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On Karl Rove

By Peter Wehner

Before taking my job as director of the Office of the Office of Strategic Initiatives - I had until then been deputy director for Presidential speechwriting -- I asked others who knew Karl Rove about him; after all, I didn't know Karl all that well and I was about to work directly for him. And so I spoke to Josh Bolten, then deputy chief of staff, who had recommended me for the OSI job. And Josh had a very short summary of Karl: "He's brilliant, he's a genius, and he's a deeply wonderful human being."

I suspected the first two things said about Karl were true - but having not worked with him, I could not possibly have known about the third. Now I do.

Karl is sui generis; no other White House aide in modern times has played the indispensable role he has. His political achievements are by now well-known. "The architect" played a key role in all of George W. Bush's election wins, including Bush's defeat of a popular Democratic incumbent, Texas Governor Ann Richards, and then his winning re-election by a record margin.

Karl was at the center of events when George W. Bush, running for president the first time, defeated a popular war hero, John McCain, in the primary, and then went on to defeat an incumbent vice president, Al Gore, who had the strongest economy in world history in his favor and was thought to be a brilliant debater (among other things, he was the man who dispatched Ross Perot in a nationally televised debate on NAFTA). And Karl was again the key figure, this time along with Ken Mehlman, in helping President Bush win re-election in a tough environment, when the Iraq war was growing increasingly unpopular. Not only did the President win, he increased his support among women, Hispanics, Jewish voters, Catholics, African Americans, Asian Americans, union households, suburban voters, moderates, independents, big city residents, and small city resident (so much for the myth of the "base-only" strategy).

To give you a sense of the trust we all have in Karl: during the 2004 campaign, I was asked by lots of people who I thought would win and why. Rather than elaborate analysis, or a state-by-state breakdown, I had a simple formulation: We have George W. Bush and they John Kerry; we have Karl Rove, and they don't. And that was enough for me.

But Karl's extraordinary achievements in politics unfortunately occluded his extraordinary command of policy. Rove's knowledge of the smallest, most mind-numbing details of policy - from economics, to energy, to the environment, to education, to entitlement programs to so much else -- was legendary around the White House and among those, including reporters, who engaged in substantive discussions with him. Anyone who has heard Rove go on at length about using the principle of equidistance to determine seaward lateral boundaries, a principle discussed by the 17th century philosopher Hugo Grotius and since upheld by two Supreme Court decisions, knows what I mean. Karl seemed to know more about a particular issue than the policy experts themselves. And he was a reliable voice and ally, and sounding board, for conservatives.

Some day books will be written about what a phenomenon of nature this man is. But some day books should be written about what a really fine man he is. He was the most relentlessly upbeat person in the White House, giving counsel and encouragement to all, and showing great kindness to many of us and our families. And of course what we all learned as well as what a tremendously strong person this policy wonk and former nerd from Utah is. He withstood pressure, unfair pressure, that would have broken lesser men, and he did it with good cheer, extraordinary equanimity, and without ever becoming cynical.

It turns out Josh Bolten was right.

Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is now a senior fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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