National Commentary

Helen Thomas: Rove Will Still Be a Political Player

WASHINGTON — It was too much to expect that Karl Rove — the architect of President Bush's presidential victories — would depart the White House with grace and style.

He instead was true to form, taking political pot shots at Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Rove called Clinton "fatally flawed." Despite leaving the White House, he left no doubt that he remains in the game and is still in attack mode.

He called Bush critics "the sort of elite effete snobs who can't hold a candle to this guy (Bush). What they don't like about Bush is that he has common sense, that he is Middle America."

Clinton's response was that Rove is "obsessed" with her. Politically speaking, Rove's focus on Clinton may be the highest form of flattery since he obviously thinks she is the Democratic opposition's front runner, the one who Republicans will have to beat next year.

It also shows that Rove will remain heavily involved in Republican politics despite his loss of the trappings of the White House.

The president's political guru got choked up in his sentimental farewell photo op with the president. Like the parade of White House officials exiting now, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. That is getting so old.

Many Democrats are saying: "Good riddance."

Rove's political gambits which relied heavily on such wedge issues as gay marriage and abortion rights have helped his boss win the last two presidential races.

But his fortunes have gone downhill in the last couple of years. He undoubtedly suffered while making grand jury appearances in the investigation of the White House role in the outing of CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame, wondering what his fate would be.

A congressional committee is still investigating whether he had any role in the mass firing this year of nine federal prosecutors who apparently did not meet White House political demands.

Rove told The New York Times that he was a "convenient scapegoat" for Democratic attacks and insisted that he was not all that powerful in the White House. He said the president calls the shots and that he — Rove — then fleshed them out.

He blamed Democrats for the increased acrimony and divisiveness on Capitol Hill.

The president is "one of the best-read people I've ever met, with a passion for history," Rove said.

If only Bush had read some of the historical notes left behind by his father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, after the first Persian Gulf War. Father Bush said he did not order U.S. forces already in southern Iraq to go north into Baghdad after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 for fear it would ignite a civil war.

If only the current president had seen a 1994 video of Vice President Richard Cheney reflecting on his years as secretary of defense during the first Gulf War. He claimed it would have been a "quagmire" to invade Baghdad.

A spokeswoman confirmed Cheney's earlier remarks. Asked about his subsequent change of heart that later led him to become a ferocious advocate of attacking Baghdad, his spokeswoman said that Cheney believes "circumstances have changed since 9-11." For the record, no Iraqis were involved in the 9-11 catastrophe.

Rove's expertise is surely in political intrigue. He was able to elect Bush who skipped the Vietnam War over Democrat John Kerry, a war hero. With the heft of the White House it was easy to blur the president's own lack of military credentials in that war.

Though Rove's political prowess is not in doubt, his star status in the Bush administration began to wane after the Democrats won both chambers of Congress in the 2006 election, mainly because of the Iraq war.

A book about Rove by James Moore and Wayne Slater, titled "Bush's Brain," portrayed Rove as a "brilliant brutal kingmaker."

But as Bush became more and more assertive that he was the president, Rove's star began to dim.

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