The other night at the perfectly awful White House Correspondents bash, singer Sheryl Crow and docudrama producer Laurie David (“An Inconvenient Truth”) made their way across the vast landscape of tables to presidential adviser Karl Rove, the man who along with the media, sunspots and the nuclear threat has now become the focal point of blame for everything wrong in the world.
What reportedly ensued was a bit of nastiness not uncommon to this annual nightmare that each year becomes more like an East Coast extension of the Academy Awards or one of those similar exercises in self- indulgence with more movie stars and celebrities than correspondents. According to the following day’s news accounts, Crow and David tried lecturing Rove about his responsibilities to them and were met with a reminder that he worked for the American people and not the entertainers. From there it apparently went down hill, although details were sparse.
The significance of this, if any, is twofold. First, one has to wonder why with terrible food, the din from 3,000 guests that makes it difficult to hear the person next to you and the opportunity to be insulted at every opportunity by overmedicated invitees and over the hill comedians with dated material, Washington’s political elite from the president down continue to subject themselves to this obnoxious party. How many sadomasochistic politicians does it take to have a quorum?
More importantly, in this instance and others occurring almost daily now, it has become increasingly obvious that with all his problems President Bush is being ill served by the likes of Rove and a variety of others who are the constant targets of the president’s political detractors. Rove, whose like it or not genius elected Bush twice despite a bad war, should have left the White House after his 2004 success for no other reason than to save his boss from the painful ricochets. Winning in this burg can be unforgivable, particularly if you’re not supposed to and you don’t happen to be one of those drawing room liberal insiders and their West Coast “chi chi” pals who never seem to leave town.
Be that as it may, the fault lies with Bush himself and his stubborn loyalty to his good old boy pals. Why is it necessary to retain an attorney general, for instance, whom even the most loyal Republicans acknowledge is not up to the job? Alberto Gonzales’ utterly inept handling of the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys has turned a fairly routine and common political procedure into a bad dream for the White House. One has to question the sagacity of an official who doesn’t understand all he needs to do to de-fang a situation is to be candid. Anything else is seen as a cover up for something bad whether that is true or not.
Then there are those who leave the administration but whose actions continue to reflect poorly on their former bosses. That is particularly true of the so-called architect of the Iraq invasion as deputy Defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, whose tenure as the head of the World Bank has been marred with ethical challenges for alleged financial favoritism to his significant other. Wolfowitz’s at least partial responsibility for the judgmental mistakes in Iraq has exacerbated his problems. Like Vietnam-era former Defense secretary Robert McNamara before him both in the Pentagon and at the bank, the misguided decisions of war have come back to haunt.
But it isn’t historically unusual for presidents to expend political capital and popularity on too much loyalty to friends and allies. Harry Truman’s cronies almost did him in and Richard Nixon’s did. Ronald Reagan barely escaped his good friends and Jimmy Carter lost reelection because he didn’t understand there was a vast difference between the political sophistication of Atlanta and that of Washington. Only Dwight Eisenhower with his Army experience knew how to play the game, firing top aide Sherman Adams without hesitation at the first breath of scandal.
This is an administration hunkered down and fighting to survive a now unfriendly Congress and dwindling public support. It does not need to be constantly distracted. At the dinner the other night a somber Bush uttered only a few lines of solace to the victims and survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy, forgoing the usual presidential levity at these occasions. He clearly was uncomfortable being there and certainly so was Rove.
–DAN K. THOMASSON
(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)