In our March essay Karl Rove--Dysron, Quack Or Mole?, we analyzed a number of policy initiatives and pronouncements of the Bush Administration, which we believe must be attributed, to a major degree, to the questionable political advice of White House political advisor Karl Rove. Since then, there has been further confirmation of our basic hypothesis that Rove suffers from a form of "tunnel vision," which renders him unable to grasp the full context of any issue; that he is, at best, a loose cannon as an advisor to anyone in the higher echelons of politics.
This is another look at the seriously flawed political analysis of Karl Rove, and the danger to any Republican who follows his advice. We will approach the subject from various perspectives, including some comments on how Rove apparently sees himself, and why he apparently impresses some observers more than his obvious talents, or lack of them, would seem to warrant. We do not suggest that everything Rove does is wrong; that he has done nothing right. While in our March essay, we listed clear errors--errors whether one approaches the subjects involved from the standpoint of America's interest, or the tactical or strategic interests of the Republican Party;--Rove would never have been able to convince anyone of his worth, if he had not accomplished some things that were right. Unfortunately, however, it is in those areas that are most critical--and, for that very reason, most demanding--that his inadequacy becomes most apparent.
When we state that someone suffers from "tunnel vision," we refer to one who cannot see many of the phenomena which provide the context of a particular topic for analysis. We mean someone who can only see that which is within the immediate focus of his attention, but is blind to many of the factors that have contributed to that actual situation seen, or the full panorama of effects which that situation may have on other phenomena. "Tunnel Vision" in this usage, may result from fears or compulsions, which can make one a dysron, as we have earlier defined that term. But it may arise also in a simple inability to appreciate the full context of human action. In Rove's case, we suspect a combination of factors. And it should only be expected that those subjects, having the greatest potential effect and most complex causation, will be the ones most difficult for the person, suffering from such "tunnel vision," to fully grasp.
This last aspect of the deficiency may explain why Rove enjoyed greater success in Texas, earlier, than the ability that he has demonstrated at the Federal level would suggest likely. It is in the fact that he not only managed the election and handy reelection of George Bush as Governor, but engineered a general Republican sweep of most other major Texan offices, which is behind his reputation for political acuity. Yet, while not denying those achievements, we would suggest that they show less brilliance than opportunity. The Texas Democratic Party had already been seriously undermined by a continued drift of Party Leadership to the Left at the Federal level. Rove simply managed the details required to exploit the resulting opportunity. He was never forced to analyze the type of complex issues and challenges that now face his Party.
In order to test our analysis of Rove, we have reviewed some offered by other writers. Perhaps the best short Profile--from the standpoint of pulling together a considerable array of material within an easily grasped compass--is an essay that appeared in the New Yorker on May 12, 2003: "New Yorker Profile: Karl Rove by Nicholas Lemann." In order to not violate copyright considerations, for a publication not likely to be sympathetic to this Conservative web site, we will quote but sparingly. However, we have posted a link to the original, below, for the convenience of any reader who wants to verify our representations.
While the New Yorker is a basically Liberal publication, it offers quality writing. And although the article may cast doubt on Rove's ethics, it would actually tend to feed a cynical ego. In our opinion, Lemann's piece, subtitled, "The Controller: Karl Rove is working to get George Bush reelected, but he has bigger plans," grossly overrates Rove as a functioning political protagonist. We are not, therefore, citing Mr. Lemann as having come to a conclusion similar to our own. We do not suggest that he even perceives Rove's analytic dysfunction.
Yet in the assemblage of material and actual interviews of the subject, the writer provides a considerable body of evidence which, better understood, would support our hypothesis that Rove suffers from a debilitating form of tunnel vision; one which renders him more a detriment than an asset to the Republican Party, in general, and to the President in particular. We think that, while the New Yorker writer may have hoped to present Rove as sinister, though certainly not hapless, the portrait that actually emerges to those better grounded in the context of issues, is of a man who simply does not understand the full implications of the issues that he plays with. Rove is therefore considerably more dangerous to the people who employ him than to those he opposes; and more dangerous, by far, than the mere cynic or loose cannon.
For what to any reflective Conservative, at least, should be an obvious example of Rove's emptiness as an analyst, the writer recounts an interview where the subject, in setting out conclusions as to partisan demographic alignments in America, finished a description of Republican types with these sentences: "More women formed new small businesses in California last year than did men. I'm not sure exactly why, but if you're married and with kids you are far more likely to be a Republican than to be a Democrat." A curious coupling of sentences--but as for the "married with kids" category? We would suggest that any decent eighth grade social studies student could give a reasonably cogent explanation of that which for Rove appears to be an enigma.
