Relentless Rove

Karl Rove has spent enough time courting religious fundamentalists to know that he who casts the first stone had better be without sin. Or, to put it another way, and to paraphrase John McCain (who will surely be accused by the Clintons of plagiarizing Shakespeare’s Henry IV), nobody gets a holiday from history.

Indeed, history seems to have caught up with Mr. Rove, or at least played a little trick on him: the timing of his op ed in today’s Wall Street Journal could not have been worse.

Rove claims that Obama is newly vulnerable to Republican attack, now that he has had to descend from the lofty rhetorical heights and talk specifics about his real agenda and accomplishments. That makes sense. But Rove’s plan of attack doesn’t.

First, to go after Obama for “sabre rattling” against Pakistan requires, at the very least, exaggeration and misrepresentation of what Obama actually said. And it’s a little tougher than Rove would like to admit to dismiss Obama’s stance, given the revelation in The Washington Post that on January 29th, CIA predator craft carried out exactly the kind of operation in Pakistan that Obama suggested might work; the Post called it “the first successful strike against al-Qaeda’s core leadership in two years.” One liberal blogger even went so far as to suggest that in authorizing the attack, the Bush White House was following Obama’s lead.

What’s worse, Rove’s suggestion that McCain should go after Obama for his ties to lobbyists is — as of today — just downright embarrassing. The front page story in today’s Times about McCain’s ties with Vicki Iseman have shone a bright light on McCain’s own flirtation with lobbyists. It’s unlikely John McCain wants to talk about who is beholden to whom, or discuss the ties, or pandering, of philandering that goes on between Senators and lobbyists in Washington DC. To do so would be to step right in it.

Genius though he may be, Karl Rove could hardly have understood what difference a day would make. So he can’t be taken to task for not knowing that John McCain and Vicki Iseman were going to be the lead item of the day, at least until the news from Belgrade broke. But you also can’t blame people for being drawn to Mr. Obama, who (though there may be nothing, or nothing admirable behind the rhetoric), hasn’t so far engaged in the gotcha politics that Rove perfected (and which, incidentally, he used to smear John McCain in 2000.)

Rove’s say or do anything to win tactics are neither conservative nor liberal; they are amoral, and they are ancient as politics itself. These tactics became the sum of all politics in the late 60s; they define the politics of the baby boomers, a mix of strident rhetoric and exaggeration with moral righteousness, a demonizing of opponents on the left and the right, a lack of responsibility to anything but to self-aggrandizement or the aggrandizement of one’s political surrogates or candidates.

Karl Rove isn’t the only baby boomer to advocate and practice slash and burn, winner take all politics; the Clintons have perfected the art. Perhaps their day is done, with Democrats defecting from the Clintons in droves, and even some Republicans looking for an alternative in Mr. Obama.

If John McCain is going to check Obama’s current momentum, he would do well to ignore Mr. Rove’s advice, and to focus, instead, on where he wants to lead the country. And it had better be someplace bright and new. I doubt he can do that and I doubt he will.

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