Jonah Goldberg, "Republican or Conservative? About Karl Rove." August 15.
There’s an old maximYEAH, the new ones just don't seem to make it. Get yourself an editor, young Goldberg. Preferably a mean one. Maybe you could bleg it: "Do any of you readers speak and write English?"
that if Napoleon had been struck by a cannon ball on his way toward Moscow, he would be remembered as an unrivaled military genius and liberator.Y'know, I've never heard that, and I'm always curious when I pick up a new old maxim, especially now that I'm old enough to have authored some had I tried. I'm not saying you made this up--the history alone is beyond you--I'm just curious about the provenance. Napoleon is unrivaled in the modern era as a military genius, Russian campaign or no, and while his contemporary rep might have been improved by a well-timed demise, he'd have eventually come under the jaundiced gaze of history; idolators are required to work the Churchill section. Maybe "Quit while you're ahead" is the real old maxim you're after. But then you'd have said "quit", which you people never do--ahead, behind, or hopelessly mired in an unwinnable war you never should have gotten into in the first place.
In this and other respects, Karl Rove strikes me as a Napoleonic figure.I'm going to predict that shortly after this howler you're going to excoriate the left blogosphere for hysterically suggesting that Rove was a dictator with scant regard for civil liberties. I'm not sure how I do this. Sometimes I just get the tingle.
He won an impressive string of campaigns. He dreamed of erecting a new political order on the ashes of the old. He’d look awfully dashing in one of those bicorn hats.
[rimshot] Damn, an actual joke from Jonah Goldberg, with timing and everything. Not a particularly funny one, but you know what Dr. Johnson said about women preaching and dogs walking on their hind legs.
And, most of all, Rove — who announced he will retire Aug. 31 — stubbornly refused to depart the scene on a historic high note.I wasn't really gonna take on that old maxim, old boy, but Napoleon did not invade Russia because he'd been at his desk too long. If that old maxim is out there, somewhere, it's as a caution against over-reaching, not bad timing. Rove could have sold hubris to Napoleon for sous on the dollar. As for that "historic", well, we'll see.
Now of course, the comparison has its limits. Rove is not a bloody-minded invader or a dictator with scant regard for civil liberties — though you might think otherwise if you get all of your news from left-wing blogs.
Would you...could you...is there any way you could just quit this? I don't mean accusing anonymous leftists of saying things you'd like them to say--I have no reason to care what you think, Jonah--but the hedging every motherfucking thing you ever write? Just quit? Go through everything and strike it all out, if you refuse to be edited? Because whatever you imagine it accomplishes (razor-sharp accuracy? the illusion of razor-sharp accuracy? why would you even try?) it's just an annoying tic, and god knows you're the last writer on earth who needs one. We've already established that the Napoleon bit was "an old maxim". Thus we've already established that you're applying it as a concept. Were I to say, for some reason, probably brain fever, "It's been said that the truly great players--think Michael Jordan--want the ball when the game is on the line, and no one at NRO fits that description more than Jonah Goldberg," I would not need to add, "of course he's not African-American, or athletic, or accomplished".
Yet he fits the picture, because if Rove had left the White House after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, he would have been a hero, a man remembered as one of the great political master-tacticians of the last half a century.
Obviously, Rove was aided in his 2004 task by the fact that the Democrats nominated John Kerry, a Michael Dukakis without the brains. But Rove and then-Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman managed to help Bush increase his support among blacks, women, Latinos, independents and urbanites and defeat an opponent who got 8 million more votes than Al Gore. The Republicans held on to the House and Senate too — a feat not equaled since FDR’s reelection in 1936.
Okay, first let's fill in the blanks for Jonah--we're all his unpaid editors at some point--I believe what he means to say is that Bush was the first president since '36 to gain re-election while his party increased its Congressional majority. FDR's wins in 1940 and '44 were accompanied by Democrats holding on to both houses, with a net loss of seats in the former and a wash in the latter.