While the Republican Party has not always been the more Conservative of American political parties, it is certainly so seen today. Conservatism is about preserving and passing on the traditions, family values, culture, and achievements (material, spiritual, social) of a people. The normal family--a married couple with "kids"--is the vehicle by which any society continues from generation to generation. One could go on, and break down the psychological aspects further; but it is obvious why the average family would be more conservative than those who, for whatever reason, are not married, and hence not so focused on the ongoing generation to generation pursuits of a people. As for those classes of residents in any community, who have children out-of-wedlock, subsidized by Government? If Rove doesn't understand why such would be less than likely Republicans, then what can anyone say for him!
Lemann discusses what he calls the "Arabesque of Rove," and mentions the "leave no child behind" educational policy as one "which gestures, not disingenuously, toward ghetto kids but drives up Bush's poll numbers with suburban women." He then goes on to quote Rove as to what the precise poll numbers showed as to how those, to whom education was the No. 1 issue, apparently voted in 1996 and 2000.
All of this may have impressed Mr. Lemann as part of Rove's mystique. But the shallow perspective it offers as justification for the President's education bill should be easily recognized. As almost any good teacher, every parent with more than one child, anyone who ever had a brother or a sister of nearly the same age, or any observer of the human condition will instantly perceive, it is inevitable that some children are going to be left behind. Children do not have equal aptitudes; and no amount of Governmental waste, no program for uniform testing, no carrot and stick approach applied to local schools, is ever going to change that.
It is not political brilliance to set your candidate up for an immediate gain at the expense of a later crash. Nor to 'cut to the chase,' is there a likely scenario where Rove will be able to distract attention from the inevitable failure of the No Child initiative. Right now, he seems to be counting on using the events of September 11, 2001, for such a distraction. Yet it is not likely to work out in that way. We will return to that, shortly.
The most pathetic example of Rove's lack of actual competence as a political analyst came in the closing days of the 2000 Campaign. Rove had predicted that Governor Bush would win by six points. When confronted by Lemann as to the actual result, Rove mentioned the revelation during the last week of the campaign, that Bush had been convicted of a DUI 24 years earlier. This he considered an accelerant in Gore's closing the gap. However, the real problem with that DUI revelation appertained less to the Governor than to his advisor.
We have repeatedly cited this incident as demonstrating Rove's lack of competence. Our point has been that this was an opportunity, not a problem. It called for Rove to borrow a page out of the Nixon play book from the 1952 campaign, and have Bush deliver the equivalent of a "little dog Checkers" speech--yet with a very striking difference. Nixon had been accused of having compromised his office by accepting personal gifts from wealthy contributors. He actually had a serious problem, which he handled in what was probably the most effective television address, he ever made. He turned the attacks to advantage, appealing to the sympathy of his viewers by talking about the little dog, whom his daughters loved.
The revelations about Bush, on the other hand, had nothing to do with public office. From a time when he was scarcely out of College, they related to a borderline DUI, which would probably never have been charged, had he not been being extra careful so as not to endanger anyone else. The sudden attention to something hardly relevant to anything in the present, struck many people as a dirty trick. But our point, again, was that this was opportunity. Bush should have availed himself of that opportunity to make an election eve Television address, to respond to the "accusation." He would have drawn a huge audience of the curious, a larger percentage of whom would have been otherwise likely Gore backers, than he has ever been able to address, before or since.
What was called for was a simple, yet humble, 20 second statement acknowledging that he had made mistakes in his youth--as who has not--followed by a smiling, yet softly intoned question as to why this had miraculously surfaced four days before the election, followed, in turn, by a 28 1/2 minute address on what America meant to him, and how he would serve her future. During the speech, he could gradually build from those humble tones to more inspired ones. People like George Bush's personality. The opportunity was so obvious, the likely response so natural; how could Rove have so utterly failed to grasp the moment? (Especially after watching Bill Clinton repeatedly succeed by treating genuine scandals with similar tactics for eight years.) By now, you should realize the answer.
Lemann also discusses the evidence on which both the Democrats and Rove credited the former's late close, in 2000, on an intensive last minute drive to get out their vote. He quotes Rove in a post-election phone call to Morton Blackwell, a former executive director of the College Republicans, who had trained the teen-aged Rove as a field organizer, "Morton, how does it feel to have advocated something for decades and have it come true?" What Rove was implying that had suddenly been vindicated was the former director's emphasis on face to face contacts, in the last days of a campaign, together with actually getting voters to the polls, in contrast to reliance on consultants, television advertising, polls and 'message.' Does this incident tell us any thing more about Rove?
Personal social identification has always been an important ingredient in American political activity and electoral motivation. Before there was a mass broadcast media, the preelection parade of supporters could be a major factor in bringing out a candidate's vote. For Rove to suggest that the Democrats had somehow proven the importance of the personal social aspect in rallying a favorable turnout, because of what happened in November, 2000, is one more indication of how little Rove really understands about human psychology. Lemann reports how Rove has responded to this apparently new appreciation, with a project "called the 72-Hour Task Force." This group conducted various controlled experiments during the 2001 election campaign, to prove what anyone with a modicum of common sense had always known, "that grassroots efforts work, and that grassroots efforts by local volunteers work especially well."
