Architectural Disaster

by digby

Nobody is ever more passionate than an apostate. Here's Andrew Sullivan:

The man's legacy is a conservative movement largely discredited and disunited, a president with lower consistent approval ratings than any in modern history, a generational shift to the Democrats, a resurgent al Qaeda, an endless catastrophe in Iraq, a long hard struggle in Afghanistan, a fiscal legacy that means bankrupting America within a decade, and the poisoning of American religion with politics and vice-versa. For this, he got two terms of power - which the GOP used mainly to enrich themselves, their clients and to expand government's reach and and drain on the productive sector. In the re-election, the president with a relatively strong economy, and a war in progress, managed to eke out 51 percent. Why? Because Rove preferred to divide the country and get his 51 percent, than unite it and get America's 60. In a time of grave danger and war, Rove picked party over country. Such a choice was and remains despicable.

Rove is one of the worst political strategists in recent times...

That's refreshing because mostly what I'm hearing in the press today is the glorious story of "the architect" as if he'd built something other than a huge pile of rotting compost.

I have written a ton of stuff over the years about Karl Rove and I've always been of the opinion that he was extremely overrated, although I'm willing to admit that getting a braindead playboy like Junior elected four times to anything, much less governor and president, does take some skill. But as for his alleged tactical and strategic genius, not so much. His gift is for dirty tricks and thuggish strong arm tactics. Machiavelli and Sun Tzu he ain't.

But that's not to say he didn't think he was a genius. From the serendipitous article by Josh Green in this months Atlantic (no link, sorry):

Another important misjudgment by Bush, prodded by  Rove, was giving Rove too much power within the  administration. This was partly a function of Rove’s desire to control policy as well as politics. His prize for winning the reelection campaign was a formal role and the title of deputy chief of staff for policy. But his power also grew because the senior policy staff in the White House was inept.

In an early scene in Ron Suskind’s book The Price of Loyalty, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, not yet alive to the futility of his endeavor, warns Dick Cheney that the White House policy process is so ineffectual that it is tantamount to “kids rolling around on the lawn.” Had O’Neill lasted longer than he did (he resigned in 2002), he might have lowered his assessment. Before she left the White House in humiliation after conservatives blocked her nomination to the Supreme Court, White House Counsel Harriet Miers had also served as deputy chief of staff for policy. The president’s Domestic Policy Council was run by Claude Allen, until he, too, resigned, after he was caught shoplifting at Target.

The weakness of the White House policy staff demanded Rove’s constant involvement. For all his shortcomings, he had clear ideas about where the administration should go, and the ability to maneuver. “Where the bureaucracy was failing and broken, Karl got stuff done,” says a White House colleague. “Harriet was no more capable of producing policy out of the policy office she directed than you or I are capable of jumping off the roof of a building and flying to Minneapolis.”

As a result, Rove not only ran the reelection campaign, he plotted much of Bush’s second-term agenda, using the opportunity to push long-standing pet issues—health- savings accounts, Social Security privatization—that promised to weaken support for Democrats, by dismantling Medicare and Social Security. But this also meant committing the president to sweeping domestic changes that had no public favor and had not been a focus of the 2004 campaign, which had centered almost exclusively on the war.

Bush’s reelection and Rove’s assumption of a formal policy role had a bigger effect than most of Washington realized at the time. It is commonly assumed (as I assumed) that Rove exercised a major influence on White House policy before he had the title, all the time that he had it, and even after it was taken away from him in the staff shake-up last year that saw Josh Bolten succeed Andrew Card as chief of staff.

Insiders don’t disagree, but say that Rove’s becoming deputy chief of staff for policy was still an important development. For the purposes of comparison, a former Bush official cited the productiveness of the first two years of Bush’s presidency, the period that generated not just No Child Left Behind but three tax cuts and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. At the time, Bolten was deputy chief of staff for policy, and relations with Congress had not yet soured. “Josh was not an equal of Karl’s with regard to access to the president or stature,” says the official. “But he was a strong enough intellect and a strong enough presence that he was able to create a deliberative process that led to a better outcome.” When Bolten left to run the Office of Management and Budget, in 2003, the balance shifted in Rove’s favor, and then shifted further after the reelection. “Formalizing [Rove’s policy role] was the final choke-off of any internal debate or deliberative process,” says the official. “There was no offset to Karl.”

