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Just How Smart Is Karl Rove, Anyway?

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis /
October 1, 2003

It's widely acknowledged, even among the President's supporters, that the Bush administration is doing a miserable job of keeping the American public informed of its successes in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld's Monday Wall Street Journal op-ed excepted, Bush's team has failed to communicate its overall strategic plan for rebuilding that country, the importance of Iraq to future stability and the reduction, if not elimination, of terrorism in the Middle East and around the world, and, on a related front, the good news about the domestic economy. There are a number of possible explanations for this.

First, I always knew Ari Fleischer was something of a special guy, but I never realized just how well he did his job and just how genuine and appealing a figure he is until he left his position as Presidential Press Secretary. In doing so, he created the news equivalent of a power vacuum. Fleischer was very visible, very articulate, and very cagey in an engaging sort of way. Perhaps the new White House Press Secretary is part of the problem? Although there's no poll data on this subject, the question remains as to how many Americans have even seen him, let alone know his name?

Another factor that goes a long way to explain the Bush administration's difficulties in making its positions and policies known is that Rummy is no longer the celebrity he was during the Iranian conflict. His frequent press briefings became required watching for news junkies, and his direct yet offhand manner in defusing the often embarrassingly naive and loaded questions of his interlocutors helped affirm our image of the Bush administration as one which knew exactly what it was doing and where it was going.

And so, the current dearth of effective communications emanating from the administration is disturbing and disappointing to Bush's supporters. The question is, however, is it something we need to worry about? Is it ineptitude? Or is it part of a carefully thought-out plan? Just how smart is Karl Rove, anyway? Is it just possible that the administration is laying low, that Rove is implementing a strategy designed to lure the Clintons into a fight they can't win?

Bush's job approval numbers have been dropping precipitously over the past few months. The "presenting issue" has become the President's recent request to Congress for nearly $90 billion to help rebuild Iraq. The reason it's an issue at all is that the Bush White House has failed to contest the fraudulent coverage of the situation in Iraq by news media. Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings nightly present monstrously distorted coverage about the rebuilding effort, completely ignoring the fact that 90 percent of the country is pacified, that most of the schools in Iraq are reopened, that schoolteachers are back to work at a monthly salary of US$120 (compared with their three-dollar-a-month stipend under Hussein's regime), that attacks on U.S. troops have declined more than 40 percent in the past two months, and that nearly 70 percent of Iraqis are more optimistic about their future than they were before the U.S. intervened and the Baath Party was deposed.

Re-enter Bill Clinton. Never one to miss an opportunity to lob missiles into the desert or to combat ethnic cleansing where it barely exists, Clinton also never eschews the chance to kick an opponent when he perceives that opponent is down. Think of Bill Clinton as the first used car salesman ever to attain the office of President of the United States and as the man who pardoned more terrorists than he apprehended.

Now Clinton is about to use one of the classic techniques of the used car salesman's trade, the bait and switch. He's trying to get Democratic voters into the showroom by advertising a bargain basement candidate, Wesley Clark. After he's hooked them, he's going to pull the switch and try to sell them a Yugo, Hillary Clinton, tricked out to look like a Cadillac. He's filed off her serial numbers, downplayed the fact that she's never been road-tested, hedged on terms of the warranty . . . in short, he's trying to sell American voters a real creampuff.

But the fact is that the breadth and depth of the lies and misrepresentations of the news media about the rebuilding in Iraq are beginning to be made public. The American people are going to understand, by about year's end, that things in Iraq are truly looking up and that Iraq has good prospects of being the cornerstone of a new Middle East.

And the strength of the domestic economic recovery will become clear to Americans as well. The adversarial news media's trumpeting of what seem to be bad jobs numbers will be seen to be disingenuous. Jobs are always a lagging indicator in an economic recovery, and Americans will come to realize that the whole employment crisis, on which the Dems are banking to prove that the recovery doesn't exist, is mythical. Finally, it will become clear that the American people are fully in support of the Justice Department's efforts to beef up national security through entirely legal means.

So just how smart is Karl Rove? He knows that the administration is in a public opinion trough right now. But he also knows that within the next nine to 12 months that trough will turn into a wave and Republicans will be riding its crest. Rove may not be smart enough to have engineered the situation the Democrats find themselves in now — the one they mistakenly think will result in a one-term-Presidency for George W. Bush — but he is smart enough to understand the hole the Clintons are digging for themselves. It will very likely result in Hillary's declaring her candidacy for President just in time to be swept out of the national political picture for the final time.

You may not hear it yet, but Karl Rove hears it. I'm referring to that gurgling sound. The sound of the Democrat Party circling the drain.

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