are going to pitch this as a political suspense story,
a kind of high-stakes back-alley dice game where we all
crouch over and watch to see if Karl Rove can hang on
by his fingernails. Half the crowd will be screaming for
odds, the other for evens. What a lot of fun either way,
right? We live in a country so deadened and so cynical
that everything, in the end, becomes just another pastime.
Just another summer blockbuster that'll probably suck,
but what the hell—at least the effects will be good.
problem with the Karl Rove story is that it's grounded
in the specifics of a sordid little scandal; it's a tale
far too narrow and mean to serve as an adequate stage
for the drama of Karl Rove's transgressions.
very fact that it was not until Rove stumbled over the
teeniest of speed-bumps in the federal criminal code that
he even faced the possibility of real public censure just
shows the ragged poverty of American culture when it comes
to considering questions of honor, decency and justice.
We have become moral capitalists, not seriously considering
anything wrong that is not also illegal.
crime that ought to be considered this week is not that
Rove may have whispered something or other to a few reporters.
The crime is that hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists
and politicians in this country have over the years cheerily
honored this vile, scum-sucking pig of a human being by
calling him names like "genius" and "boy
wonder" and "wizard"—as though the business
of Rove's life was somehow cute, quirky and lovably mischievous.
truly monstrous thing about this Rove story is that it
was not until Rove became a potential criminal defendant
that all of those cutesy Will Rogers descriptions of him
vanished from print. Until the Plame story really started
to heat up in recent weeks, Rove was consistently celebrated
by reporters as a kind of political Tom Sawyer, brilliantly
suckering the country into painting his white picket fence.
would be hard-pressed to find a Washington-based journalist
who has not written a Rove profile in the past
five years. And virtually every hack to try his hand at
the job took the same rhetorical approach—selling Rove
first and foremost as a colorful character full of contradictions,
a figure of lore, a man both hated and loved to the extreme.
conspicuously upheld him as the ultimate political profile
subject, and in their descriptions of him one could almost
always detect a degree of gratitude, as though the reporter
were thankful his subject was so interesting, so lively,
so accommodatingly edgy. Profiles of Rove were therefore
almost always written with great care, like works of art.
He was every hack's Mona Lisa.
all of the profiles were the same. They all began with
some folksy tale of the unguarded Rove in the wild, cracking
a ribald joke in a campaign plane (taking a jab at the
Brits for loving sports events with "racing pistols,"
mocking his boss's campaign "strategery") teaching
the reporter some salty Texas-ism (he produces an actual
Turd Blossom) or snorting at some lame Democrat ploy to
seize ground in the polls. They would then move into breathless
rhapsodies over Rove's Rasputin-esque grip on Beltway
power, with observers from both sides of the aisle dragged
out to provide awestruck quotes about the astonishing
brightness of the Rove phoenix.
would be followed by a greatest hits list of Rove's ingenious
tricks and ploys, followed by the Ebert-Roper review of
same by a matched set of Democrat and Republican analysts—the
former of which would add that Rove was "controversial."
Then each article would end with a frankly comic screed
about Rove's rising status as a folk hero and/or sex symbol
("He is my political idol!" 19-year-old Michelle
Morrow bouncily tells Newsweek). A full 79 percent
of all Rove profiles included mention of the Karl Rove
boxer shorts (with Rove's face printed within a heart)
that can be found for sale on the internet; an only slightly
smaller percentage would mention the "Karl Rove Classic
Thong" that was marketed late last year.
what fun they all had. But then, sadly, the game was halted
when rain broke out. The instant Rove drifted into the
prosecutorial crosshairs, and in particular when his emails
to Matt Cooper went public, the media canned the Tom Sawyer
act—as though Rove had suddenly become unclean.
what was he before? That's the outrage. The Washington
press corps, which has proven repeatedly over the last
five years that there is no gross lie or cheap stunt too
stupid for them to fall for, never really clued in to
the way Rove, the so-called master media manipulator,
was managing his own image.
as Rove has always understood that Billy Bob in Louisiana
cares more about queers on the altar than he does about
Enron, Rove also understood that reporters need a villain,
a Svengali. His "genius" here (which, like all
of his supposed ingenious ploys, was not ingenious at
all, but merely the plainly obvious step never anticipated
by the crowd of idiots watching him) was to give them
their villain not in small doses, but in large ones.
persistent feature of the Rove profile is the reporter's
close proximity to Rove in a casual, intimate setting
(i.e., Elisabeth Bumiller astride the "bombastic,
deceptively cherub-faced" Rove on the campaign plane
as he "playfully withholds news of recent polls from
the president"). Rove made sure to invite every reporter
in Washington for a one-day private tour of his world
of dirty jokes, harried cell-phone calls and ad-hoc strategizing.
And every hack that took the tour came away with stars
in his eyes, primed to make Rove into the larger-than-life
villain role he had been fitted for.
result of all this was to obscure the basic fact about
Rove, which is that he's not a genius at all. He is a
pig, and the only thing that distinguishes him is the
degree of his brazenness and cruelty. It doesn't take
a genius to send out fliers calling your opponent the
"fag candidate." It doesn't take a genius to
insinuate that your opponent's wife is a drug addict.
There's nothing cunning or clever about saying your opponent
came home from a war too fucked in the head to govern
(particularly when your own candidate was too much of
a coward to fight in the same war), or about whispering
that that same candidate may have an illegitimate black
child. And there's nothing clever about calling the followers
of the opposition party traitorous and un-American, and
claiming that they all want to coddle and appease the
murderers of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
Rove is a character of a type that reappears from time
to time throughout history—an unscrupulous power-chaser
of the highest order, who rises to the top by demonizing
and defaming innocent people. He's an elementary-school
bully who proves his chops by throwing rocks at the retarded
kid. And he reached a position of public honor thanks
to a loophole in our national character that embraces
any entrepreneur who dares to do whatever it takes to
succeed. Rove is in trouble now, but he would never have
had free reign of Washington to begin with if we hadn't
so willingly given him his romantic image.
for money. Anything for power. How cute is he now?