Thursday, September 15, 2005

Rove Rides to the Rescue, Again

[[P O L I T I C S]] * The Bush White House’s shameless determination to politicize anything and everything under the sun finally reaches its illogical extreme with the news, from today’s New York Times, that presidential adviser and CIA secrets leaker Karl Rove has been placed “in charge of the [post-Katrina] reconstruction effort, which reaches across many agencies of government and includes the direct involvement of Alphonso R. Jackson, secretary of housing and urban development.” Hmm. Does this mean that the search for a figureheadish “hurricane czar” (Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, and former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt have all been suggested for the post) is over, and that the prez, who has already shown such outstanding talent for picking qualified people to fill government posts (e.g., FEMA head Michael Brown), is in fact turning what may be this decade’s most important government cleanup operation over to somebody with absolutely no training in domestic policy or experience in managing bureaucracies of the size destined to be involved in this effort? Pure genius!

As Washington Post White House columnist Dan Froomkin observes, “Rove’s leadership role suggests quite strikingly that any and all White House decisions and pronouncements regarding the recovery from the storm are being made with their political consequences as the primary consideration. More specifically: With an eye toward increasing the likelihood of Republican political victories in the future, pursuing long-cherished conservative goals, and bolstering Bush’s image.”

The prez’s televised speech tonight from New Orleans’ historic Jackson Square (named after Andrew Jackson, who saved the Crescent City from invading British troops in 1815) is a Rove-designed first step in trying to rehabilitate the prez’s diminished image. There will be no audience of irate New Orleanians, and journalists will supposedly be kept away as well. “As for the speech itself,” Froomkin explains, “it will inevitably seek to answer any naysaying about Bush by recasting him in the heroic, leadership role he played after the September 11 terrorist attacks--while advocating a range of measures that are dear to the conservative political agenda.” That Dubya will be delivering this address in the shadow of a statue of Jackson on horseback, a genuine hero (not merely a guy who plays one on TV), will undoubtedly inspire some snarky comparisons on the morrow.

Whether this strategy succeeds will depend on how forgiving Americans are of the prez’s listless response to Katrina’s destruction and on Rove’s ability to repackage what’s become a deeply unpopular product. “Rove himself has not been at his best of late,” Froomkin writes. “Unlike many of Bush’s advisers, who have plausible deniability for his initial under-reaction because they weren’t with him on [his Texas] vacation, Rove was tagging along with the president, blithely touring the West Coast even as the Gulf Coast drowned. Rove is haunted by the possibility of indictment by a federal grand jury investigating the leak of a CIA agent. And according to Time magazine, he was briefly hospitalized last week with painful kidney stones.”

ADDENDUM I: Not even Bush-friendly FOX News can sugarcoat the prez’s nose-diving popularity. The results of the FOX’s own polling show Bush’s ratings “at the lowest point of his presidency.” Just 41 percent of respondents approve of the prez’s performance in office, while 51 percent disapprove. Republicans, too, are losing faith in Bush. “The average approval rating for his presidency among Republicans,” the network reports, “is 90 percent; today 81 percent approve.” Approval among Democrats is only 8 percent, while 30 percent of Independents give Bush a passing grade. The poll found, as well, that a plurality (27 percent) of Americans believe hurricane relief should be the White House’s number-one priority, followed by the economy (17 percent), homeland security (14 percent), and gas prices (10 percent). Just 8 percent of respondents say that Social Security should dominate Bush’s attention, which may be why there are stirrings on Capitol Hill to abandon the Social Security “reforms” that were supposed to lead Bush’s second-term agenda.

ADDENDUM II: I’ve said it before, but I shall say it again: Republicans believe that Americans have the memories of gnats. How else to explain that they’re spurning the “blame game” when it comes to inquiries regarding Hurricane Katrina, yet they were all ready to bludgeon Democrats with blame after the botched 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas? Media columnist Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post revisits those accusation-filled days of yesteryear.

READ MORE:Last Words: No Matter What Bush Says, All Americans Hear Is ‘Disaster,’” by Bruce Reed (Slate); “WSJ Editorial Falsely Claimed Bush Is Only Elected Official to Accept Responsibility for Katrina Disaster” (Media Matters); “Timeline to Disaster,” by Farhad Manjoo, Page Rockwell, and Aaron Kinney (Salon); “Bush’s Crony Capitalism Shows GOP’s True Face,” by Joe Conason (New York Observer); “A ‘New’ New Deal,” by William Greider (The Nation).

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