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Life After Defeat

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 13, 2009; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward  
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Did you actually quote yourself, Dan? Lordy, what an ego.

Posted by: enaughton27 | April 13, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Karl Rove knows that his comments will be repeated without any caveats. This will occur not just on Fox News, where he is employed to generate controversy, but also on the other media outlets.

Posted by: fletc3her | April 13, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Eventually, people like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will self-destruct. The general populace catches on. What has truly amazed me is the fact that their warts are right there in public view, yet even the press seems to miss them.

Posted by: EarlC | April 13, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I am almost glad Dan went from criticizing the Bush Administration daily to, wait for it, criticizing the old Bush Administration daily, while giving the current one a pass. For those who watch MSNBC or Fox for their one way street reporting style, Dan's the guy for you, if you are on the left side of the street, that is. I am glad he has stayed consistent with his politics, although it would be nice to see Obama challenged somewhere other than by the Republicans.

Posted by: stvcar | April 13, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Over the past couple years, Rove has had a parade of failures that mirror his march of success in the decade or so previous. His jig is up, however, and while he may still have the fealty of the true believers and a platform at amen-corners like the WSJ and Fox "News," his brand of politics is no longer mainstream, despite the attention that you and Kurtz may give him. Rove, Limbaugh, Hannity, now Beck, they will still be talking but fewer and fewer people are listening. It's so satisfying to watch and laugh.

Posted by: AdHack | April 13, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

"Eventually, people like Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will self-destruct. The general populace catches on. What has truly amazed me is the fact that their warts are right there in public view, yet even the press seems to miss them."

Posted by: EarlC

Sorry but this sounds like a critique of Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden rather than the two you cite. JMO

Posted by: djfritz | April 13, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse


Did you notice Thursday's section about "Obama's State Secrets Overreach?" There is plenty of criticism of the Obama administration by the lefties. For some reason, the liberal criticism of the Obama administration in the blogs doesn't get into the Washington Post or the NYT much.

Posted by: dickdata | April 13, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

"Rove, Limbaugh, Hannity, now Beck, they will still be talking but fewer and fewer people are listening."

Apparently you are not to well informed. In the last two months the ratings on all you cite and up and growing. The more the American people find out what this administration is all about the more people are listening and becoming informed about all the games going on in Washington. I just hope our constitution and our Country can survive this catastrophe.

Posted by: djfritz | April 13, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

The twin blowhards Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh have turbocharged the repulsive force of the Republicon Party.

As to "somehow making Kerry out to be the one with the problem," I'll tell you exactly how. Every weakness his candidate has, he projects onto the opposition. Everything he's guilty of, he projects onto the witless victims.

Why does he get away with it? Because the cowardly, craven mainstream media is vulnerable to Jedi mind control, even when it's wielded by Harpo the Clown.

Posted by: motorfriend | April 13, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Why does he get away with it? Because the cowardly, craven mainstream media is vulnerable to Jedi mind control, even when it's wielded by Harpo the Clown.

Now, now motorfriend, You really shouldn't talk about Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden that way.

Posted by: djfritz | April 13, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

"The George W. Bush Policy Institute" -- now there's a contradiction in terms.

Posted by: herzliebster | April 13, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Rove, Cheney, and the rest of the traitors, cowards, hypocrits, and draft dodgers, don't understand the meaning of the word truth. They think that if you repeat lies long enough and loud enough that people will believe you. That only works with the 33% of the population that doesn't have a mind of their own.
And of course Shrub would never be near real Americans. He avoided them while in office, and never cared what they had to say anyway.
But the bigger question is, why won't they crawl back under the rock they came from and leave the world a better place?

Posted by: COLEBRACKETT | April 13, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

The mindboggling thing is that even though Rove and Cheney are thoroughly discredited, the so-called "news" media continue to supply them with a bullhorn for their BS. They're a couple of screw-ups with an axe to grind; why do editors regard anything they say as newsworthy? (Dan, do us a favor and ask that question of the WaPo editor who signed off on Shear's exercise in stenography.) All I can say is thank God for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. My old J-school (UGA) should award those two honorary degrees; they're actually better journalists than much of the DC press corps.

