a sucker would let hold him back.
Rove's comeback is evidence that the attack on our civic institutions in the Bush years wasn't an isolated incident, something we can pin on a specific group of now-deposed politicians. It's a trend, a thing that grows in direct proportion to our greed and ignorance. We may be a country at war, facing one of the greatest financial meltdowns of all time. But in the end, the thing that could be our undoing is the kind of generalized boredom with legality and honor that empowers Rovian behavior. If we let it.
What do we mean by politics, what do we value in politicians and their campaigns, and how do we measure success? An unchecked, win-at-any-cost mentality has not served us well economically, and it doesn't serve us terribly well in campaigns or governance, either. Fleecing the suckers looks far less attractive as a dominating ideology when you realize you've been one of them.
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