Exit the alter ego

August 14, 2007

As Karl Rove begins "movin' on down the road," as President Bush put it - getting out while the getting is good, others might say - he's leaving a legacy both brilliant and ruthless, of great electoral success but disastrous policy failures.

Most disappointing was that George W. Bush's much-acclaimed political guru failed to warn his boss away from some poor choices that have deeply tainted the Bush presidency.

Chief among these was poisoning the extraordinary global good will toward the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks through the arrogant pursuit of the Iraq war. Vice President Dick Cheney may have had a larger role in that decision, but Mr. Rove turned it into a 2004 re-election strategy, accusing dissenters and Democrats of being weak, soft on terrorism and unable to keep the nation safe.

And where were Mr. Rove's keen political skills in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina drowned portions of the Gulf Coast, stranding people on rooftops in New Orleans while the president remained on vacation in Texas? That tragedy exposed a vital government agency run by political hacks who were incompetent, indifferent or both.

The Democrats' success in the 2006 congressional elections, which broke Mr. Rove's string of victories and crushed, for now, his dreams of a permanent Republican majority, can be attributed in part to voter disenchantment stemming from Iraq and Katrina.

There may be some justice of sorts in Mr. Rove's more recent failure to move a sweeping immigration bill through Congress. The president's plan to provide a humane path to citizenship for the millions in this country illegally would be paired with tighter border security and tougher enforcement in the workplace.

But the legislation was blocked by Mr. Rove's fellow Republicans, practicing the same divisive, mean-spirited tactics he employed so successfully on other issues.

Nice guys finish last, they say. Still, it seems a shame that the compassionate conservatism the Bush-Rove team preached during their first campaigns more than a dozen years ago morphed so far toward intolerance.

That divisiveness worked directly against the building of a permanent majority. Just as well. Six years of Rove-crafted, Republican one-party rule was quite long enough.

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