Karl Rove obviously keeps his portrait in the attic, like Dorian Gray, with deep lines in a furrowed brow and a taut mouth frozen in anger. Those things must be in the attic because they're not in his face.
The White House political strategist, now 55, is demonized with every category of epithet, but it doesn't show in his demeanor, either. The balding, graying adviser to the president, who has been called "evil genius," hypocritical manipulator of policy, puppeteer pulling the president's strings, looks younger and trimmer up close and personal in the most trying weeks of his life than when he first arrived in Washington nearly six years ago.
Over a lunch of chicken Caesar salad with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, he's jovial and optimistic going into the midterm elections that conventional Washington wisdom says are going the Democratic way. Recalling that one newspaper account described him as "inexplicably upbeat," we asked if he could be merely "explicable." He replied: "I'm confident we're going to keep the Senate. I'm confident we're going to keep the House." A moment later he amended this to "pretty confident," and added, "I liked it better before Foley."
He was stung by a new book by David Kuo, the former No. 2 man in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The author accuses the Bush administration of exploiting the church folks on the right for political ends, while ridiculing evangelicals by calling them "goofy" and "nuts." The munchkins in the Rove office are singled out for showing particular contempt for evangelicals.
Mr. Rove characterizes this description as "ridiculous," and says, "I can name three of my principal deputies who are evangelical. If somebody was running around their offices [with such behavior] I would hear about it." He describes the environment in the White House as "almost de Tocquevillean" in its appeal to small societies of faith where everyone looks after each other's spiritual concerns: "One of the things about this White House is how individually rooted so many people are -- deeply observant, Jews, Protestants, Catholics." After a pause of a minisecond, he quickly adds: "And a couple of Muslims."
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