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Life After Defeat

By Dan Froomkin
11:45 AM ET, 04/13/2009

Michael D. Shear's article in Saturday's Washington Post about Karl Rove's emergence as a leading critic of President Obama reminded me of how little Rove had changed.

While his former boss, George W. Bush, is leading a simple and insular new life in an upscale Dallas neighborhood, Rove has simply taken up where he left off.

And he's sticking with the signature tactics that so confounded his political opponents back when he was a force to be reckoned with -- back when it looked like he might just realize his vision of a permanent Republican majority. (Seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?)

What makes Rove so special is how brazen he is in pursuing his own special form of jujitsu: He attacks his opponents where they are strongest and where he is actually most vulnerable himself.

As I explained in my April 4, 2007, column, Rove's genius is to "disdain the quaint constraints of reality." The ultimate example, of course, came during the 2004 campaign when Rove was marketing a man who had ducked service in Vietnam against a war hero. Somehow, Rove managed to make John Kerry look like the guy with the problem.

When it works, Rove doesn't only bloody his enemies, he sends the political discourse topsy turvy. It's almost like he stuns political observers into overlooking his own shortcomings.

Consider the astonishing hypocrisy of Rove accusing Obama of playing political hardball, of overpoliticizing the White House, or of being a divisive political figure. That was precisely Rove's legacy at the White House.

But Shear didn't get into any of that in his article, instead just noting Rove's new role and new arguments.

Shear also notes that Rove is now accusing Vice President Biden of being a liar after boasting of scolding Bush in a private get-together.

Rove biographer James Moore discussed Rove's suitability to make that charge with David Shuster on MSNBC Friday night (via Crooks and Liars).

Shuster: "In the CIA leak case, Karl Rove lied to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, knowing that McClellan would go out and repeat those lies. Later, Rove nearly got indicted for lying to federal investigators. Rove must know that he's damaged goods when it comes to issues of veracity. So what's he trying to do here?"

Moore: "I'm not sure. But how do you say, with all due respect, he's a blow hard? On the other hand -- but I have to suggest that there's something about Karl that is very -- we ought to, in many ways, feel sad about. There's something pathological about Karl's inability to integrate reality into what he views to be reality.

"This is a man who has made things up pathologically. There's a pathology to what Karl is doing and it goes on and on and on. And we're talking about a man who basically ran a lie factory in the White House under the White House Iraq Group, and has completely ignored everything that contradicts what Karl wants to be true."

Meanwhile, Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post about Bush's new life: "The presidency that is remembered on Daria Place bears little resemblance to the one that most of the country continues to blame for its problems. Bush left Washington on Jan. 20 with two-thirds of Americans disapproving of his job performance -- one of the worst ratings ever for an outgoing U.S. president. In his return to private life, he has maintained tranquility by adhering to a basic philosophy...

"He lives squarely in the remaining 33 percent...

"His security is maintained by a daily routine that, intentionally or not, barricades him from the disapproving two-thirds of the nation. The 43rd president spends most weekends with his wife at their isolated ranch in Crawford, Tex., where he likes to wake up early, roam the 1,600 acres with a chainsaw and cut new bike trails. Most of his weekdays are spent 95 miles north, in Preston Hollow, an upper-class section of Dallas where he lived for seven years before becoming governor of Texas in 1995. He has declined to give interviews, except to discuss baseball or his book, and neighbors remain silent so as not to violate his privacy."

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times: "The old gang is getting back together next week in Dallas for a reunion of sorts, the Bush team’s first since leaving the White House. On tap is a dinner with the former president and a daylong discussion of the future George W. Bush Policy Institute."

But, Baker notes: "Not coming to next week’s session is former Vice President Dick Cheney, who in the final days of the administration argued with Mr. Bush about his refusal to pardon Mr. Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., who was convicted of perjury for his role in the leak of Valerie Wilson’s employment with the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Cheney later went on television to air his grievances with Mr. Bush, while also accusing Mr. Obama of endangering the country."

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