Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl Rove Quits, As Most Advisers, Too Late

No one can last in an advisory post forever, and Karl Rove, leaving President George W. Bush six and a half years into his presidency, has clearly outlived his usefulness.

It is not uncommon with political advisers that they are "hot" for awhile, invaluable to politicians, but that time eventually passes them by, they lose their touch or can't understand a new situation, and, by the time they leave, they are liabilities, not assets. There seems to be a limited lifetime to such jobs.

Rove helped Mr. Bush to a two-term presidency, and, at one time, he repeatedly outsmarted the President's opposition, as, for example, he did John Kerry in the 2004 campaign. But in the 2006 Congressional elections, he could not help, since Mr. Bush had dug himself into an even more difficult position in Iraq, and, then, with the dispute over fired U.S. attorneys, and the Scooter Libby case, in which he was nearly indicted himself, Rove became a heavy chain around the President's neck. He should have gone months ago.

Once they become a caricature, and not a genius, it's time for political advisers to go, and quite a few do not gage the proper moment.

This is true even of the most successful. Henry Kissinger was a liability in the end, as James Baker has begun to be. Baker outwitted Warren Christopher as an attorney representing Mr. Bush in the tight Florida "recount" situation that finally gave him the 2000 election victory. But he did not serve him so well in last year's ill-fated Baker Commission report on Iraq.

One of the clearest examples in my political reporting career of an adviser who started out brilliantly, but ended up looking rather stupid was recalled Gov. Gray Davis's political adviser, Gerry South. It was South who told Davis to move to the center and even well to the right, a strategy which worked for awhile. But South eventually carried it too far. Davis began to look corrupt, he got too far away from the Democratic base on the power shortage and other issues and he was finally disgraced in the Recall, removed from office by the electorate. He should have stopped listening to South long before.

Even the usually astute Jerry Brown kept Jacques Barzaghi on too long when he was governor. Barzaghi's personal idiosyncracies became an embarrassment to Brown. My friend the late Norman Cherniss, executive editor of the Riverside Press-Enterprise, once remarked that he didn't know another governor who could have been elected to a second term wiith a Barzaghi on his staff, but Brown pulled it off. Later, however, he should have let Barzaghi go.

I think two of the present governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger's, advisers -- executive secretary Susan Kennedy and Dan Dunmoyer -- have reached the end point of their usefulness. Both are identified with cowtowing to lobbyists, and Kennedy, in particular, may be corrupt.

In Rove's case, he was, at first, masterful in conjuring up the tactic Mr. Bush has used in the domestic politics of the War on Terror, identifying the opposition with weakness and appeasement. But the tactic gradually has lost its effectiveness, and, I think you can contend now that the President would be in a better position, more trusted by the people, had he not used it so much.

Recently, the Democrats who now control Congress have been insisting that Rove testify in the probe over the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys, and Mr. Bush, citing executive privilege, has refused to make him available.

It hankers back to Richard Nixon's initial attempt to keep his trusted adviser, Bob Haldeman, from exposure to the Watergate affair. By the time, he jettisoned Haldeman, it was too late for the safety of both men. Haldeman went to jail, and Nixon had to resign.

Sometimes, advisers leave, but only with insults for the politicians they once helped out so much. I once asked Lyn Nofziger, a White House adviser in the Reagan Administration who had been an adviser to Max Rafferty's ill-fated campaign in California for the U.S. Senate, what advice he would give Rafferty now that he had lost. "To shut up," Nofziger answered. "Max is over-exposed." But it was too late for Rafferty, who was defeated for reelection as Superintendent of Public Instruction in California and ended his career as president of the obscure Troy St. University down in Alabama.

And sometimes once-trusted advisers burn their bridges, lose the confidence of those they advise, and lose their positions. This happened with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in the Lincoln Administration -- but only temporarily. Lincoln accepted Chase's resignation after becoming annoyed with him for quietly seeking the Republican presidential nomination against Mr. Lincoln in 1864, when Lincoln had decided to run for a second term. But he later relented and, when a vacancy opened up, appointed Chase as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Lincoln, of course, was more magnanimous than most politicians.

In legislatures and Congress, many astute advisers end up succeeding the men and woman they advised, if they are patient enough. But they aren't always patient enough, and some get cut off before the politician is ready to step down.

In the present presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain has already lost his key, long-time adviser, John Weaver, for reasons that are not entirely clear. But Sen. Hillary Clinton still has her key adviser, Patty Solis Doyle, who managed her successful campaigns for the U.S. Senate from New York and now is managing her presidential campaign.

Doyle follows a policy which has served many key advisers well. She keeps herself in the background, almost never giving interviews.

Rove, apparently, did give interviews, although most of them were for background only, or off the record. That may have saved him from indictment in the Libby case.

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The Los Angeles Times travel section should not be giving support to the tyrannical military regime in Burma by publishing as it did Sunday an article promoting travel to that country. This can only be an encouragement to the dictators who have kept under house arrest for years the Nobel Prize winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freely elected leader of the country in an election the junta ignored.

Just today, the New York Times prints a more appropriate article about a painter who, while imprisoned in Burma, smuggled out 300 paintings which are now being exhibited in London.

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