Going Rove: A Cynical Life

“A ship in harbor is safe … but that’s not what ships are built for.”

Sarah Palin at Dayton, Ohio-announcement speech 8/29/2008
(Originallly penned by John A. Shedd in Salt from My Attic, 1928)

Far too many in the GOP these days seem content to play the game of politics not to lose. They’re looking for the least-offensive, most politically correct candidate to nominate against the latest liberal rock star.

The key for the Play-It-Safers is to not offend liberals … they couldn’t care less about offending large swaths of their own party.

Fortunately, a growing number of conservative Republicans are looking for something different. We’ve tried the safe and inoffensive way, now it’s our turn. We want a candidate who will go balls-to-the wall, pedal-to-the medal for victory. Someone who will call out the media – instead of meekly tolerating their reeking piles of horse crap. Someone who won’t call political opponents, “my friends.” And someone who doesn’t shrink away from “controversial” social issues, i.e. the pro-life position supported by a majority of Americans.

It also would be nice to have someone who doesn’t kowtow to politically correct dogma, but calls a death panel a death panel.

And would it be too much to nominate someone who doesn’t represent the final and lasting cure for insomnia?

We want someone with courage to lead. Not someone who will maintain the liberal world order, content to swab the decks on Obama’s Titanic.

I give George W. Bush all the credit in the world for his daring decision to oust Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq. When it comes to his political and domestic decisions, however, he was led by a man, Karl Rove, who I now believe is the architect of electoral cowardice.

It’s been pointed out that George W. Bush lost the popular vote to the woodenly vivacious Al Gore in 2000 after just narrowly knocking off near-septuagenarian McCain. Then, after rallying a grieving America from the worst terrorist attack ever on our home soil, Bush barely beat out the troop-berating John Kerry, who had to be weakened up first by a swift-boat surprise.

Talk about not inspiring a mandate! And why was that? I think Rove was at the heart, and it’s more of a gut feeling than anything else.

As a newly christened Republican in 2004, I remember listening to Bush’s speech the day after his tight victory over Kerry. During the usual roll call of appreciation, Bush gave a surprising and awkward shout out to Karl Rove, whom he jocularly called “the architect.” I remember thinking: “Wow, that’s all ya got for us, W?”

It seemed inappropriate to even mention Rove, who was not a policy advisor but a pure political animal, because it injected a cynical, politics-as-usual vibe into what I was hoping would be a bit more inspiring and principled moment. I was a brand new conservative. I’d always been raised to believe that the president is the president of all, Democrats and Republicans alike. Having the “divisive” and politically calculating Rove so closely aligned with Bush, even after victory, (indeed his office was in the White House) created the perception that Bush was a Republican politician first, and an American president second. It created the feeling of a perpetual campaign. And Bush never did break free from the bitter partisan swamp that now engulfs his successor, the same successor that relegates Republicans to the “back” and calls us “enemies.”

To be fair, the Office of Political Affairs that Rove headed under Bush and which Obama has maintained, was created by President Reagan. But many on both sides of the aisle have called for its dissolution for the very reasons I’ve noted above.

Politics should be a means, not an end. The purpose of holding power is to wield it wisely for the greater good, a good that should bring people together. And that’s the ironic thing about the cynical and cautious political calculations of people like Karl Rove. In attempting to “not offend” anyone, or worse, to break the electoral map up into bribable voting blocks (seniors, Latinos), you wind up not pleasing anyone. You wind up with a fragile mandate, if a mandate at all.

While I would continue to defend Bush from a tsunami of attacks that greeted him over the next four years, his small, surreal moment of “Going Rove” stayed with me.

Now we face another opportunity to “Go Rove” or “Go Rogue,” as it were. We can accept politics as usual and devise a cautious calculus to retake the White House by stealthy partisanship. Or we can actually attempt to change the country – loudly and proudly — on principle – and without apology. Winning the White House with clearly articulated conservative values and not cowing to the reactionary left promises to create a broader governing coalition. When you don’t have to bribe voting blocks with “compassionate conservatism” to get people to vote for you, or compromise your core principles (or in Obama’s case, lie about your core principles), it’s easier to get them to follow you through tough choices.

And making tough choices is what leaders are built for.

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I'm a mother of three, and devoted Palin blogger.

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