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?"

"I don't think it happened," Rove told me. "The president routinely does that kind of stuff. Now, I might have flippantly said it will show up on eBay." And: "When members of Congress fly on Air Force One, I've seen the president make phone calls from the limo" and sign "handwritten notes. That's his habit. He carries around a Sharpie and signs everything."

Armey spokesman Adam Brandon said Armey stands by the story. Sic transit guru. In 2000, 2002 and 2004, Rove was a genius, a GOP miracle worker. But after the 2006 election rout, he's like the all-star who struck out in a big game. Or in baseball vernacular, he's a bum. And no shot is too cheap to lob Rove's way.

Rove can leave Washington knowing that, when it comes to partisan politics, he gave as good as he got. Nonetheless, this White House gave up too easily. At time of war, the Bushies should have worked harder to include Democrats when the military was winning plaudits in Iraq. Also, Bush should have tried to enlist Democratic support on Social Security reform, just as he worked with Democrats on No Child Left Behind. That's what voters sent Bush to Washington for -- to get the job done.

Rove has a point when he talks about Democrats who never wanted Bush to win and worked to undermine success. But it doesn't matter. To get things done, great men find ways to win over their rivals and make them partners.

History won't care who called whom names. History cares who got the job done.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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