Many are rejoicing at Karl Rove’s exit from the White House. I’m not, but neither am I sorry to see him go. The time had come, and the country and the president are better off for his leaving. He had been caught up in too many dark episodes—the Valerie Plame incident, the Jack Abramoff scandal, the firing of the U.S. attorneys—and he proved to be less adept at governing than at winning elections. He left with his dreams unfulfilled, but they were the wrong dreams. He wanted to build a permanent Republican majority. That was his agenda, but I don’t think it served George W. Bush well. It required employing the bait-and-switch tactics that presented Bush to the country as a uniter and, after his election, turned him into a divider.
The way Rove set out to create that permanent majority was toxic to democratic politics. He sought to shrink the political center until, to borrow a phrase, you could drown it in a bathtub. He once told me, “There are no undecided voters, there are only uncommitted voters,” and he used polarization to get the uncommitted to commit. Some degree of polarization is necessary to win elections; after all, the idea is to force voters to make a choice. But Rove carried polarization to an extreme, especially in the 2002 midterm elections, when Republicans attacked the patriotism of Democrats. When polarization becomes a guiding principle, it produces politicians who have neither the inclination nor the skill to negotiate and compromise. And without negotiation and compromise, all that’s left is endless accusations and fighting.
Still, Rove was the best in the business, maybe the best ever. The reasons are obvious: his intelligence, his efficiency (he’s the