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August 21, 2007

Rove and Snow

Roy Meachum

Karl Rove and Tony Snow have announced their intention to leave George W. Bush's White House. They join the ranks of counselor Dan Bartlett, budget director Rob Portman, political director Sara Taylor, and deputy national security advisers J.D. Crouch and Meghan O'Suillvan.

Chief White House attorney Harriet Miers retired to Texas. Her departure had been expected since her good friend in the Oval Office tried very hard - and failed - to boost her to the Supreme Court bench.

Whatever anyone else might think, I do not see the number as indicative of "rats deserting a sinking ship." Going into any chief executive's final lame-duck days there's always a lot of jumping before the final date: in this instance, January 20, 2009.

Mr. Snow stands out, however, by putting a price tag on his services. A president's assistant makes $165,000, and the press secretary made it known if he hangs around he will be driven closer to the poor house by that pittance.

At a minimum, 90 percent of his fellow Americans understand, but only to the extent they know we live in a time when the rich become vastly richer and everybody else pays income tax.

For those who know about the pre-college kids at home and his continuing bouts with cancer, that observation may seem unfair. But he asked for it when advertising he's open to bids higher than his current pay. That's what he did. If you're the C.E.O. of a sizeable corporation and probably a Republican, he was talking to you.

Of course, Mr. Snow could still return to conservative media where his was the talking head with fearsome, sometimes funny remarks. I can't imagine Russ Limbaugh passing on the chance to welcome back his favorite fill-in, fresh from the White House.

Nobody should expect in his press briefings movement to the left; if anything, his personal views may well become more right-wing. No liberal's likely to consider making an offer.

Altogether, Tony Snow's sitting in the cat-bird seat.

Not so secure rests the head of Mr. Rove. Already he's begun to justify the unjustifiable: As Mr. Bush's political adviser, he walks away when his former boss and close buddy contends with arguably the lowest approval rating in presidential history. And it probably will get worse.

Not only the Iraq war, but now the economy threatens to lower Mr. Bush's esteem among his fellow Americans. Scandals still wait in the wings; they could finish off what's left of his reputation. With the example of the failure to oust Bill Clinton on the table, only Republican hypocrisy can accuse the Democrats of partisanship now.

First to conservative media then over a pancake breakfast with a New York Times reporter, Mr. Rove retains the attitude: He didn't do it. Whatever. Nobody can expect a different tack. He means to establish, in and out of office, he shares the legend of Washington's whitest hat only with Mr. Bush. Not even doubtful Republicans can escape his withering observations. But I understand.

George W. Bush knows history must record he was a two-term chief executive, bypassing his dad's single electoral victory. But the odds are very great Karl Rove's name will not appear as the chief architect of his campaigns. However renowned in current times, the political adviser faces the certain prospect: his good and evil will both "be interred with (his) bones." (Shakespeare coined the original phrase for "Julius Caesar," the most political of all his political plays.)

In other words: If Mr. Rove "gets it," he's "gotta" get it now, while he's still alive. His historical possibilities are slim to none. That's how it is for "advisers" to kings and their democratic successors, presidents. But Mr. Bush's still-close confidante has a more urgent motive.

The man generally given credit for hauling victories out of "certain" Democratic successes would love nothing better than pulling off a hat trick. Three such implausible wins would cement his place in the annals of American politics.

While impossible to prove, Karl Rove may have retreated from the public eye with the hope of becoming more influential in the current presidential campaign's final phase. After all, that's how it worked out both times for Mr. Bush.

Has anyone noticed that the resignation takes effect at August's end, a few days before Fred Thompson, according to advance tips, will formally announce his candidacy. Bringing the ex-Tennessee senator into the Oval Office would pull off a coup that overshadows everything accomplished in the political consultant's past.

It could happen, but no one should stand around with tight breath; maybe Karl Rove wants to go home to oversee repairs. This summer's southwestern torrential rains hit Texas particularly hard. He may be returning to a sinecure, as a prime mover in building Mr. Bush's presidential library, meant certainly to be more extravagant than LBJ's in Austin.

The only thing we can count on, at this moment, are the twin certainties: Mr. Rove's fierce attack against any person who questions his political wisdom and a right-wing benefactor will save Tony Slow from bankruptcy. Rush Limbaugh may be "the man." We'll see.

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