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Liberal knees have been knocking together at the very mention of the name “Rove” for seven years now.  He stole two presidential elections and ground congressional Democrats into submission for so long that they learned to breathe dirt.  Even with his departure from the Bush administration at the end of this month, he will leave his legacy in the scorched earth way that Republican campaigns are run.

But the man who, above all else had to know it all, leaves humiliated.

Rove wanted far more than merely to be a successful campaign consultant.  He wanted to determine Bush’s domestic agenda and use it to create a permanent Republican majority.  Since polls point toward a likelihood that Democrats will take the presidency and both houses of Congress in ’08, Rove obviously failed. 

His blueprint for permanent realignment is, like fragile old parchment rubbed roughly between one’s hands, a crumbling memory.  That blueprint lay in five pieces of legislation:

No Child Left Behind was aimed at dismantling public education, further exacerbating the two tier system of education in this country while seeming to provide accountability.  This was the only piece of the plan that passed, and it did so because it was, uncharacteristically, passed with bipartisan cooperation.  And even that minor success will be up for review before a Democratic Congress next year.

The second item on the agenda was to funnel government funds to religious organizations via “faith based initiatives”, thus strengthening the party’s appeal to the religious right.

Rove planned to undo the New Deal by partially privatizing Social Security and by creating private health-savings accounts as an alternative to Medicare.  These two plans would not only rip apart any lingering public perception that the Democrats would provide a social safety net, but it would do so by bringing young voters into the Republican fold. If Rove could plant fear that the safety net would not be there for young people as they grew older, the Democratic notion of “we’re all in this together” would disappear and Republicans would rule.

Finally, Rove wanted immigration laws that would appeal to Hispanic voters (not to mention wealthy employers).

Not only did Rove successfully pass only one of the five items on the agenda, he failed so spectacularly that the electorate was left to focus not on a new domestic agenda but on … Iraq.  Joshua Green, in a lengthy article in the September Atlantic explains why Rove failed.

The gist of it is that the Rove presidency ran Congress the same way it ran campaigns.  It was top-down autocracy, everyone on-message, slash-and-burn stomping on Democrats even when such tactics were counterproductive.  And Republicans were treated only nominally better than the enemy, Democrats. 

One anecdote in particular illustrates the mentality:

Dick Armey, the House Republican majority leader when Bush took office … told me a story that captures the exquisite pettiness of most members of Congress and the arrogance that made Bush and Rove so inept at handling them.  “For all the years he was president,” Armey told me, “Bill Clinton and I had a little thing we’d do where every time I went to the White House, I would take the little name tag they give you and pass it to the president, who, without saying a word, would sign and date it.  Bill Clinton and I didn’t like each other.  He said I was his least-favorite member of Congress.  But he knew that when I left his office, the first schoolchild I came across would be given that card, and some kid who had come to Washington with his mama would go home with the president’s autograph.  I think Clinton thought it was a nice thing to do for some kid, and he was happy to do it.”  Armey said that when he went to his first meeting in the White House with President Bush, he explained the tradition and asked the president if he would care to continue it.  “Bush refused to sign the card.  Rove, who was sitting across the table, said ‘It would probably end up on eBay,'” Armey continued.  “Do I give a damn?  No.  But can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult?  It’s stupid.  From the point of view of your own self-interest, it’s stupid.  I was from Texas, and I was the majority leader.  If my expectations of civility and collegiality were disappointed, what do you think it was like for the rest of the congressmen they dealt with?  The Bush White House was tone-deaf to the normal courtesies of the office.”

Installment two of this topic will explain in detail how Rove was hoist on his own petard.

photo courtesy of Raw Story