Rove’s greatest shortcoming was not in conceptualizing policies but in failing to understand the process of getting them implemented, a weakness he never seems to have recognized in himself. It’s startling that someone who gave so much thought to redirecting the powers of government evinced so little interest in understanding how it operates. Perhaps because he had never worked in government—or maybe because his standing rested upon his relationship with a single superior—he was often ineffective at bringing into being anything that required more than a presidential signature.

Rove is much more a lightweight than people give him credit for. Green's article is devastating. He is such a megalomaniac that he thought he could engineer a rare political realignment through sheer power. He treated congress like dirt:

Winning the 2002 elections earned Rove further distinction as an electoral strategist. But it didn’t change the basic dynamic between the White House and Congress, and Rove drew exactly the wrong lesson from the experience, bringing the steamroller approach from the campaign trail into his work in government. Emboldened by triumph, he grew more imperious, worsening his relations with the Hill. With both houses now in Republican hands, he pressed immigration reform and Social Security privatization. A congressional aide described a Republican leadership retreat after the midterms where Rove whipped out a chart and a sheaf of poll numbers and insisted to Republican leaders that they pursue a Social Security overhaul at once. Making wholesale changes to a beloved entitlement program in the run-up to a presidential election would have been a difficult sell under the best of circumstances. Lacking goodwill in Congress and having laid no groundwork for such an undertaking, Rove didn’t get a serious hearing on the issue—or on immigration, either.

A revealing pattern of behavior emerged from my interviews. Rove plainly viewed his standing as equal to or exceeding that of the party’s leaders in Congress and demanded what he deemed his due. Yet he was also apparently annoyed at what came with his White House eminence, complaining to colleagues when members of Congress called him to consult about routine matters he thought were beneath his standing—something that couldn’t have endeared him to the legislature.

You have to give the GOP caucus credit. They sure didn't let on that Rove thought they were a bunch of useless lackeys. At the time, he was being worshiped as an electoral sorcerer. For a little context, check out this article from just before the 2004 election:

The bespectacled, wispyhaired political guru - known in some circles as "Bush's brain" - had to be physically protected Tuesday night from a flock of lady admirers during a cocktail party at Gotham Hall.

"As soon as he got off the stage, he was mobbed by a group of women," party volunteer Warren Seubel told Lowdown.

"Women were fawning over him. They were swooning," said Seubel. "I've never seen someone so gnarly get so much attention from so many women."

Things got a tad ugly when Rove's handlers tried to separate the man from his fans.

"It was unbelieeeeevable. I had to start throwing elbows at senators and congressmen," said Seubel. "But the real problem was the congressional wives."

Maybe it was the 53-year-old Rove's toast that had the gals excited. Addressing the crowd - which included human Uzi Ann Coulter, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, G. Gordon Liddy and Interior Secretary Gale Norton - Rove yelled, "We're right, and they're wrong! On the economy, we're right, and they're wrong! On the war on terror, we're right, and they're wrong! On marriage, we're right, and they're wrong!"

Yesterday, a Rove associate tried to knock down the sex-symbol scenario. "He's like a rock star, and people want to shake his hand, take pictures with him, say hello, etc." the associate E-mailed. "I've been here all week and it is crazy, but I don't seriously think it is because he's a babe magnet. He's just the man!"

This country went insane for a while, didn't it?

One thing Green says in his article that I think is very important to keep in mind as we begin to wind down this looney era --- as bad as Rove was, he wasn't really the boss:

Rove has no antecedent in modern American politics, because no president before Bush thought it wise to give a political adviser so much influence. Rove wouldn’t be Rove, in other words, were Bush not Bush. That Vice President Cheney also hit a historic high-water mark for influence says a lot about how the actual president sees fit to govern. All rhetoric about “leadership” aside, Bush will be viewed as a weak executive who ceded far too much authority. Rove’s failures are ultimately his.

And it isn't over yet. With or without Turdblossom, his creature George W. Bush is still the president --- for more than 500 days.