KARL ROVE clearly is at it again. First, back in late August, the wily presidential counselor planted explosives in the New Orleans levees, so as to flood the poor and black neighborhoods just before the advent of the storm of the century. Then, he persuaded George W. Bush to react to the flooding as if he had just been awakened from a sound sleep at three in the morning, and hadn't yet found his shoes. Then, just as Bush's approval ratings started to plummet, he persuaded the president to nominate his private counsel to the United States Supreme Court, a move akin to asking the best dermatologist on the hospital staff to perform neurosurgery, and one that drove his own base into a frenzy. Bush's poll ratings sank even more.
Then, just as the Democrats realized that Cindy Sheehan had reached the end of her run as a Bush-baiting Madonna, Rove urged them to seek her replacement in Congressman Murtha, a salt-of-the-earth type and decorated war veteran. (Democrats love veterans when they are attacking a war, or the armed forces. Veterans who don't do this don't count.) Murtha, backed by Howard Dean and some others, declared the war lost. By this time, Bush's ratings had reached the mid-30s, and were still heading south. Democrats, with their unerring instinct for continuing to hold a drowning man's head under water, piled on. Even those who had voted for the war, such as Johns Kerry and Edwards, declared they had been tricked into voting for the war, which besides being lost, had been a grave error.
It was at this moment, with most of the Democrats out on the limb the Iraqis would soon saw off behind them, that Rove induced Bush to come out of his coma, and drove the Iraqis to the polls in astonishing numbers for yet another successful election, which even a few people in the mainstream media were willing to describe as a turning point in the historic Bush gamble.
Bush rebounded, as did support for the war, leaving Republicans with a vault full of wonderful sound bites for the 2006 midterms. Nothing so brilliant had been seen in American politics since Rove himself had persuaded the Democrats to vote against the Homeland Security Act at the behest of their friends in the unions, or since the late Lee Atwater persuaded Michael Dukakis to say in his debate with George Bush the Elder that if his wife were to be raped and murdered, the death penalty for her killer would be out of the question, and to suggest in his manner that he might not be bothered that much.
ALL OF THIS PALES, however, in face of Rove's remarkable coup in getting the New York Times to publish its scoop on December 18, which reported that the president--after the attacks of September 11 and the sight of people diving from windows on the 98th floor of the now-absent twin towers--has secretly been doing everything in his power to keep it from happening again.
Short-sighted Republicans raged that the Times had done this on purpose to dilute the good news from Iraq, and drive it off the weekend chat shows and front pages; Rove on the other hand must have had the good sense to realize that the Democrats, driven mad by the good news of the Iraqi elections, would pick this up and run with it into a wall. Talk about Christmas! Santa came early.
Bush now has three gifts: (l) he has an out, in case there's another attack on the homeland (he tried, but his hands were tied by the Times and the Democrats); (2) he has still more sound bites--"We killed the Patriot Act!"--to add the pile that he had already, and (3), he has the chance to draw still more distinctions between the party of force and of public security; and the party that nitpicks, that is too legalistic, and that somehow always gives the benefit of the doubt to the criminal and/or the accused. In a showdown like this, put your cash on the party of force and security. Willie Horton was not a play on the race card, but a metaphor for the larger use-of-force issue. Does anyone doubt that if Dukakis were president when Saddam Hussein crossed the border, Kuwait and perhaps Saudi Arabia would be permanent parts of Iraq? Remember the Homeland Security Act in the 2002 midterms?
And then Karl Rove topped it all by getting Democrats to go round the bend on impeachment, such as Barbara Boxer on the advice of John Dean. The Times, our own little France in the heart of Manhattan, doubtless thought it was dealing a mortal blow to the Nixon redux in the White House, that monstrous figure devouring liberties. Instead, it gave both parties the chance to redefine themselves in ways that do not seem to favor its allies. We think that on a Wednesday morning November 8, 2006, Republicans will give a big "thanks" to the Paper of Wreckage. And nobody more than Karl Rove.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.