The article does not tell us how much Republican money, Rove wasted to establish the obvious. Nor does it indicate that he has even grasped, with all of his experiments, what the Democrats actually achieved in the 2000 election. This could, in fact, portend a problem for Republicans in the future--a problem already seen in our local Cincinnati politics. Much of that last minute vote drive in 2000, was in Negro neighborhoods that regularly go for the Democrats by margins of ten or even twelve to one. What is particularly ominous about this development, from a Republican standpoint, is that this is not something easily countered by anything Rove is likely to try.
A number of the Bush initiatives, which have unquestionably involved what passes for political analysis on the part of Karl Rove, have embraced the foolish Socialist assumption that human differences in aptitude and personality traits are environmentally determined. If Rove really believes that it is possible to have a school system where no child is left behind, and that Democracy is equally suitable for all peoples; is he willing to seriously consider how the varying sociability of different groups may influence how one ought best to appeal to them?
Anyone familiar with the subject, knows that Negroes tend to be more sociable than either Caucasians, Mongoloids, or Amerindians. Within the complex of Caucasoid ethnicities, there is also some evidence that those which lean most heavily towards the Republicans may be less sociable than those which lean more towards the Democrats. We do not equate sociability with either virtue or a lack of it. That is not our point or suggestion. The relevance of this factor, is that if the Democrats can consistently apply the lesson from the 2000 campaign, and are able to make getting out the vote in Negro neighborhoods an annual election day social event, they will reap a benefit, which no politically correct Republican will easily counter or offset. Rove's study of the benefits from neighborhood political activity, during the last 72 hours of a campaign, may be an incentive to action. It may not tell him how to act.
Lemann cites Rove's pride in his knowledge of politics, and gives this example, "Mention that West Texas is conservative, and Rove will come right back and say no, there are actually four subregions in West Texas, each with its own distinct history and ideology." The writer then describes Rove's ability to recite detailed election results, over the decades, from each. But this shows a great memory, not complex analysis. In fact, there are undoubtedly far more than four definable subregions in an area as vast as West Texas. One could easily define four separate political subregions, each with a distinct history and sub-culture, just in the predominantly White sections of our native Hamilton County, Ohio. There are also several distinct Negro subregions. Rove has flim-flammed Mr. Lemann, much as a night club entertainer might with the ability to memorize much of a phone book. But meaningful analysis involves different aptitudes than the rote, demonstrated.
True political analysis recognizes not only how various definable groups and personality types have voted in the past, but how they may be expected to react to any new complex of factors, including those which may be generally unexpected, yet nevertheless likely or achievable, because of the complex of forces either in play, or potentially in play. True political analysis recognizes ways to force your opponents to fight over your issues, not their issues. The Rovian approach, which seeks to outbid your opponents in wasting money on their issues (Education, Medicare, Aids, etc.) shows, pretty convincingly, a political guide who does not even comprehend the subject.
Lemann also discusses Rove's fascination with James Madison, and quotes his interpretation of what Madison intended by Federalist Papers 10 and 51. We would suggest that with Lemann, Rove displayed a form of pseudo profundity--a verbal exercise--which scarcely comprehends what Madison was actually saying, or the real danger that Madison saw in Democracy. Considering the apparent fact that Rove had a major hand in the Administration's adoption of a policy to promote Democracy in the Near and Middle Easts (see the first Rove article, below), it is very doubtful that Rove really understands Madison.
Now to return, as promised, to Rove's seeming reliance on the War On Terror and the events of September 11, 2001, whether as a determining positive or as a distraction from the inevitable problems that must arise from the incredible deficits and the Administration's initiatives with respect to Education and Medicare. Rove told Lemann that the voters would "see the battle for Iraq as a chapter in a longer, bigger struggle. As part of the war on terrorism." Lemann attributes the decision to hold this year's Republican National Convention in New York City, extending into September, as related to anticipated political benefits from such perception.
This reliance on a continued public acceptance that the Administration has made the right moves in response to a terrorist threat to America and Americans, is hardly based upon any deep analysis. The immediate and wide-spread public reaction to the publication of counter-terrorist specialist Richard Clarke's book, his public testimony and interviews, demonstrates rather graphically, the vulnerability of the Rove assumptions. Has Rove really countered this effect--or clearly anticipated it? Once again, the President's political advisor appears to be relying more on spin, slogans and yesterday's polls, rather than any real understanding of the complexity and context of the issues involved.
