I had no plans to purchase Karl Rove’s book, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight. We’re trying to cut back on spending around here, for one thing, and Lent is leaving me reluctant to engage, for another. And after passionately defending Bush for so many years, I am also just sort of exhausted on the whole subject of his presidency, and feel like I need a little break.
But I may pick it up now, after reading Rove’s interview with John Hawkins, which is pretty good. With a brief set of questions, some of them tough, Hawkins piqued my interest. I was particularly struck by this:
One of the things that has puzzled conservatives about the Bush presidency, particularly in the second term — and I’ve heard this again and again and again — is they don’t feel like there was an effective communication strategy. The general feeling was that the Left turned George Bush into a punching bag and just beat him into the ground, while the White House really didn’t do much to stop it. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Well, I do think that there are instances, particularly on the issue of Iraq’s WMDs, where the administration didn’t punch back hard enough. I talk about that at length in the book.
It’s principally my responsibility because I should have seen it for what it was, which was a corrosive dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush Administration. But I would say this: in the last two years of the term, Bush was on the receiving end of daily blows from every Democratic presidential candidate and it was impossible for me to respond to those. The Republicans were disorganized, distressed, and didn’t come to his aid while others said the President can defend himself.
But when you’re receiving daily blows like that, you can either do your job or defend yourself, but you can’t do both every single day. It’s just the way life works.
I couldn’t help sputtering a little; Rove did not realize that the daily pounding about WMD was “a corrosive knife aimed at the heart” of Bush’s presidency? How could he not, when the rest of us saw it so clearly, did battle over it, and still -to this day- find ourselves having to answer the mindless, specious charge “Bush lied about WMD!” that has become so entrenched in our national narrative?
As to why Bush did not “hit back,” I have my own theories about that.
There are other interesting parts. Rove talks a little about minding the fact that while the press and the democrats had a free-for-all about him, his family and kids had to hear it. Politics is a rough game, but it has always surprised me, how viciously the press can let loose about politicians, without considering what it does to spouses and children -until they have to consider what their own kids are hearing about them. No one’s kids should have to be victims of politically expedient hate, but Rove actually helped a journalist not have to see his child upset, at one point. That journalist did not return the favor.
I am also struck by Rove’s defense of Bush’s run against John Kerry in ’04:
. . .the Democratic Party was united, the country was in an unpopular war, and I repeat, the Democrats outspent us by $124 million. Six or seven million dollars came from George Soros and an equal amount came from five of his friends. That’s the kind of disadvantage that we faced and we won.
Rove forgot something. He forgot that the Democrats not only outspent the GOP, they also had the press promising (by way of Newsweek’s Evan Thomas) to deliver 10-15% of the vote Kerry’s way, and the MSM did manage to do something like that. They carried Kerry’s water, called him “brilliant” while neglecting to look at his college transcripts (after the election, it was revealed Kerry’s grades were worse than Bush’s “gentleman’s ‘C’”) or demand to see his military records (even as they went through Bush’s with a fine-toothed comb and even made stuff up). They demonized the Swift Boat Vets who questioned Kerry’s fitness for office, and in all ways protected the Democrat candidate while beating daily on Bush.
Taken singly, it was sound and fury, signifying nothing, but taken all together, the daily pounding was effective.
The press understood how successfully they had enhanced the Kerry campaign, and I believe it is one of the reasons they were so bold about going “all in” with Obama. They repeated the strategy of protection; of not asking the candidate any tough questions, or looking at his history or his associates, all while administering daily beatings to the opposition. Admittedly, they had a more difficult time beating on McCain, who was a weak candidate, because they’d spent the last 8 years calling him the “good” sort of conservative, when doing so could hurt Bush. But then McCain brought Sarah Palin into the picture, and the press managed to savage her in an unprecedented manner, even before she made her own mistakes, to excellent effect. The press did not manage to win the presidency for John Kerry; they made sure they could deliver it to the “sort of God”, Barack Obama, using the lessons they learned during the Bush-Kerry campaigns. I have no idea if Rove talks about this in the book; I hope so.
Not a bad little interview, although I was surprised that Hawkins began it with a question about Palin. Really? First question, out of the box, about Palin? For me that betrays a bit of GOP-obsession on Palin that worries me. I am afraid some are building too much on that lady. Like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when Palin is good -as before a crowd- she is very very good. But when she is bad, she is horrid.