Rove recently published a piece in the National Review that could serve as an outline for the book he plans to write in praise of the president whom he served. The headline is “The Long View.” In trying to give readers a sense of Rove’s arguments without reproducing the entire piece, I have omitted a few passages. These include Rove’s discussion of Bush’s health care proposals that didn’t go anywhere, as well as his acknowledgment that what happens in Iraq and Afghanistan will color how historians view Bush–we know that–and his version of the administration’s recent view that Iraq is like Viet Nam after all.
Rove’s mantra is that Bush’s contemporary critics are blinded by events, and that history will vindicate him:
The Washington Post scorned President Truman as a “spoilsman” who “underestimated the people’s intelligence.” New York Times columnist James Reston wrote off President Eisenhower as “a tired man in a period of turbulence.” At the end of President Reagan’s second term, the New York Times dismissed him as “simplistic” and a “lazy and inattentive man.”
These harsh judgments, made in the moment, have not weathered well over time. Fortunately, while contemporary observers have a habit of getting presidents wrong, history tends to be more accurate.
And what will history conclude, according to Rove? In the excerpts below, the bold-faced commentary represents Rove’s talking points for historians; the remainder are Bush’s achievements.
[President Bush] will be judged as a man of moral clarity who put America on wartime footing in the dangerous struggle against radical Islamic terrorism.
* Following the horrors of 9/11, this president changed American foreign policy by declaring terror sponsors responsible for the deeds of those they shelter, train, and fund. America, he said, will not wait until dangers fully materialize with attacks on our homeland before confronting those threats.
* The president gave the nation new tools to defeat terrorism abroad and protect our citizens at home with the Patriot Act, foreign surveillance that works in the wireless age, a transformed intelligence community, and the Department of Homeland Security.
* And this president saw the wisdom of removing terrorism’s cause by advocating the spread of democracy, especially in the Muslim world, where authoritarianism and repression have provided a potent growth medium for despair and anger aimed at the West. He recognized that democracy there makes us safer here.
President Bush will be seen as a compassionate leader who used America’s power for good.
* While the world dithered, America confronted HIV/AIDS in Africa with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has supported treatment for more than 1.1 million people worldwide, over one million of them in Africa.
* While most of the globe ignored Sudan and Darfur or refused to act, this president labeled the violence there genocide — and pressed world leaders to take action.
President Bush [promoted] economic growth and [understood] free markets provide the best path to a more hopeful tomorrow.
* The president inherited an economy entering recession. It was further weakened by terrorist attacks, corporate scandals, natural disasters, and out-of-control spending with discretionary domestic spending increasing 16 percent in the last fiscal year of his predecessor. [He] took decisive action, cutting taxes and ratcheting down this spending. The results? The net creation of 8.3 million new jobs since August 2003; higher after-tax income and greater incentives for firms to invest and expand; three years where America’s economic growth led the rest of the G7 economies; and a budget on path to surplus by 2012 — despite the increased spending invested in securing America’s safety by standing up the new Department of Homeland Security and fighting the Global War on Terror. In the four years since taxes were last cut in 2003, the U.S. economy has grown 13 percent in real dollars. The additional growth is larger than the entire size of the Canadian economy.
* This president also understands our standard of living depends on selling to the globe. The 14 nations with which we have implemented free agreements represent 7.5 percent of the world’s GDP, but 43 percent of our exports. The growing number of free-trade agreements concluded and signed under this president helps explain why American exports have risen 27 percent between 2004 and 2006, creating jobs and prosperity here at home.
History will see President Bush as a reformer who focused on modernizing important institutions, [driving] policy in new directions, based on conservative principles.
* In education, “No Child Left Behind” introduced accountability into our public-education system by ensuring every child’s progress is measured. Parents now know whether or not their child is learning — in their own schools, and compared to other schools. This new focus on results helped lead to more improvement in reading scores in five years than in the previous 28 combined. This reform shows that measuring leads to results.
* Medicare was modernized with a prescription-drug benefit, now used by 39 million seniors. Giving seniors the drugs they need helped them avoid expensive operations and long hospital stays. The result is better health care for seniors at a lower cost to them and at a lower cost than expected to taxpayers.
* The president approached other tasks — such as legal reform, higher-education assistance, transportation, and conservation and forest policy — with the same reformist spirit. And he did so on issues which are controversial within his own party, such as comprehensive immigration reform, which he has championed since he first started running for governor of Texas in 1993.
* His faith- and community-based initiative is encouraging social entrepreneurship to confront poverty and suffering. Billions of federal dollars can now be accessed by such groups eager to serve a neighbor in need. Already, 34 Democrat and Republican governors and more than 100 mayors of all stripes have created faith- and community-based offices to build on the federal initiative.
