<img src="http://rawstory.com/images/new/roveboardsairforceone.jpg" width="191"Karl Rove wanted power for his party, and he figured that the way to get it was to divide the nation: to use wedge issues to weaken Democrats and to play to the Christian base. That’s why Terry Schiavo happened. That’s why the “faith based initiatives” were created–and flopped, because it became apparent that Rove was cynically using evangelicals.
“Karl Rove figured out a long time ago … that the way to take an intellectually incurious, draft-averse naughty playboy in a flight jacket with chewing tobacco in his back pocket and make him governor of Texas was to sell him as God’s anointed.”
What worked in Texas applied at the national level as well, for quite awhile. And, of course, once Bush was elected, he was granted the gift that kept on giving: FEAR in the form of 9/11. Unlike FDR, who thought fear was the thing to be feared, Rove/Bush never let the terror warnings drop to the green level for a single day.
And Rove told Bush to strut. Strength, that was the ticket in dire times. Strength. Bring ’em on. Never back down, even when your policies are obviously in shambles. Always force the other guy to be the flip-flopper.
To make all these strategies work on election day–the only day that mattered, after all–required gobs of money, which was forthcoming from wealthy contributors. In return, it might be necessary to hand corporations the keys to the national treasury and to destroy the middle class, but … trade offs are inevitable. In this philosophy of putting our government on the auction block, Rove was joined by DeLay, Frist, Roy Blunt, and the rest of the Republicans in Congress.
Joshua Green, in his September Atlantic article, “The Rove Presidency”, compares that style of “governance” to what happened the last time there was a seismic shift in American politics (p.60):
…Roosevelt mentioned the Democratic Party by name only three times in his entire 1936 reelection campaign. Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt had large Democratic majorities in Congress but operated in a nonpartisan fashion, as though he didn’t. Bush, with razor-thin majorities–and for a time, a divided Congress–operated as though his margins were insurmountable, and sowed interparty divisions as an electoral strategy.”
But a style that works well for electioneering may not work so well for governing. Not recognizing that fact, Karl Rove tripped on his own arrogance and fell into the well, taking the Bush presidency with him.
At the apogee of his power right after the 2004 election, Rove was flush with the success of having passed huge tax cuts during Bush’s first term and with the heady wine of electoral victory. He pressed for Social Security reform, a course that someone with legislative experience would have warned him against. Threatening the safety of this well loved program was something to be tackled only with bipartisan support.
The last time Congress meddled with Social Security was under Reagan. In 1981, Reagan proposed large cuts to Social Security, but the Republican Senate refused to even take them up. The mere fact that such a course had been discussed cost the Republicans significantly in the 1982 elections.
Joshua Green (on p.66) relates the rest:
The following year, Reagan tried again, this time cooperating with the Democratic speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill. He now understood that the only way to attain any serious change on such a sensitive issue was for both parties to hold hands and jump together. To afford each side deniability if things fell apart, the two leaders negotiated by proxy. O’Neill chose Robert Ball, a widely respected Social Security chairman under three presidents, while Reagan picked Alan Greenspan, the future chairman of the Federal Reserve. …
As Ball and Greenspan made headway, it was really O’Neill and Reagan who were agreeing. To assure both sides political cover, it was an all-or-nothing process. The plan that was eventually settled on addressed the solvency problem by raising the retirement age (which pleased Republicans) and taxing Social Security benefits for the first time (which pleased Democrats). Unlike in 1981, Republicans weren’t left exposed.
Oblivious to this chapter in Congress, Rove believed that attacking Social Security, even with his razor-thin margin in Congress, would be like getting the tax cuts passed. Hardly. Passing tax cuts is, after all, what Republicans do. Social Security is a different animal, and the legislature knew it even if Rove didn’t. Besides, they didn’t like the S.O.B.
So the efforts to drum up support sounded flatter and flatter as 2005 dragged on. Still, Rove insisted. He couldn’t be seen to back down; that would be flip-flopping.
And then the bottom dropped out. Hurricane Katrina hit and Rove’s sense of opportunism failed him. He sent Bush blithely flying to California to pretend to play a guitar for a photo op. Bush finally flew over Louisiana and peered down–when he should have landed there and gone out in a rowboat himself to drag drowning folks over the hull to safety. He praised Brownie for doing a “heckuva job” as Anderson Cooper railed on CNN every night about the administration’s incompetence. Rove prevented Bush from getting down and dirty by landing that plane.
That was the turning point. Social Security reform failed, immigration reform failed, Medicare reform failed, and Rove’s domestic agenda was in tatters. What was there left for Americans to contemplate but foreign affairs, namely the debacle in Iraq (where Cheney was doing just as dismal a job as Rove was at home).
Joshua Green concludes (p.72):
The Bush administration made a virtual religion of the belief that if you act boldly, others will follow in your wake. That certainly proved to be the case with Karl Rove, for a time. …In the end, [though], the verdict on George W. Bush may be as simple as this: he never questioned the big booming voice of Oz, so he never saw the little man behind the curtain.