Rove's Blind Spot
Decades from now, historians will have trouble fathoming why Karl Rove's contemporaries hailed him as a genius. An expert practitioner of wedge politics, in the tradition of Lee Atwater? Sure. But architect of an enduring Republican majority? The great realigner? What were the pundits of 2002 and 2004 smoking?Actually it's not all that difficult to see how anyone who could complete a sentence would look like a genius when standing next to George W. Bush but Rove is guilty of totally misreading the mood of the American people.
In fact, Rove exhibited astonishing blindness toward some of America's most basic political realities -- in particular, a pervasive economic insecurity that undercut the prospects of the Bush administration's program.Yes, it was probably not Iraq but the Social Security debacle that put an end to Karl Rove's dreams and the Bush administration. Meyerson doesn't mention it but I think the Terri Schiavo fiasco also played a big part. Rove's final act to destroy the Republican party was the immigration act. Suddenly Republicans found themselves on the wrong end of Rove's slime gun.
In the wake of Bush's 2004 reelection, Green reports, Rove, newly promoted by Bush to domestic policy czar, concluded that the time for this realignment had come. Green documents Rove's mistakes as he set out to undo the major social legislation of the mid-20th century:
He assumed congressional and public support for policies on which Bush had not campaigned; his relations with Republican members of Congress were abysmal; his incessant campaigning against the Democrats ensured that there would be no bipartisan support for programs that entailed considerable political risk.
But Rove's miscalculations were actually more fundamental than those that Green enumerates. At bottom, he and Bush overlooked the epochal growth of economic insecurity in America. They refused to see that the very economic changes they celebrated had made Americans understandably nervous and pessimistic to an unprecedented extent about the nation's long-term economic prospects. And so, as employers were abandoning their provision of retirement benefits to employees, Bush and Rove called for abandoning the government's commitment as well. At a time when ordinary Americans' incomes were stagnating, and when growing numbers of Americans understood that they were in some nebulous competition with millions of lower-paid workers in other lands that the government seemed powerless to mitigate, Bush and Rove proposed legalizing the undocumented immigrants who had flowed across the border.
Could there have been a more profound misreading of the American temper? As political and policy czar rolled into one, Rove should have understood that Americans craved the security of a controllable border and a predictable and decent income. Instead, Rove's wish was father to the thought: Realignment required dismantling Democratic programs. It required winning more Hispanic voters (never mind that on economic issues, Hispanic voters are resoundingly liberal). It required the Rove program. Damn the torpedoes.
When a vast majority of the American people lost confidence in the administration because of Social Security and Terri Schiavo they started taking a closer look at the debacle in Mesopotamia and didn't like what they saw.
Karl Rove could only be seen as a genius when he was standing next to the faux cowboy moron he had created. History will see him for what he was.