October 21, 2005
Taking Pot Shots at the Pot-Bellied Genius

By Amy White

Paybacks are hell. Just ask Karl Rove.

Stories appearing this week in major newspapers have identified him as the "Democratic nemesis" and "public enemy #1" of the Democratic National Committee. Gee, guys. Can't we all just get along?

Apparently not.

Rove has been so heavily pursued by the press in recent days that his wife, perhaps desperate, opened the garage door of their Washington D.C. home to prove the embattled presidential adviser was not there. The Associated Press promptly recorded the contents and sent out a wire story with the following lead: "He is 'the architect' who steered George W. Bush to victory four times, twice as Texas governor and twice as president. But can Karl Rove organize his own garage? Can the master of Bush's political planning figure out where to put the ladders, paint cans and cardboard boxes?"

This isn't a news report, of course; this is a gloat. But the journalist was nothing if not precise; the AP story records that there are not one, but two ladders in the garage, one aluminum and the other "green, leaning sideways." It's official: The Washington press corp has lost it.

Cable news isn't far behind. Record hurricane season? Avian flu pandemic? Sadaam on trial? Not much to work with, granted. But on Monday, CNN's Jack Cafferty took his best shot. Cafferty suggested that Rove start preparing to be indicted. "He might want to get measured for one of those extra large orange jump suits," Cafferty sneered, "'cause looking at old Karl, I'm not sure that he'd, they'd be able to zip him into the regular size one." After considering whether the "large" size would be enough for Rove, Cafferty gleefully acknowledged he was hoping for an indictment not yet handed down. "I love to see those kinds of things happen," he confessed. "It does wonders for me."

It makes me wonder what Cafferty does for fun on the weekends.

The guffaws and thigh-slapping in public and private may have a lot to do with Rove, but they probably have very little to do with a crime he may or may not stand accused of committing. It's apparent at this point that Rove gave reporters information designed to undermine the credibility of Joseph Wilson, which in hindsight was hardly necessary. Rove may have given reporters the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who may or may not have been a covert CIA agent at any time in her career.

Although these acts are clearly juvenile - and the effort just as clearly bungled - they hardly seem criminal. When most people think "criminal," they picture people robbing banks, kidnapping children or stuffing classified documents in their socks.

But in the political realm, the definition of "criminal" keeps expanding to include activities - leaking stories, redirecting campaign money - that used to be regarded as, well, political.

Unfortunately for the party that chanted "character matters," Rove lied when he denied being a source of the leak. No one likes a liar, of course, unless the liar happens to be a brilliant political strategist working to turn your agenda into reality. It also helps if you lie to the press, for which no one has any sympathy anyway.

Nonetheless, it's embarrassing to be caught not keeping your hands clean when playing dirty. Truth-telling and cleanliness were issues for Bill Clinton, too, as the Democrats well remember. . . which surely is one reason they are enjoying Rove's seeming reversal of fortune so much.

So let's have at Karl Rove:

How dare he whisper the name of a woman who most likely was never a covert agent: Traitor! How dare he politically outmanuever the Democratic party: Hack! How dare he create election strategies that elected George W. Bush with Republican majorities in the House and Senate: Cheater! How dare he have friends among the Religious Right, openly enjoy his time in political power and eat, famously, eggs fried in bacon grease: Fatso!

It may be payback, but it's hardly justice.

Amy White is a regular contributor to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Amy White

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