Friday, June 24, 2005

Is Karl Rove an evil genius? Or just a partisan idiot?

It's been a late night at The Reaction after some rather prolific days of writing, but I won't be able to rest until I post this. You're all familiar with the Durbin story -- a senator thoroughly misrepresented by the right and essentially forced to apologize (I wrote about it all here). To me, the outrage should be directed at the enablers and perpetrators of torture -- more on that in my next post -- not at those with a dissenting opinion who dare to raise the important questions (and to demand answers) about what's really going on in places like Gitmo. The torture is the outrage, not Durbin's subtle remarks.

But now we have a truly obnoxious example of partisan rhetoric that deserves our outrage. And it comes from Karl Rove, the Dr. Evil of the Republican Party. The Carpetbagger reports here (and includes the full transcript of Rove's comments). Please give it a read. Those of us who oppose the Republicans need to know as clearly as possible just what it is we're up against.

Key passages from Rove's speech to the Conservative Party of New York (along with my brief comments):

  • "Four decades ago conservatism was relegated to the political wilderness -- and today conservatism is the guiding philosophy in the White House, the Senate, the House, and in governorships and state legislatures throughout America. More importantly, we have seen the great rise of a great cause. Conservatives have achieved a tremendous amount in the past decades -- but there is more, much more, that remains to be done." [My comments: A scary thought, given the havoc they've already wreaked. But is conservatism really the "guiding philosophy" all over America? Uh, no. And it's certainly not Bush's big-government, fiscally-irresponsible, unilateralist, moralistic brand of conservatism, which isn't really conservatism at all.]
  • In the 2004 election, President Bush placed all his chips on the table. There was no trimming on issues, no 'campaign conversion,' no backing away from Social Security and tax code reform. The President persistently made the case for an 'ownership society'; championed a culture of life; defended the institution of marriage; stood with the people of Iraq in their passage to liberty; remained committed to spreading democracy in the Middle East; and continued to aggressively wage and win the war on global terrorism. President Bush showed himself as he is. He wanted a referendum on what he has accomplished -- and most importantly, on what he hopes to achieve." [My comments: A referendum on all that? Really? To me, Bush ran on fear and managed to play to his radical base even as he persuaded enough moderates to buy into his rhetoric in a time of war. Americans didn't re-elect him to institute some radical right-wing agenda (which he conveniently shrouded behind all that "war president" rhetoric). Oh, and have the Iraqis already undergone the "passage to liberty"? Did I miss something?]
  • "We are seizing the Mantle of Idealism. As all of you know, President Bush is making a powerful case for spreading human liberty and defending human dignity. This was once largely the preserve of liberalism -- but Ronald Reagan changed all that. It was President Reagan, you'll recall, who said the policy of the United States was not simply to contain Soviet Communism, but to transcend it. And we would, he argued, was because of the power of liberty. President Bush has built on those beliefs -- and he is committed to something no past President has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East. President Bush's eventual goal is the triumph of freedom and the end of tyranny in our world. This vision, which will require the concentrated work of generations, is consistent with the deep idealism of the American people -- and it is an idealism whose importance is being confirmed by history and events." [My comments: Idealism isn't conservatism. Somewhere, Burke and his noble followers are furious. Bush may have a vision of global democracy that smacks of end-of-history Hegelianism, but that's all it is: a vision backed up by rhetoric. Rice said some nice things in Egypt and Saudi Arabia the other day, but isn't it interesting that all this talk of democracy -- none of which was there in 2000 -- has taken over from WMDs as the justification for the Iraq war? How convenient.]
  • "[O]ur movement's growth has made us Agents of Reform. Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism, was known as an advocate of reform. He understood the essence of conservatism is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances, which is one of the keys to political success." [My comments: Oh, please. Do stop. You just look stupid(er).]
  • "Conservatives have long known that political liberty depends on a healthy social and moral order. And so the President is committed to strengthening society's key institutions -- families, schools, communities, and protecting those mediating structures so important to our freedom, like our churches, neighborhood and private groups - the institutions that inculcate virtues, shape character, and provide the young with moral education." [My comments: By vilifying gays and lesbians. Or at least by allowing them to be vilified by his bigoted base. And by working to tear down the separation of church and state. How un-American.]