* On energy, the environment, and climate change, he is developing a new paradigm. Emphasizing technology, increased energy-efficiency partnerships, and resource diversification, his policies are improving energy security and slowing the growth of greenhouse gases without economy-breaking mandates and regulation. The president who won criticism by rejecting the failed approach of Kyoto has implemented policies that enabled the United States to grow its economy by 3.1 percent and reduce the absolute amount of CO2 emissions (by 1.3 percent).
He will be recognized as a strong advocate of traditional values.
* He advanced a culture of life where every child is protected and welcomed.
* He supported traditional marriage when it came under attack from the courts. He sought to strengthen families and encourage personal responsibility. And he understood the necessity of appointing judges who know the proper and limited role of courts and will provide impartial justice and faithful application of the Constitution.
He had the political courage to confront the biggest economic challenge America faces.
The looming fiscal crises in Medicare and Social Security will result in either the impoverishment of the American people through higher taxes and lower growth or through the inability of government to deliver on its promises.
This president has worked to restrain the spending growth of entitlements, and to modernize Social Security and Medicare by injecting market forces and competition into their operation. He proposed Social Security reform that would solve the system’s long-term financial shortfall while giving younger workers the choice to put some of their own money into conservative stock-market investments.
He has made it impossible for future presidents and future Congresses to ignore this challenge. The president’s proposal will be the starting point for reform when it happens. When it does, Americans will be grateful President Bush made entitlement reform an issue and will be aware that valuable time was lost because of the obstructionism of his critics.
Beyond his policies and actions, history will take the measure of the man.
I have known George W. Bush for nearly 34 years and have had the privilege of watching from nearby as history has placed its demands on him and our country. I know his humility and decency, his intelligence and thoughtfulness, his respect for every person he comes in contact with, his unwavering commitment to principle-based decision-making, and the quiet and compassionate hearts of the man and his graceful wife, Laura.
I have come to understand true leadership leans into the wind. It tackles big challenges with uncertain outcomes rather than taking on simple, sure tasks. It does what is right, regardless of what the latest poll or focus group says. History demands much of America and its leaders and I am confident it will judge the 43rd president as a man more than worthy of the great office the American people twice entrusted to him.
I read the piece in National Review with considerable dismay, not because I think he’s totally off base in his assessment of Bush–I agree with some of his observations and dissent from others–but because it represents the worst tendencies of what might generously be called current American political thought. This isn’t a serious piece of writing. If this article is an indication of how the book is going to read, the title shouldn’t be The True Legacy of George W. Bush; it should be George W. Bush: The Talking Points Memo. That’s about all this piece is. The only part of it that sounds genuine is the last section about Bush the human being. Rove should reflect why the American people never came to know Bush as those of us saw him up close in Texas came to know him, and to what extent the failure to market the president as a personality was the result of Rove’s own polarizing approach to politics.
I get no joy out of criticizing Karl. I considered him a friend when he was in Texas. We would occasionally have a pork sandwich at House Park Barbecue, or talk about our mutual interest in traveling the American West. When we did business together, he was a great source–insightful, candid, funny–who could step back and take the long range view of a subject rather than resort to spin. Not once did I feel that he had deceived me about anything.
I went to Washington in December 2003 to interview Karl for a cover story I was writing about the president, and I could tell at once that our relationship, as I knew it, was inoperative. That’s not quite fair. He was generous enough to give me an in-person interview. Later, after the 2004 election, he gave me information about the Republicans’ micro-targeting of voters that proved decisive in the outcome, and he had a deputy call me with more information. Still, the frost was on the pumpkin. I realized that, for Karl, the stakes were too high. He couldn’t act like a normal person, even a normal political consultant (if there is such a creature). Everything he said was spin.
I’m not whining (just a little, maybe). It’s just sad that Karl has become a caricature of everything that is wrong with modern political discourse: the relentless focus on message to the exclusion of intelligent discussion and debate. The problem with talking points as a method of communication is that they represent an attempt to indoctrinate rather than persuade. I saw him on Meet the Press, just after he had announced his intention to leave the White House, and he was awful, spouting one prefabricated message after another, and ending with a peroration against Hillary Clinton. It was an extension of his political strategy: minister to the base and ignore everybody else. The National Review article is just another extension. He might as well have been on Fox News.
What I wonder about Karl is this: Does he know how he comes across? Does he know how rehearsed and stilted he sounds? Or, after six-and-a-half years inside the White House, is this what he has become, and is this the only way he knows to think and communicate?