August 20, 2007

The Perfect Conspiracy-Theorist Foil

For the last seven years, Karl Rove has served as the focus for some of the worst vitriol thrown in the political and media arenas. When he decided to retire last week, his resignation captured the top spot in newspapers and news programming for days. Howard Kurtz wonders whether all of the fuss reflected the reality of Rove's work, or whether it served a synthetic narrative that the media created out of laziness:

From the moment he leaked word of his departure to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Karl Rove has been lionized and vilified by the media hordes.

He is either a political giant, shrewdly plotting a series of victories during the Bush presidency, or a nation-wrecker, sowing the seeds of division to boost the GOP. The nicknames -- "Bush's Brain," "The Architect" -- match the portrayal of an important historical figure.

But what if journalists are part of an unspoken conspiracy to inflate Rove's importance -- not for ideological reasons but because it makes for a better narrative? What if they are the architects, using well-placed aides to build a stage for inside-dope stories involving Rove and his colleagues?

Or perhaps there's a cruder explanation: that some journalists believe Bush lacks the intellectual heft to achieve big things on his own, so they attribute his most consequential decisions to a powerful Svengali at his side.

This is not to play down Rove's crucial role as the president's longtime confidant and chief strategist, who indeed helped engineer his election triumphs and map a governing approach that emphasized the care and feeding of Bush's conservative base. But was Rove's decision to quit, 17 months before the end of Bush's term, truly deserving of lead-story status in the New York Times, The Washington Post and the three nightly newscasts?

Answer: no. The hysteria over Rove came partly from Kurtz references about the perception of George Bush's intellect, where pundits and political observers confuse articulation with intelligence. It mostly springs from the same impulse as conspiracy-theory obsessions, where some people have to suspect grand schemes and wheels within wheels to get through their day.

That started from the very beginning. When George Bush won the squeaker in Florida -- and he did win it, as three subsequent recounts proved -- his opponents went nuts. They believed, at various times, that his father's appointments to the Supreme Court had paid the Bushes back, that Democratic counties had deliberately constructed ballots to confuse the elderly, and so on. They made voter fraud the centerpiece of their conspiracy theories, and then oddly took Bush to task for attempting to ensure investigations of voter fraud by pressing the Department of Justice to take it more seriously over the last couple of years.

And if there was a conspiracy to steal the vote in 2000, who would have headed it? The President's chief political advisor and campaign architect, Karl Rove.

Ever since then, and ever since the book Bush's Brain got published, Rove has served as the center of all misery for the Democrats. The news media simply got lazy and followed suit. To some extent, it helped Bush to have a lightning rod for the lunatic fringe, but instead of people recovering their senses, the madness spread. Everything became all about Rove, and even Kurtz still hasn't recovered enough to quit connecting the Harriet Miers debacle to Rove rather than George Bush himself.

The President sets policy. He has close advisors, such as Rove and Dick Cheney, but in the end he has the authority and the choices are his. The Miers nomination actually came at a low ebb for Rove, when he had to spend his time defending himself in the Plame investigation. Bush appointed Miers to lead the search committee for that nomination, much as he did Cheney for the committee for the VP nomination, and had her in mind all along.

Rove's brief dabble in policy matters lasted less than two years. For the most part, Rove focused on electioneering. He built a Republican realignment that only collapsed when voters got tired of the corruption and free spending of consecutive Republican-led Congresses. Rove got an inordinate amount of blame for 2006, perhaps because he remained defiantly optimistic when all indications of a major loss could be seen, but Rove didn't lose that election -- the Republican incumbents lost it themselves.

Rove has been an easy target, and the media and Bush critics have elevated him to the level of puppetmaster. Now he's gone, and Bush will continue to be President. It may turn out to be Rove's revenge on lazy journalists and paranoid conspiracy theorists.


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Comments (10)

Posted by the fly-man | August 20, 2007 6:22 AM

Well that was tidy. So there was no connection whatsoever to the US Attorney firings, Valerie Plame and Karl Rove? So what you basically saying is The President takes full responsibility for both of those actions? Thanks for clarifying this.

Posted by rbj | August 20, 2007 7:38 AM

Plame -- Richard Armitage.
US Attorneys -- mishandling by Gonzales.

Posted by Immolate | August 20, 2007 9:07 AM

It is disconcerting, Ed, when you use the terms "the Democrats" and "the news media" as if the two were unique sets rather than subset-superset.

And no, fly-man, the Captain clearly stated that he believes Rove is the genius behind the president. He simply used ordinary code words devised in the last global meeting of the VRWC to make it appear like he was saying the opposite. Hehe. Heh. Muahahaha!

Rove, you magnificent bastard.

Posted by Josh D | August 20, 2007 9:32 AM

Ed, I think you and Howard Kurtz miss another element of the conspiracy theory. Many in the elite left in DC and NY assume their political opinions are correct and unassailable.

Therefore, in their minds, and in the minds of a lot of the media, the only Bush won two terms and the Republicans retained control of Congress until '06 was through Rove's trickery and dirty politics.

Rove was an exceptional electoral engineer but the evidence indicates that the country has gotten more conservative on government spending an a host of other issues.

In fact, despite Iraq, the GOP would probably still be in power if the GOP Congress wasn't completely corrupt and spending-crazy and lacked the will to discuss real issues with their constituents.

Posted by David M | August 20, 2007 9:54 AM

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Posted by Sue | August 20, 2007 9:57 AM

I have had the unfortunate experience of "conspiracy" theorists at very close range. No, Josh D, they don't get better because they cannot. It is a mental "condition" that affects hundreds of thousands in this country, certainly millions around the world. Did the insanity begin with Bush's first win? Did it finally find an outlet because it had been simmering since the Left was no longer 98% in power? With conspiracy sufferers, who know? Short of medication, which they will not consume...(another "conspiracy"), or committing them...which you can't, it is not that serious a condition, generally....we have come to ignore a couple, put up with the rest. We know better than to start any conversation, period. Sufficient to say " are you?" Then, "good bye".

Posted by John | August 20, 2007 10:24 AM

Speaking of Plame, when is she going to get indicted for perjury in her Congressional denial of recommending or suggesting hubby, Joe, for the uranium mission to Niger?

Posted by Steve Skubinna | August 20, 2007 10:58 AM

I suspect two reasons for the Dems' reluctance to pursue election fraud. One is that most of it is committed by their side. The other is that, sans evidence of this, they can continue to claim it's a Republican standard tactic.

Thus, surreal episodes such as the son of Boss Daley lecturing the Republicans about running clean elections.

Posted by John | August 20, 2007 1:33 PM

Rove's farewell tour was a mountain of spin. Some of his claims about the state of the GOP for which he bears a large share of the responsibility were risible. Of course he denies there's a problem and if there is a problem it was nothing to do with him. Basically, it was largely bs and most folks are going to recognize it. He and his boss have about the same level of credibility..

Posted by Paul | August 20, 2007 1:44 PM

It's not a theory of any kind, it's a new fact. A one hour documentary by Dan Rather and just out has seven Sequoia Voting systems employees on camera at the same time, collectively with 162 years experience, explaining how rejected paper that had significant chad problems was deliberately provided to Palm Beach County and the workers knew at the time that was the reason for the Palm Beach problems. Forensic tests by expert confirm that wrong paper was supplied to this Florida county. the video is online at

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