We have no idea whether Richard Clarke has a secret agenda. The fact is that he has raised legitimate issues, and there is going to be a growing public debate--a debate involving not just the political nominees of the respective parties, but the public in general, and the intellectual classes in particular. Nothing in Karl Rove's past suggests any competence in advising the President in that debate. While we have given the President the benefit of the doubt in the decision to invade Iraq (see Iraq, below), we agree with Mr. Clarke that there are decidedly negative effects, at least from a continued occupation, on the American cause in the "War On Terror." Does Karl Rove really believe that the slogan "Stay the course," or the like, answers the argument, backed by common sense and past human experience, that we have gone off on a dangerous and self-defeating tangent from the right and proper "course?"
We found ourselves on September 11, 2001, confronted by a finite number of enemies enrolled in a international terrorist organization. The immediate need was to search out and destroy that organization and those enemies. In attempting instead--or in addition--to reform the culture of hundreds of millions of people, the "course" or objective changed. The question naturally arises, "Are we waging a war on terror or a war on dissent?" Are we mopping up an existing enemy or providing an incentive for new waves of terrorists--and a lot of other, non-terrorists, as well--to come against us for generations to come? Consider some obvious alternatives:
The issue is not one between taking firm action and failing to act. That may be the issue in Karl's fantasy world, but not in this one. Traditional American policy would have said to the Near and Middle Eastern peoples, "We respect your culture and heritage. While some of your people may ape what they deem to be our ways, we have no desire to change you or impose our culture on anyone. But a small outlaw gang of international revolutionaries, believing lies against us, have killed a large number of Americans. We understand that many of the common folk in your region, also believing those lies, may be cheering them on.
"Whatever may be required, we will protect our people and property! We are going to hunt down and destroy those who have attacked us. We invite all peoples who value their own independence, sovereignty and cultural traditions, to help us destroy those who have challenged our right to be safe in the land of our fathers. Any nation giving sanctuary to the outlaws will do so at their peril."
Surely, such a statement would have been easy for the traditional leadership of the Moslem world to accept as only right and proper. The Rove advised policy, however, has sent a somewhat different message. While it included the search out and destroy idea; it did not offer genuine respect to the indigenous tribes and nations of the region. Instead, it suggested that they were benighted; that they needed to change their ways; that we needed to turn them into democrats--even drastically alter the relationship between their men and their women. In short, it insulted them, their values, even their manhood; and in the context of an awesome display of our military might, it humiliated them as distinct peoples.
Is there any doubt, which course was better designed to contain the malady--the presence of lawless men, internationalists; men who do not respect national borders? Desperate men, who fought with novel means and tactics, to compensate for their inability to compete conventionally? Is Rove unable to appreciate how the real argument, here, may be punctuated, when crippled American youths come home to grieving communities, while the enemy continues to successfully recruit new sacrificial blood to throw against us?
We but touch upon the most obvious criticism of the present policy. There are other potential pitfalls, political pitfalls, in depending upon the "War On Terror," as an election issue. To a sharper intellect than Karl Rove, the war that started on September 11, 2001, will be seen as a very dangerous issue, indeed, for either party to rely on.
We have focused on the New Yorker article, which touched on more aspects of the subject than have most others. While far more respectful of Rove's alleged abilities than we have been, Lemann, nevertheless, wittingly or unwittingly, produces evidence to support our hypothesis. Yet many popular journals, and much of the press corps, have been taken in by the man.
For example, Time Magazine declared on November 7, 2002, that "Rove is considered by both Democrats and Republicans to have one of the country's sharpest and most instinctive political minds." On the other hand, The Nation--grand-daddy of leftwing journalism in America, has run a number of pieces demonizing Rove (from their perspective) for working with the "Religious Right," to secure a more Conservative Federal Bench; suggesting that Rove is behind many of the President's judicial nominees. In one of these, July 3rd, 2002, their writer referred to him as "the political Svengali who ran George W. Bush's presidential campaign and parlayed that experience into a taxpayer-funded job as White House senior adviser."
We could only wish that Rove were the formidable advocate for a Conservative judiciary, which The Nation implies. The legislative initiatives of the Administration, discussed in our March essay on Rove, would obviously belie this. We suspect that what is involved, here, is an effort by Rove to persuade religious Conservatives--those who, contrary to The Nation's bias, have been the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of political and judicial excess--that he is their true ally. But Faith motivated Americans need to demand more than mere talk from Karl. The decision, last June, to allow a celebration of "Gay Pride" week to go forward at the Justice Department, after the Attorney General had first ordered a cancellation, probably tells us far more about the real Rove than any still unperformed private promise.
Of course, it is not so smart to play games with people who put integrity before politics. But, then, everything considered, we do not think Karl is really very smart. As we have said, memorizing election statistics may impress a few rubes, much as a nightclub act that memorizes the Manhattan phone book might impress some urban sophisticates. Yet neither feat proves competence for much of anything of value in the real world.