Rove is gone, but partisanship remains

With the departure of Karl Rove, President Bush’s notorious political strategist from the White House staff, I’ve noted a fascinating case study in human response to a controversial figure.

Last week on “Meet the Press,” NBC replayed a snippet of an interview with Rove just before the 2001 inaugural prayer service at the National Cathedral. In that interview, Rove was asked what he would be praying for as the Bush team takes the reins. He replied, “Wisdom, patience, and humility.”

Rove was then asked how he thought he did over the past six years on those qualities, to which he quickly replied, “Not enough wisdom and clearly not enough patience.”

When asked about the humility factor, he demurred, saying others would decide. When pressed on what his critics may think of his humility and patience, Rove accurately observed: “My critics think all kinds of bad things about me. I don’t really care.”

It’s that kind of brass that so endeared Rove to the Democrats.

But while “Bush’s brain” has often seemed quite proud of his political skills, I would remind folks that neither Rove nor Bush were anywhere to be found when partisan divisiveness began to flourish, years before they got to Washington.

In 1995, Karl Rove was nowhere near Washington when the new Republican majority was accused of throwing women in the streets as a component of welfare reform, of taking school lunches from hungry kids and cutting student loans to poor kids. The vitriol was palpable.

In 1996, multiple millions of dollars were spent against presidential candidate Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, accusing them of doing things that were never proposed nor would ever happen. The bile and vile has only intensified over the ensuing years on both sides of the political aisle.

The Democrats wouldn’t have wasted a breath on Karl Rove if he hadn’t proved so successful. He made a career of beating Democrats and keeping them out of power.

A fellow by the name of Vigen Guroian wrote a book called “Tending the Heart of Virtue,” in which he observed, “Humility and a magnanimous spirit are goods greater than the prizes won by selfishness, pride or the unscrupulous exercise of position and power.”

Sadly, politics has become an arena that is mostly about position and power, not humility and magnanimity.

For years, Democrats thrived by blaming Gingrich for everything down to acid indigestion and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Today, it’s Bush’s fault that bridge collapsed in Minnesota.

But it happens both ways. Republicans are making a new career today of blaming Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi for everything unwholesome in America.

As long as they’re in power, Reid and Pelosi will always be the bogeymen for Republicans. Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney are men Democrats love to hate. I heard someone say this week that with Rove gone, it will be “all Cheney all the time” for Democrats.

Rove had more than his share of wins, and that’s why Democrats hate him most. He flat out beat them and took names.

What Democrats and the media fail to consider is the fact that Rove didn’t win by himself or lose by himself. Republican candidates gave him plenty of ammunition for victory — until 2006, when they turned the guns on themselves.

Rove didn’t advise George Allen to call that young man a “macaca” in his famous YouTube moment. He surely didn’t advise Mark Foley to abuse the House page program. And I doubt he encouraged Conrad Burns to cozy up to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Karl Rove was on the cusp of creating something really big for the Republican Party. But over the past couple of years, we saw power and arrogance take over. I give you Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court and an out-of-touch immigration bill as two examples. You can’t shove such important matters down the throats of the people.

Our Constitution says “We the People,” not “We the White House.”

For a key period in our nation’s history, Karl Rove did what he did very well, until arrogance and power took over and derailed his legacy. It was an opportunity squandered. Another opportunity lost was the failure to bring more African-Americans into the Republican Party, but Rove never made the GOP or the Bush administration available to do so.

Now, Republicans are back to square one. Maybe square 1 1/2.

J.C. Watts writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal. Watts is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. His e-mail address is

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