Debra J. Saunders

George W. Bush ran for president promising to be a "uniter, not a divider."

That didn't happen. I asked top Bush adviser Karl Rove -- the man who didn't deliver national unity and has announced he is leaving the White House -- over the phone Monday: Why?

"I think a number of Democrats never accepted (Bush) as legitimate and instead adopted a strategy of blind obstructionism," he answered.

Moreover, some Democrats "hated" Bush, and they were joined by a group of Democrats who, "for tactical reasons, said that we can never give (Bush) a political victory, and anything that passes any part of his agenda is a political victory for him, and we can't tolerate that."

This attitude cost Democrats mightily in 2004, when for the first time since 1936, voters re-elected a president while his party also made gains in the Senate and House.

In 2006, the GOP took the dive. Did the Bush administration try hard enough to reach across the aisle? "You know, you'd be shocked and surprised to learn how much the president reached out to Democrats," Rove said.

Rove faults the Democrats for their using a "deeply personal" tone. His remarks bolstered my long-held suspicion that the Bushies had made an unrequited bargain with the opposition -- hoping that if they didn't use certain words (liar, for example), their opponents wouldn't use those words. In hardball politics, that's a bad play.

"I challenge you -- take a look at any one of the president's remarks," Rove noted. "Take a look at what was routinely said by the Clinton White House and the Clinton press secretary and what was routinely said by Republicans on the Hill." Their tone was "deeply personal."

"Now the Democrats have continued that. You know, (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid -- you'd think it was George L. Bush, with L standing for liar. (Reid) routinely uses the word liar about the president. The president would never think about using such an appellation for Sen. Reid."

Should Bush take off the gloves? That's what many conservatives think. "Well, maybe, maybe." Rove's revenge is that Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are tanking in the polls. "They've taken numbers that were a lot higher than the president's and in a very short period driven them below the president's."

A new Atlantic Monthly story faults an arrogant Rove for not working with Democrats and gratuitously offending GOP leaders. A damning episode: When then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey met with the newly elected Bush, Armey asked the president to sign his name card -- just as President Clinton (no Armey fan) used to do. Armey said Bush refused, and Rove quipped it would end up on eBay. Armey's take: "Can you imagine refusing a simple request like that with an insult?"

Debra J. Saunders

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