But let's try something Jonah can't--let's look at this with some sense of American history. Since 1936, how many Presidents had the opportunity to do this? Answer: one, FDR, and he did it, and if you switch the requirement back to what Jonah actually said, he went three for three. No President standing for re-election since has held Congressional majorities.
Coming on top of GOP gains in 2002, it was a truly remarkable achievement.
Shut up, Jonah, I wasn't finished. If we permit Johnson as a substitute Kennedy in 1964, then there were two. And in '64 the Democrats not only increased their majorities in the House and the Senate, they achieved a 2/3 majority in each, the only time either has been accomplished postwar. (Would Kennedy have done worse?) Which must make that an extra truly double-plus remarkable achievement x 2, with a scoop of butterscotch ice cream.
So now we're at 3-for-3, or 4-for-4, with asterisk. Not such an astronomical achievement, eh? But let's keep going. You've got four men who stood for re-election in that period without Congressional majorities. Eisenhower, who lost a House majority in his first midterm, lost two more House seats and had a draw in the Senate. Nixon lost a couple of Senate seats and gained several in the House, but did not overturn the Democratic majority. Reagan picked up House seats and lost Senate seats, but neither reversed their control. Clinton, like Ike a loser of his House majority in the preceding midterms, gained House seats and lost two in the Senate, with both majorities holding serve.
So...wow. We've gone from "Rove joins Bill Wambsganss as the only man to record an unassisted triple play in World Series history" to "That's just the second time this month that a left-handed middle reliever of Polish extraction has thrown three scoreless innings after a rain delay." Or, in other words, big fuckin' deal.
And then winter came.
Bush traded his political capital for the magic beans of Social Security reform, but the ground was too frozen for the seeds to take hold.
Please, please, do not do that again.
Rove deserves mixed praise for the effort.
Excuse me, did you say "mixed praise"?
It was courageous, but, as Bush’s political brain, he should have seen that it was doomed to failure and hence ill-conceived. As Napoleon said, if you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.
He might also have said, if you set out to pacify Baghdad, pacify Baghdad. Yet as the American public soured on the Iraq project, Bush’s political ear — i.e. the receiver of advice from Rove — transmogrified from gold to tin. Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, delaying the defenestration of Don Rumsfeld until after the ‘06 election, immigration reform: All of these moves conspired to make the Bush White House’s grasp of the times seem increasingly thumbless.
Not "seem" lad, no. And all this from"one of the great political master-tacticians of the last half a century"? What'd the other guys do, chose our successive puppets in Vietnam? Tell Bush Sr to be sure to try the octopus sashimi? And those--save Katrina, which I thought Jonah blamed on the inability of African-Americans to mutate on command--are the Republican complaints.
Even Bush’s first-term gems tarnished rapidly.
So quickly, in fact, and so thoroughly, that neither of us seems to be able to name one.
While much of the criticism was disingenuous, few can doubt the White House regrets that “mission accomplished” stunt.
Well, we're used to all sorts of weather in the Midwest, but that's the first time I ever saw a sentence turn to slush in mid-thought. I suppose the disingenuous criticism will be extensively footnoted in that new book?
The Medicare prescription drug benefit may be surprisingly popular,
Surprisingly, given that everyone else in America hates social spending as much as Jonah wishes they would.
but the promised political windfall never materialized.Again, surprisingly so, since the ham-fisted way in which it was handled usually assures popular acclaim.
Meanwhile, Bush’s two most important domestic accomplishments in the second term
Wait, what happened to the first term? Too much scrubbing required on that tarnish, and no intern around to do it for you?
have been the appointments of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court. But even these masterstrokes ran at least partly against the first instincts of Bush and Rove. If they’d had their druthers, Miers and Alberto Gonzales would be on the court today — a calamity from which neither the republic nor the Republican Party would soon have recovered.
First, is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice an "accomplishment"? Was there a danger that someone else would jump in and do it while he was napping? Second, that Miers/Gonzo thing is just another Republican complaint; most of us who get all our news from the left blogosphere don't see much downside left after Roberts and Alito, or much evidence of other "conservative" concern with national calamity. (And à propos of nothing: number of words spoken by Justice Thomas during oral arguments since February 2006? 132.)
