Karl Rove: America’s Mullah


Richard Moore

Date: Sun, 24 Oct 2004 23:32:01 -0700
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
From: Larry Tesler <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Karl Rove: America's Mullah

Karl Rove: America's Mullah

By Neal Gabler

Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at USC
Annenberg, is author of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment
Conquered Reality."

Even now, after Sen. John F. Kerry handily won his three
debates with President Bush and after most polls show a dead
heat, his supporters seem downbeat. Why? They believe that
Karl Rove, Bush's top political operative, cannot be beaten.
Rove the Impaler will do whatever it takes - anything - to
make certain that Bush wins. This isn't just typical
Democratic pessimism. It has been the master narrative of the
2004 presidential campaign in the mainstream media. Attacks on
Kerry come and go - flip-flopper, Swift boats, Massachusetts
liberal - but one constant remains, Rove, and everyone takes
it for granted that he knows how to game the system.

Rove, however, is more than a political sharpie with a bulging
bag of dirty tricks. His campaign shenanigans - past and
future - go to the heart of what this election is about.

Democrats will tell you it is a referendum on Bush's
incompetence or on his extremist right-wing agenda.
Republicans will tell you it's about conservatism versus
liberalism or who can better protect us from terrorists. They
are both wrong. This election is about Rovism - the
insinuation of Rove's electoral tactics into the conduct of
the presidency and the fabric of the government. It's not an
overstatement to say that on Nov. 2, the fate of traditional
American democracy will hang in the balance.

Rovism is not simply a function of Rove the political conniver
sitting in the counsels of power and making decisions, though
he does. No recent presidency has put policy in the service of
politics as has Bush's. Because tactics can change
institutions, Rovism is much more. It is a philosophy and
practice of governing that pervades the administration and
even extends to the Republican-controlled Congress. As Robert
Berdahl, chancellor of UC Berkeley, has said of Bush's foreign
policy, a subset of Rovism, it constitutes a fundamental
change in "the fabric of constitutional government as we have
known it in this country."

Rovism begins, as one might suspect from the most merciless of
political consiglieres, with Machiavelli's rule of force: "A
prince is respected when he is either a true friend or a
downright enemy." No administration since Warren Harding's has
rewarded its friends so lavishly, and none has been as willing
to bully anyone who strays from its message.

There is no dissent in the Rove White House without reprisal.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki was retired after he
disagreed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's
transformation of the Army and then testified that invading
Iraq would require a U.S. deployment of 200,000 soldiers.

Chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster was threatened with
termination if he revealed before the vote that the
administration had seriously misrepresented the cost of its
proposed prescription drug plan to get it through Congress.

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was peremptorily fired for
questioning the wisdom of the administration's tax cuts, and
former U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III felt compelled to
recant his statement that there were insufficient troops in

Even accounting for the strong-arm tactics of Lyndon B.
Johnson and Richard Nixon, this isn't government as we have
known it. This is the Sopranos in the White House: "Cross us
and you're road kill."

Naturally, the administration's treatment of the opposition is
worse. Rove's mentor, political advisor Lee Atwater, has been
quoted as saying: "What you do is rip the bark off liberals."
That's how Bush has governed. There is a feeling, perhaps best
expressed by Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller's keynote
address at the Republican convention, that anyone who has the
temerity to question the president is undermining the country.
At times, Miller came close to calling Democrats traitors for
putting up a presidential candidate.

This may be standard campaign rhetoric. But it's one thing to
excoriate your opponents in a campaign, and quite another to
continue berating them after the votes are counted.

Rovism regards any form of compromise as weakness. Politics
isn't a bus we all board together, it's a steamroller.

No recent administration has made less effort to reach across
the aisle, and thanks to Rovism, the Republican majority in
Congress often operates on a rule of exclusion. Republicans
blocked Democrats from participating in the bill-drafting
sessions on energy, prescription drugs and intelligence reform
in the House. As Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) told the New
Yorker, "They don't consult with the nations of the world, and
they don't consult with Congress, especially the Democrats in
Congress. They can do it all themselves."

Bush entered office promising to be a "uniter, not a divider."
But Rovism is not about uniting. What Rove quickly grasped is
that it's easier and more efficacious to exploit the cultural
and social divide than to look for common ground. No recent
administration has as eagerly played wedge issues - gay
marriage, abortion, stem cell research, faith-based
initiatives - to keep the nation roiling, in the pure Rovian
belief that the president's conservative supporters will
always be angrier and more energized than his opponents.
Division, then, is not a side effect of policy; in Rovism, it
is the purpose of policy.

The lack of political compromise has its correlate in the
administration's stubborn insistence that it doesn't have to
compromise with facts. All politicians operate within an
Orwellian nimbus where words don't mean what they normally
mean, but Rovism posits that there is no objective, verifiable
reality at all. Reality is what you say it is, which explains
why Bush can claim that postwar Iraq is going swimmingly or
that a so-so economy is soaring. As one administration
official told reporter Ron Suskind, "We're an empire now, and
when we act, we create our own realityŠ. We're history's

When neither dissent nor facts are recognized as constraining
forces, one is infallible, which is the sum and foundation of
Rovism. Cleverly invoking the power of faith to protect itself
from accusations of stubbornness and insularity, this
administration entertains no doubt, no adjustment, no
negotiation, no competing point of view. As such, it eschews
the essence of the American political system: flexibility and

In Rovism, toughness is the only virtue. The mere appearance
of change is intolerable, which is why Bush apparently can't
admit ever making a mistake. As Machiavelli put it, the prince
must show that "his judgments are irrevocable."

Rovism is certainly not without its appeal. As political
theorist Sheldon Wolin once characterized Machiavellian
government, it promises the "economy of politics." Americans
love toughness. They love swagger. In a world of complexity
and uncertainty, especially after Sept. 11, they love the idea
of a man who doesn't need anyone else. They even love the
sense of mission, regardless of its wisdom.

These values run deep in the American soul, and Rovism
consciously taps them. But they are not democratic. Unwavering
discipline, demonization of foes, disdain for reality and a
personal sense of infallibility based on faith are the stuff
of a theocracy - the president as pope or mullah and policy as
religious warfare.

Boiled down, Rovism is government by jihadis in the grip of
unshakable self-righteousness - ironically the force the
administration says it is fighting. It imposes rather than

Rovism surreptitiously and profoundly changes our form of
government, a government that has been, since its founding by
children of the Enlightenment, open, accommodating, moderate
and generally reasonable.

All administrations try to work the system to their advantage,
and some, like Nixon's, attempt to circumvent the system
altogether. Rove and Bush neither use nor circumvent, which
would require keeping the system intact. They instead are
reconfiguring the system in extra-constitutional, theocratic

The idea of the United States as an ironfisted theocracy is
terrifying, and it should give everyone pause. This time, it's
not about policy. This time, for the first time, it's about
the nature of American government.

We all have reason to be very, very afraid.

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

"Global Transformation: Whey We Need It And How We Can Achieve It", current 
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