WASHINGTON -- It is indicative of the bias that gusts through our media that when the most successful political strategist in memory, Karl Rove, retires from his powerful position in the Bush White House, the press reports his departure tsk-tskingly. Somehow Rove's departure must suggest his failure and disgrace. Or as some nitwit anchoring the midday CNN news broadcast, "Your World Today," put it when I was walking past a television monitor, "Does that mean the Bush administration is essentially over?" And we are told FOX News is biased. What about stupid?
Well, who has been a finer political strategist than Rove was in 2000, 2002, 2004 and even in the defeat of 2006, James Carville or the Clinton administration's other machiavel, Paul Begala? While they sweated to keep up with the arrant lies and other misbehavior of their playboy president, the Democratic Party went into its steepest decline since, roughly, the Civil War. Yet Carville and Begala have gone on to become political sages within the media and with no taint of discredit. Both are rude and vulgar and the political sidekicks of the American presidency's closest approximation to President Warren Harding, complete with sweethearts in the Oval Office, a bossy wife and a passion for golf -- though Warren was never known as a golf cheat.
Actually there is a retiring Republican who does deserve obloquy. This week it has been reported that former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is quitting. He became speaker in December 1998, after a dozen lackluster years in the House. He always is introduced in news stories as "a former small-town high school wrestling coach," and when I met him in 1999, he looked like a former high school wrestling coach to me. Wrestling is a very demanding sport, and I wish Hastert had stayed in the gym. His period as speaker marked the Republican congressional delegation's final decay from Reagan splendor to the provincial Republicanism of an earlier era. The late Harding again comes to mind.
Hastert did preside over tax cuts and did help hammer out legislative responses to the Sept. 11 sneak attacks on New York and Washington. Of course, both initiatives were pretty much devised by the Bush White House. He also opened the floodgates to congressional spending. He turned a blind eye to the petty corruption that beset the House during his term. He encouraged mediocrity and held back young principled Republicans of the Reaganite variety. He allowed the Republican Party to return to the era of pork barrel deal making.