Posted by: lwhitener | April 13, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm just wondering how it happened that the house next door to the Bush's was available to the Secret Service.

Dan, did they make someone move out?

What's the deal?

Posted by: bmschumacher | April 13, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Rove is a tool, no more, no less.

Once the gas is let out of the room, turns out he's nothing more than compost, not even a second thought.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | April 13, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Give the President some credit.

He kept astrict radio silence for nearly 5 days even when the bloviators were bloviating. More than likely his style is a deliberate and SWOT-like analysis mentality and he saw the opening. He obviously had a very competent Navy SEALS team that made the almost impossible possible-- hitting three pirates simultaneously and lethally even while one of them has an AK 47 on the captain. Obama's leadership comes through quite clearly. The President has done well in my book.

Posted by: rudy-s | April 13, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse


No, I didn't. Thanks for the citation. I was in Philly all of last week, and didn't have time to see much of any paper

Posted by: stvcar | April 13, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

After reading the post by dickdata above and the article he cited, kudoes to Froomkin for giving a shot to Obama. I have to say for the first time I am supportive of an act by Obama and his government. Having worked in vetting which secrets may be released in a corporate governance and trade secrets case, I suspect that Holder must have found persuasive arguments to uphold the prior administration. They certainly wouldn't just willy-nilly cover the Bushies' butts since they seem to be blaming them for every ill and crime since the first Good Friday.

Posted by: stvcar | April 13, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. DJFritz (1:39pm) are you equating Obama and Biden with Rove & Cheney? Interesting. So what has been speculated about all along, that the White House was run by the political Arm or the republican party and Dick Cheney is apparently something you believe to be true. Never heard of a Bush supporter admitting that before.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 13, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

When a politician tells a blatant lie, it's not the media's job to tell both points of view. The media should simply point out the lie and leave it at that.

Posted by: Frigistan | April 13, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Karl is nothing more or less than a journeyman propagandist who has made a comfortable living by implementing dirty, low-down political attacks against targeted opponents. Nothing sophisticated or complicated about what he does.

The fact that post-Bush he is a talking head for the primo Republican propaganda outlet, Fox News, balanced against his major role in the destruction of the Republican Party, shows that those supposedly still in charge of the Republican Party are just as completely useless as we thought they were.

Posted by: Patriot3 | April 13, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the Rovian technique is not so much Machiavellian but more your basic playground cheat. You accuse the other kid of what you did yourself, and if they then try to point the finger at you, they sound like they are the ones who are lying. Call it pre-emptive blame, which, like pre-emptive war, puts the other civilized fellow at a disadvantage because he's been ambushed from behind. It is a strategic technique born in dishonor, which is only effective until people figure it out. Rove and Cheney believe that if you say something often enough, no matter how ridiculous, people will believe that it's true. Wherefore the lie of 911, which most of our country has bought without question.

Posted by: shaman7214 | April 13, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

But the bigger question is, why won't they crawl back under the rock they came from and leave the world a better place?

Posted by: COLEBRACKETT | April 13, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Colebrackett, have you ever known a plague to go away all by itself? We as a nation elected those lying treacherous money-grubbing kooks, aka Republicans, into office. Unfortunately, just like the bubonic plague or AIDS, they are the gift that just keeps on giving with no end in site.

Posted by: bushidollar | April 13, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse


What Rove has is a ample street smarts to fool a few people for a while. It will catch up with him soon. Then the fall will be just as great and nothing can put this Humpty together again.

Posted by: suvro | April 13, 2009 7:31 PM | Report abuse

You are talking about ole WMD's Carl Rove are you not? I thought he was in prison? Did ole WMD's Chaney talk GW into pardoning him?
Dang the Republican Party is havig a hard time to dig up a role model. This whole Political scene in DC makes me glad I stated Independent on my Political Party Affiliation.

Posted by: Americonio | April 13, 2009 11:25 PM | Report abuse

At least his mentor, Lee Atwater, had the dignity to eventually apologize for his own scorched earth tactics.

No doubt Karl considers that a moment of weakness, rather than a recognition of how much harm he'd done to the country.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 14, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

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