And here's where it gets truly disgusting:

  • "Conservatives believe in lower taxes; liberals believe in higher taxes. We want few regulations; they want more. Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a 'culture of life'; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion. But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to submit a petition." [My comments: It's not that simple, Karl. Conservatives (of the Bush mold) have run up a massive deficit that will bind future generations (hardly a Burkean thing to do), waged class warfare through tax cuts that favour the rich and a bankruptcy bill that will punish those who most need help, done everything possible to free up businesses to act abusively without fear of recrimination, taken extreme views on a wide range of moral issues (including stem-cell research, which the vast majority of Americans support, and abortion, which most Americans want to remain legal), and led America into a war in Iraq without anything in the way of a plan for post-war reconstruction -- how many Americans have died? how many Iraqi civilians? Needless to say, I could go on and on. (I would also add that liberalism, America's founding political philosophy, is more than just Moveon.org -- that's like saying that conservatism is nothing more than Pat Buchanan.]
  • "Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said: we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said: we must understand our enemies. Conservatives see the United States as a great nation engaged in a noble cause; liberals see the United States and they see Nazi concentration camps, Soviet gulags, and the killing fields of Cambodia. Has there been a more revealing moment this year than when Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, speaking on the Senate floor, compared what Americans had done to prisoners in our control at Guantanamo Bay with what was done by Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot -- three of the most brutal and malevolent figures in the 20th century?" [My comments: Yet further misrepresentation of Durbin, who didn't say anything like that. Remember that playing the patriotism card is always a sign of desperation (the flag-burning amendment, anyone?)]

Okay, that's enough. Read the whole thing. Read it again. And get angry. Angry at the lies, the spin, the misrepresentation, the stereotyping. And speak your outrage.

And if you're a liberal, be proud. Liberalism is America's political philosophy -- in fact, much of today's conservatism is just co-opted liberalism -- not Rove's radical idealism.

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9 Comments:

  • Can he be an evil idiot genius?

    Reading his comments makes me think of a maniacal puppetmaster pulling strings while shrouded in darkness. You get the feeling that this guy might be a liability if left in the spotlight too long but is nevertheless the most valuable/influential member of the new right.

    I want to read more on Rove. Any suggestions? What are the aims of this Neo-con movement after beyond say US economic control? Which is to say how does their philosophy work and what are their ends? When did it start? Is Rove leading this movement? Is he in fact Emperor Palpatine???

    So many questions.

    By Anonymous d. nash, at 2:11 PM  

  • d.Nash: I don't believe Rove qualifies as a NeoCon, any more than Bush does. I think they are willing to join powers with neocons on certain foreign policy issues, but that is more a pragmatic tack and not a philosophic one. Bush and Rove and deep down old-style conservatives, looking to fight and dominate to protect their own security, while the NeoCon agenda is much more egalitarian and genuine in its belief that American military power can affect positive change in the world. It does seem as if Bush has adopetd the NeoCon mantle more out of desperation than heartfelt sentiment. Micheal, your thoughts?

    As for your lengthy post, Michael, I agree with about 3/4 of it. Rove went beyond the pale, and I myself am rather appalled. But still, 1/4 of his comments rang true, so be careful about demonizing everything he said.

    Also, Rove may have mangled Burke, but it seems liberals can fall into the trap of thinking that Burke's emphasis on tradition is equivalent to an endorsement of status quo. The danger of Burkean conservatism is that it can devolve into an advocacy of stasis, though if I am correct Burke did believe in giving institutions a nudge to prevent stagnation. What he didn't like was revolution, in all its forms, though he was not opposed to reform.

    By Blogger Nate, at 2:11 AM  

  • I agree with you, Nate. Neoconservatism is something quite specific (see a bibliography, below). Rove is some sort of conservative (even if his conservatism is really idealism), but he strikes me as an old-fashioned one who, as a political operative, understands the need to forge alliances.

    Generally, I would say that that I agree with Nate's assessment. Bush is certainly not a neoconservative -- and nor, for that matter, are his closest advisors (Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, all of whom are best understood as Cold War realists). There's no doubt that neoconservatives (like Wolfowitz and Feith) were very much behind the Iraq War, but let's remember that Bush didn't adopt neocon rhetoric about the spread of democracy (or Kristol's call for soft imperialism) until the original rationale -- WMDs and the link to al Qaeda -- fell apart. That's where the "desperation" comes in.

    For now, various elements on the right have met on common ground behind the electoral success of the Republican Party. If Democrats regain control of the White House and, say, the Senate, look for various schisms to reemerge on the right.

    I'd be interested to know, Nate, which quarter of Rove's comments "rang true" to you. I don't mean this sarcastically. I agree with some of what he said, too, and I didn't mean to imply that his entire speech was, well, garbage. But I'd like to hear your thoughts before expanding further.

