Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Courage and Consequence by Karl Rove

Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the FightWhile Karl Rove is regarded by a certain band on the political spectrum as the Devil incarnate, I found his book to be a relatively straighforward series of reminiscences about his life and his involvement with Republican politics and the Bush administration. Rove wasn't born into a political family, he just developed a strong interest in the game while he was in college, and became active in the campus Republicans. His success in that arena eventually moved him on to bigger and better things, and he founded a successful business running political campaigns all over the country.

One interesting insight from Rove, "For incumbents, self-preservation is more important than maintaining their party's dominance." This plays out quite often in what used to be called gerrymandering, when counties or areas that vote for a particular party are moved to another congressional district, so as to increase the percentages in favor of the incumbent, at the expense of their party's fortunes in the rest of the state.

Democrats and their allies in the media have often identified the key elements of a "Rovian" campaign as being sneakiness, untraceability of dirty deeds, etc. In contrast, Rove identifies what he feels to be the eight elements of a true Rovian campaign: it must be centered on big ideas, pursue a theme that resonates with what voters know, be driven by historical data, use sophisticated modeling to identify supporters and match them with issues, understand that there are right and wrong ways to criticize an opponent, have a strategic plan and discipline, be volunteer-friendly, and collect vital knowledge, volunteers and money for the candidate. Sounds like a mission statement (more long-winded than most) for a successful business - which Rove had.

As you might imagine, a huge portion of the book is devoted to Rove's involvement with George W. Bush, from his gubenatorial campaign through the first six years of his presidency. Rove says that Governor Bush believed that "education is to a state government what defense is to the federal government: its first responsibility." His No Child Left Behind policy was intended to help the states to do a better job, though its implementation seems to have ruffled a lot of feathers. The major complaint (and I heard it from my teacher friends, too) was that the law forced educators to "teach to the test". If the test is one that accurately measures knowledge of the basics, then I don't understand the problem. There's enough time for fuzzy knowledge when you get to college. If you can't read, write, or perform simple mathematics, success in life is unlikely.

On the subject of "compassionate conservativism", which I've heard of, of course, but never really had explained, Rove says that when conservatives in the past have ignored the issues of poverty, education, health care and a secure retirement, it has left them to be addressed by liberals, often in ways that run counter to conservative values. He notes that most conservatives don't ignore these issues in their private lives, but instead contribute to charities, volunteer through their churches, and are involved in their communities in solving social problems.

When talking about Bush's selection of a running mate, Rove compares the vetting process candidates had to endure to "a proctology exam."

I hadn't realized that, before Bush's faith-based initiative, religious charities were actually unable to pursue federal grant money. I thought that most of them chose not to, rather than submit to the government's intrusion into their business. But the approximately $20 billion in grant money had been limited to secular charities before, to satisfy the "separation of church and state" liberal meme.

Roughly connected to a topic from my review of Superfreakonomics, it's interesting that, "By 2006, only one industrialized economy grew its GDP and at the same time reduced its absolute level of greenhouse gas emissions: The United States." Even after rejecting the Kyoto treaty, the Bush administration allocated $22 billion to climate change technology and research...more money than the rest of the world, combined.

Rove spends a little time talking about the near collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which pretty well destroyed the housing market. While the Bush administration warned of troubles in those GSEs, and pushed for more regulation (contrary to popular narrative), Democrats in Congress filibustered legislation that would have reduced the magnitude of the problem. "Among those Democrats who backed the filibuster and opposed reform was the freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. He was the third-largest recipient of campaign gifts from Fannie and Freddie employees in 2004."

On Katrina, Rove goes into the behind the scenes negotiations that may have been key in the delay in getting effective relief to New Orleans. As it turns out, by law, the federal government can only send in troops under two circumstances; when the state governor requests it, or if the president declares the region to be in a "state of insurrection." Governor Blanco didn't request federal intervention for days, and Bush was understandably reluctant to exercise the second option. Later on, when Bush appropriated $60 billion in disaster relief, Governor Blanco requested that a half billion of it be spent on a tourism advertising campaign. Really?

This book is definitely a good retrospective for you political junkies. I thought when I read the title that Rove was referring to himself, but it becomes clear in the afterword that it was George W. Bush whom he regarded as a man who always acted on the courage of his convictions, and whose presidency had consequence.

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