Karl Rove, the presidential advisor dubbed "George Bush's brain," has announced he will resign at the end of this month. Washington pundits and poobahs will be ladling out memories of his brilliance and praise for his accomplishment as the architect of the Bush presidential victories.
Well, hold the applause. How will Karl Rove be remembered? A skilled practitioner of the back alley arts of politics, Rove was architect of the worst administration in America's history. George Bush was never interested in history or in domestic or foreign policy; he was interested in politics. And in Karl Rove, he found his instrument, a man who ensured that political calculation overruled morality, policy or even the national interest.
At home, Rove thought he could forge a ruling majority for conservatives, yoking the wealth of the multinationals with the troops of the religious right. His calculation led directly to the most corrupt administration and congress in memory, to an economic policy that enabled the wealthiest few to capture all of the rewards of economic growth, to Gilded-Age inequality and an unprecedented corporate crime wave. His calculation ended up discrediting the conservative movement, and he leaves a president isolated and unpopular because of his failed course.
In Rove's Washington, political calculation was all. Bush trampled conservative principle to support the "No Child Left Behind" federal intervention into public education so he could appeal to parents concerned about the public schools. And then he walked away from his own reforms, breaking his promise on adequate funding, and allowing his appointees to mismanage the whole effort. Bush signed onto the prescription drug benefit to counter an appealing Democratic program, but then allowed the drug lobbies to write the legislation, squandering billions on subsidies to the insurance and drug companies. He moved to "privatize Social Security," endangering the one secure retirement benefit people have, in the political hope of creating a generation of [Republican] investors. That folly was the beginning of the end.
Abroad, Rove stood with the neo-cons who scorned the "reality based community." The United States was so powerful militarily it could create its own reality. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were used to turn the president into a "commander-in-chief." The vital reconstruction in both countries was botched, starved of funds and troops, even as Rove was having the president declare "mission accomplished." The triumph of spin and ideology over reality helped create the worst foreign policy debacle in our nation's history.
Worse, Rove immediately used the Sept. 11 attacks for partisan political purpose. He pushed for trampling the laws and Constitution of the country to show that the president was strong and Democrats were weak on security. He had the president charge Democrats with being weak on security because they tried to protect the basic rights of workers herded into the gargantuan Department of Homeland Security. He turned 9/11 and posturing on the war into a partisan instrument at the Republican convention in 2004 and the re-election campaign. He helped re-elect the president at the price of dividing the nation and embittering our politics. A president who should have brought the nation together ended driving us apart.
Characteristically, after Katrina and the shame of New Orleans, the president belatedly named a special advisor on the crisis. That man was Karl Rove. And Rove's policy was to disperse the displaced -- the poor, largely African American and Democratic voters -- to 50 states, with no plan to bring them back home. The administration made provision for Mexicans in the United States to vote in the Mexican election and for Iraqis to vote in the Iraqi election, but it made no provision for special voting booths for those dispersed from New Orleans. For Rove, even the tragedy of New Orleans might be turned to parochial political purpose.
Bush and Rove largely had their way. And the result was catastrophic -- Iraq, Katrina, the attempt to privatize Social Security, the starving of vital investments at home, the plundering of billions by contractors in Iraq, the posturing over Terri Schiavo's tragedy, the failure to address catastrophic climate change, energy dependence, skyrocketing trade deficits, growing inequality, a broken health care system, soaring college costs. The list can go on.
Rove was successful. He helped steal elections in 2000 and 2004. He helped engineer conservative control of every institution in Washington. He and his president had their way and they failed. And we will pay the cost of that failure for decades to come.
Jesse Jackson is the president/founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and longtime civil rights activist.