Political Hay

Roving Under the Limelight

The boy genius in the Foley scandal.

By 10.10.06

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I have watched, and I have waited. I have kept my eyes and ears open but still cannot seem to find the missing piece of the story. No one has yet asked the most obvious question about the Mark Foley scandal: How did Karl Rove pull this off?

What Rove may have done -- tricking a Republican congressman into a series of sexually explicit internet exchanges with a teenage boy, recording and saving that exchange, then leaking it to the media immediately prior to the November elections -- is despicable. It is beyond words.

Actually, that is precisely what it is. No one has uttered a word about Rove's involvement since the Foley scandal broke. Where is the outrage? The inquiries? The calls for investigation? How could the media and Democrats be so clueless?

The media look increasingly like pawns in Rove's machinations, given the convenient decision not to reveal the source of the leak. As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank once universalized, "All roads lead to Rove." Why is this formula no longer applicable?

Rove's name hasn't turned up because the Foley scandal seems to be hurting Republicans as planned and, as far as anyone can tell, is hurting them badly. It led a major conservative-leaning newspaper, the Washington Times, to demand that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) resign from his leadership post. With less than a month to go before the elections, Republicans are in disarray. It's absurd to think Rove is behind this.

But was it not equally as absurd to suggest that Rove was plotting to sneak WMD into Iraq? Or that he was feeding answers to George W. Bush during a presidential debate by way of a secret microphone implanted on the president's shoulder? Evidently, all wires led to Rove, too.

IT IS HARD TO OVERSTATE Rove-inspired paranoia. In the minds of so many normally rational people, here is a man eminently capable of Houdini-like stunts. Karl Rove, White House mastermind extraordinaire, is thought to be behind every leak, controversy, or October surprise that somehow benefits Republicans. Numerous times a story has broken that initially seemed fatal for Republicans, only then to boomerang and help them instead. The theory was always the same: Karl Rove threw the boomerang.

In September 2004, after it was revealed that documents suggesting George W. Bush had cheated on his national guard requirements were fake, there was a severe backlash against not only Dan Rather but against anything that appeared to be an anti-Bush ploy. The original target, President Bush, suffered no political damage; all the aches were felt by the liberal media and consequently, though indirectly, by the Kerry campaign. How did this happen? Who was responsible? "I think I would ask Karl Rove that question," offered DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

The real explanation, according to Congresswoman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), was that the White House "set up Dan Rather.... It originated with Karl Rove, in my belief, in the White House. They set that up with those false papers." If that's really how it happened, then Rove should be working for NASA.

A month later, when Osama bin Laden released a videotape four days before the election warning Americans not to vote for George W. Bush, people wondered aloud if the world's most-wanted terrorist was taking cues from a pen pal named Karl. The tape's release seemed awfully fishy to Walter Cronkite, who told Larry King, "I'm a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, that he probably set up bin Laden to this thing."

Perhaps the most outlandish allegation of Rovian mischief came in 2002. After Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash a little more than a week before the midterm elections, many people thought Rove was the culprit. Professors James Fetzer and Don Jacobs have even written a book, American Assassination: The Strange Death of Senator Paul Wellstone, suggesting that Rove was responsible for the "murder." (Is Rove behind their book, too?)

ON THE NATIONAL LEVEL, Rove's campaign misconduct dates back to the 2000 Republican primary, when he allegedly spread rumors among South Carolina voters that John McCain was both a homosexual and the father of an illegitimate black daughter. (Now that would be a trick.) However, if those same rumors had been directed against Bush himself, Rove would have been suspected of that, too. It would have been part of an effort to portray Bush as an innocent victim of vicious lies who deserved voters' pity and compassion -- a not-too-subtle validation of compassionate conservatism. It would have been Rathergate without the memos.

To his critics, everything Rove does is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma -- all covered with lies.

"If Karl Rove is cheering for Howard Dean, should the Democrats choose anyone but?" asked CNN Anchor Sean Callebs in July 2003.

"If Karl Rove said that the sky was blue, I think I'd double-check," responded Michele Mitchell.

Hardly anyone in the media or the Democratic Party needed any double-checking when it came to the unsubstantiated charge that Rove had engineered an attack on Joe Wilson. "There's no question that Rove was the one that leaked the information about the CIA agent's name," DNC Chairman Howard Dean told MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell on April 28, 2006. According to Paul Krugman in the New York Times, "there's no question that he damaged national security for partisan advantage. If a Democrat had done that, Republicans would call it treason." In an unresolved matter with so few definitive answers, there was "no question" that Karl Rove was guilty of treason.

Krugman explained that Rove's smear tactics succeed because "[a]ll they have to do is get a lot of media play, and they'll create the sense that there must be something wrong with the guy" being smeared. Insofar as there is "something wrong" with Mark Foley, why can't his downfall be counted among Rove's success stories?

Among all the talk of a former congressman and a former teenage boy, no one has bothered to ask if the boy genius is implicated for one reason: To imply that Rove had something to do with the present scandal would mean that the boy genius was never so genius to begin with.

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About the Author

Windsor Mann is a writer living in Washington, D.C., and the editor of The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism.