What? Karl Rove leaving the George Bush White House? I read the words; I can't digest them. Going home to Texas to write a book and, not only that, leaving politics altogether? So he announces. We'll see.
One thing we'll see soon enough is what object of derogation the Democrats fix on in the future to explain (to themselves as much as to the voters) their inability these past six years to control the political agenda. Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Don Rumsfeld, Bush himself, of course -- the list of villains will shrink only marginally with Rove's departure.
Always Rove was the No. 1 bad guy; the puppet master sitting in the shadows, pulling the strings while the president danced; "Bush's Brain," as a book title about the Bush-Rove relationship had it. In the political theater known as Washington, there's always a mustache-twirling villain, not to mention a square-jawed hero riding to the rescue. Guess how Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and, of course, the Democratic presidential field, apportion these crucial roles.
I've got some news. For all his sometimes irritating sense of mastery and entitlement, for all his mistakes -- a common commodity in human affairs -- Karl Rove no more plotted and planned a path to the Bush ascendancy than Woody Austin contrived to facilitate Tiger Woods' newest PGA title.
Ah, Sen. Reid, and you, too, Ms. Pelosi, and Sen. Obama, Sen. Clinton and the rest of you -- can't you, won't you understand that the past six and a half years have been less about plotting than about Team Bush's not-always-pitch-perfect-but-still-pretty-good understanding of public mood, public needs?
Iraq confuses the picture. Iraq, 2007, makes Bush seem less the confident commander than the bumbling subaltern, tripping over his scabbard. Reid-Pelosi-Obama-Clinton Democrats assume nothing more was indicated after 9/11 than chasing the Taliban out of Afghanistan. The Bush team, perceiving a pan-Middle Eastern dimension to the challenge of organized terror, engineered a broad response whose effects -- if we're honest enough to admit it -- may not be known fully for years.
Nor is it logical for Democrats to assume voter indifference to the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq -- the defeat their get-out-now policies would effectuate. Can't you hear them stalking the country next year, beating their chests and bragging, "We lost the war!"
On the domestic front, Bush-Rove Republicans are far more in touch with non-transient moods and needs than the media and the "netroots" are willing to acknowledge. "Compassionate conservatism" -- a problematical program on account of the public role it assumed for "faith-based" organizations -- never really got off the ground, but expressed a widespread sense of the dissatisfaction with purely political solutions to human needs.
The administration was on surer ground with the large, overdue tax cuts it engineered -- cuts that fattened family bank accounts and ginned up the economy, while narrowing, yes, narrowing, the federal deficit. Reid-Pelosi-Obama-Clinton Democrats can't wait, apparently, to give the federal government a larger share of the national income.
The past half-decade has been a clamorous one -- voices of all kinds crying out in all places (especially those enabled by computer technology) for this, for that, for the other, with politicians left to sort it all out.
No politician gets it right all the time, perhaps even a tenth of the time in this age when politicians -- woe and alas! -- imagine we want them to do everything for us. That would certainly include "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove. It would include Bush himself and everyone around him.
It's an imperfect world. Got that? If so, you're ahead of most political figures when they're standing at the mic or raising money over the phone. Karl Rove, good as he is (and that's mighty good), is no model of strategic perfection. I have just a charitable hunch that he himself, after all those years next to the political helm, knows better than before the limitations of mere power.
Maybe he'll explain in the book he means to write and I mean, with seriousness and rapt attention, to read the minute it emerges.