Was Rove really Bush’s brain?

In my never-ending quest to glean information from many parts of the world, I was reading the Web site of the Sydney Morning Herald when I happened upon the story announcing the resignation of President Bush’s longtime friend and political guru, Karl Rove.

“‘Bush’s Brain’ Steps Down,” the headline said.

The Aussies have a talent for cutting through the nonsense, but the notion that Rove has served as the president’s brain has currency in this country, too. More than a few writers have expressed the same idea and a book and a documentary film have been devoted to “Bush’s Brain,” a/k/a Karl Rove, a/k/a the Evil Genius.

Of course, the idea that presidents have aides serve as individual body parts is absurd on its face, although it does have some appeal. Imagine how much trouble could have been avoided had then-President Bill Clinton subcontracted his libido to an aide less attractive to interns.

Although elementary logic suggests that Rove couldn’t really have been Bush’s brain, I think it is necessary to emphasize the point today. We can’t have people in Australia — or in Alabama — thinking that the White House is some sort of brain-transplant clinic.

The reason that Rove has not been Bush’s brain is that the president does not need a brain. Under the Constitution, he is the commander in chief, not the cerebrum in chief. He has been able to get by without one.

Fortunately for him, his supporters have been very undemanding. The true believers are content with a president who is just like them — i.e., suspicious of all intellectual effort except the making of money. As they might say in Texas, if they were thoughtful, once a man cottons to excessive thinkin’, he hardly knows which way to saddle his horse.

In Bush, they have found the perfect leader to ride tall and think shallow. Yes, he stands for certain things, but these are hardly thoughts as you and I understand them. They are more like finely bred instincts — keep taxes low, keep pants up, never change your mind, dig deeper when in a hole, avoid reality and always make a speech when you see more than two people in military uniform because they are under orders not to boo.

This simple prescription for action has brought success after success (note to self: check this before putting it in the paper).

If Bush really needed or wanted a brain, he could simply borrow Vice President Cheney’s brain, which works so hard that it frequently has to be taken to an undisclosed location to be iced down.

It may be that Cheney’s steaming brain will decide that we need to teach those Iranians a lesson and Bush may well agree. But if this happens, it won’t be because of brain transferal but instinct reinforcement — to wit, the core Bush principle, stubbornness is leadership (when in a hole, dig deeper).

But is Rove an evil genius for recognizing the young George W. Bush as potential presidential timber when the thought of this sapling character being in the White House would have inspired hysterics in any normal person?

Genius, yes, but “evil” is such a theological term that it should be avoided. Just because a political witch doctor gives off a strong smell of sulfur, and every issue he touches is left with the telltale mark of a pitchfork, we can hardly call such a fellow evil. As for me, I respect Rove and wish him well as he makes ready to return to private life and embrace his family with his cloven hooves.

To say less is to invite allegations of partisan sour grapes — that dislike of Rove is rooted in disappointment that he made his life’s work the destruction of Democrats. But I am not a Democrat and the truth is that the Democrats are the passenger pigeons of politics, easily snared as they fly hopelessly about. For me, it was the types of snares he laid that were the problem — sweet words laced with poison, DDT tactics that will live on in the political environment to the detriment of everyone.

Why, aren’t we all glad that in the last presidential election, in the midst of a war on terror, Rove and Co. sought to decide the race on the issue of gay marriage? I don’t know about you, but I felt safer for being treated like a moron.

Rove was not Bush’s brain. It was worse than that. For too many Americans, he was their brain, which he expertly stimulated with base impulses for political gain. As Pogo might have said: We have met the enemy’s brain and it was ours.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)