The lesson here is particularly acute for conservatives. Rove engineered Bush’s victory in 2000 by
promising a different kind of Republican, a.k.a. a “compassionate conservative.” That meant generally staying mute on racial issues, luring Latinos into the GOP fold by any means necessary and advocating federal activism on everything from single motherhood to education.
I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Would you mind removing the hood before you speak?
The story is complex, of course. Bush won tax cuts and was stronger on defense than Gore or Kerry would have been. But the central point remains: Rove’s strategic vision involved securing a Republican victory at the expense of conservative principles.
Jesus H. Christ on a Low-Sodium Ritz. Compassionate fucking conservatism? I'm surprised anyone even remembers the fucker. It was test-marketed in '99, if I recall, and lasted about as long as Crystal Pepsi. Leaving aside how "stronger on defense" can mean "willing to fracture our military manpower and materiel into the foreseeable future in exchange for, roughly, squat", what "conservative principles" did the Bush administration violate? Aside from tax cuts and the undesirability of Latino luring, what "conservative principles" have survived the last two decades?
Partisan victories are nice, but they aren’t an end in themselves.
Right. Something I remember you saying so often when you're winning.
Harry Truman, whom Rove and others see as role models for Bush, himself liked to quote Napoleon on his fateful encounter with the Russians: “I beat them in every battle, but it does not get me anywhere.”
Look, Truman, who was our most over-rated President until Reagan rendered the phrase meaningless, like to quote The Testament of Peter the Great, too. He may have loved history, but it was largely unrequited.
Compassionate conservatism succeeded as a political tactic by coopting liberal assumptions in much the same way that Bill Clinton’s triangulation stole conservative thunder.
Oh, yeah. I remember how in each instance the opposition was largely struck dumb.
Rove was, famously, the architect of this strategy, and as such the left hated him not for his ideas but for his successes, which they now want to emulate at all costs. The net-root “fighting Dems” who care about partisan victory above all else are in many respects the children of Karl Rove.
Shit. First, Richard Nixon, not Karl Rove, is the architect of the so-called Republican majority, aka, the grafting of the rejected Dixiecrats, and it wasn't a move that required any great political genius--Johnson had remarked after ramrodding the Civil Rights Act that he'd created a Republican majority for a generation--just ruthlessness and a willingness to trade decades of partisan chaos for temporal political gain. Rove is just a campaign fixer for the least competent President in US history, and his "magic", his "genius", amounted to tinkering with the Nixon formula. Unlike Tricky Dick, Rove apparently actually believed the hype. Unlike Nixon, he had the press on his side. He still managed to lose one election and squeak through another despite "wartime" status. After the stolen 2000 election, and an incredibly negligent press corps/cheering section (Vandalgate, the Charm Offensive, the Commander Bush in Charge! coverage of the Chinese Spy Plane Imbroglio) Bush's popularity was about to take a major swing downward when the Towers fell, which, in retrospect, should have resulted in demands for his impeachment, but instead saved his ass through 2004. Rove may be a good tactician--it's impossible to say for sure when no one can figure out who did what when and why in this godawful mess of a government--but he clearly was no sort of strategist at all. He made binary decisions, and he made them in the most short-sighted fashion imaginable, and his assisted luck held for a time. If he was really willing to scuttle "conservative principles" for political gain he'd have done so after the election, not before and via slogan. I don't give a fuck for your principles, Mr. Goldberg, and I've no idea where you keep them--Thomas Sowell's columns?--but not even you can deny that every move the Bush administration made was designed to stoke the base and stiff the opposition. That's not brains, it's schoolyard bullying, and it's no surprise it didn't work. George W. Bush, the first loser of the popular vote in 100 years to seize the Office anyway, was in a unique position to reach out to the other side. That he did not--and that, as a result, he's going to be remembered a lot longer than he would have been otherwise, and in a way that will make him wish he'd just been forgotten--is not something to be chalked up to Brainpower. Quite the opposite, as Napoleon used to say.