    On Burke, I don't think either liberals or conservatives get him right, but that attests as much to Burke's difficulty to pin down as to the oversimplifications that plague the extremes. It's important to remember that Burke was a Whig -- I think it's fair to say that we could equate him with a conservative (DLC) Democrat. He was opposed to Jacobin (French) revolution, but, of course, he supported independence for the American colonies. He thus lies somewhere in the murky middle between stasis and revolution -- perhaps we can even call him a reform-minded centrist.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:11 PM  

  • For more on neoconservatism:

    Irving Kristol
    -- Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea
    -- Reflections of a Neoconservative: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

    Mark Gerson (ed.)
    -- The Essential Neoconservative Reader

    Christopher Demuth, William Kristol (eds.)
    -- The Neoconservative Imagination: Essays in Honor of Irving Kristol

    Irwin Stelzer (ed.)
    -- The Neocon Reader (which includes, strangely, the text of a speech by the un-neocon Tony Blair)

    There are others, but these are by neocons themselves -- so make what you will of them.

    I would also recommend an article by Joshua Muravchik, called "The Neoconservative Cabal," available at the American Enterprise Institute's website. Here's the URL:

    http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.19107,filter.all/pub_detail.asp

    Muravchik offers an interesting overview of neoconservatism's intellectual origins (Trotskyism mainly, as the first neocons were post-war leftists at CUNY, who then turned to the right during the late-'60s and '70s). Plus, I like the article because it makes the important distinction between neoconservatism and Straussianism.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 12:23 PM  

  • For one, I believe the last four decades have seen some resurgence in conservatism as a guiding philosophy of government. From FDR to LBJ I think the liberal mantra of big government was virutally unassailable. I am not one of those people who knock FDR's New Deal, and I'm even sympathetic to Kennedy and Johnson and their belief that englightened government programs could solve all problems. It was an era of unlimited hope and possibilities for what the government could do for people. However, I do think it was an era of overstretch, and in many was the conservative rennaisance is due to people coming around to traditional American values of personal responsibility and competition and in general seeing a smaller, efficient government as optimal. And yes, it is ironic that Rove is saying this since W. as done the opposite and increased the size of government, but certainly Reagon in the 1980's and Congress in the 1990's are indicative of a certain ethos of traditional conservatism.

    I also think that, as Rove says, Bush didn't flinch from his values during the campaign. He put some controversial stance out there and stood by them. And as far as liberals wanting higher taxes in general, more regulations, a more litigious society, and being against accountability and parental choice in schools, I think these are fair charges. Rove is obviously simplifying complex issues into convenient binary concepts, but I find these particular ones defensible.

    That said, there is a lot of bullshit about a culture of life, the complete nonsense of liberals not being angry about 9-11, and a host of other stupid statements about conservatism that are blatantly contradicted by Bush's record of the last five years. But no, the entire speech wasn't all nonsense.

    By Blogger Nate, at 5:14 PM  

  • Thanks guys that cleared up some things for me. I got some reading to do, heh.

    I do have another question though, why have the things that Rove listed off (higher taxes, more regulations, more litigious society, etc etc) become, well, bad. At the very least, taboo. These things are what the Democratic party stands for are they not? So why don't they emphasize them? Why wasn't it their mantra through the last election?

    I thought they got sucked into the whole "How are you Liberals gonna deal with Iraq?" debate. Could they have responded with "We're gonna raise your taxes because war is expensive! Send a shitload more soldiers over there and then get the hell out!"? I know it's not that simple and that they couldn't do that. As soon as you say "raise taxes" you're doomed. So do the Democrats need to be perpetually ashamed of their principles? Is there only hope of getting elected based on whether the Republicans screw up or not (or at least that they are perceived to have screwed up)? It seems that way these days and it bugs me but perhaps thats the way politics works when you're dealing with a largely ignorant voter base (a phenomenon not exclusive to America of course). The U.S. was founded on Liberal principles, but is your average American fundamentally conservative or are the Republicans simply playing the political game better? Perhaps, as Nate mentioned its a trend that has been going on since after LBJ.

    I'd also like to weigh in on Burke to test my limited knowledge of him. My understanding is that Burke saw reform as something that was accomplished by the elite or "great" members of society. Most people should not worry about such things since they don't possess the wisdom or capabilities to enact proper and smooth but needed changes in society. Stick to the way things have always been done is the best advice for the majority. Perhaps this is the way Rove sees himself: as a member of the elite doing what needs to be done? Probably not but what do you guys think?

    By Anonymous d. nash, at 12:43 AM  

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