Political Animal


December 24, 2011 10:45 AM Remember the Mayberry Machiavellis?

By Steve Benen

For all of the times American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s attack operation, is truly exasperating, once in a while, the group’s hatchet jobs are actually rather amusing — in an unintentional sort of way.

Yesterday, Crossroads released a memo accusing the Obama White House with prioritizing politics over economic policy, and allowing political strategists to replace economists.

…President Obama has no real economic team. And that’s why his economic agenda is a political agenda, propped up by political slogans (“Pass this bill! We can’t wait!”) and promoted by political means (taxpayer-financed political rallies and DNC-financed TV ads). The entire structure and focus of the Obama White House are centered on reelection, not recovery.

Need evidence? Where is the current head of Obama’s council of economic advisors? The head of Obama’s National Economic Council? Can most Washington reporters even name them? … Instead, this Administration’s “economic team” is David Axelrod and David Plouffe and Jay Carney, because all they want to do — all they can do — is politics.

Even for American Crossroads, this is deeply stupid.

Alan Krueger is the head of Obama’s council of economic advisors. Gene Sperling is the head of Obama’s National Economic Council, a job he also held in Clinton’s second term. The fact that American Crossroads’ leadership can’t keep up on current events is not evidence of a White House with no “real” economic team.

For that matter, the president — and his economic team — put together an ambitious economic agenda, which was heartily endorsed by a wide variety of economists from across the political spectrum. American Crossroads staffers may have noticed President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on the subject several months ago (it was on TV and everything). Congressional Republicans refused to consider the plan, perhaps fearing that economic growth would undermine their campaign strategy, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

But that’s not the funny part. No, what I really enjoyed about the latest American Crossroads tantrum is the irony — Karl Rove’s attack operation is accusing the Obama White House of prioritizing politics over policy.

I wonder if Rove and his cohorts remember John Dilulio, a domestic policy expert and University of Pennsylvania political scientist, who worked in the Bush/Cheney White House in 2001 and came away rather disgusted.

In an interview with Esquire magazine, Mr. DiIulio said: “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.”

“Mayberry Machiavellis” is Mr. DiIulio’s term for the political staff and most particularly Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief adviser. He describes Mr. Rove as “enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political-adviser post near the Oval Office.”

Instead of meaningful domestic policy work, Dilulio said, the Bush gang, led by Rove, relied on “on-the-fly policy-making by speechmaking.”

For American Crossroads to whine that “all they want to do — all they can do — is politics,” might be the single most ironic thing I’ve ever heard.

Update: Here’s Dilulio’s memo from late 2002. It’s a fascinating read, even now.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • dalloway on December 24, 2011 10:49 AM:

    It's the old Rove two-step: take the most disgusting strategy you employ and accuse your opponent of it. Sadly, it seems to work for KKKarl every time.

  • c u n d gulag on December 24, 2011 10:57 AM:

    "Mayberry" was a nice little fictional town. A shade too white, ok, ALL white, but a nice little fictional town.

    I think Rove is more like "Deliverance."

    And one day, boy, I sure hope to find him 'squealing like a hog!'

    And CRAPTCHA right there alongside with him!

  • Mark-NC on December 24, 2011 11:00 AM:

    Love the KKKarl thing - perfect fit.

    This reminded me of watching Rove bitch about how evil Obama was because he had czars.

    Bush had about 35 czars and Rove's title was the "Domestic Policy Czar".

  • DAY on December 24, 2011 11:05 AM:

    Memory is short, and attention is fleeting. Yesterday is far, far away.
    And, Americans don't do nuance.

  • Gandalf on December 24, 2011 11:11 AM:

    Republican political rules:

    Rule number 1. Lie first and then back it up with more lies.

    Rule number 2. Refer to rule number 1

    Oh by the way had to 5 craptchas to get one discrnable AssRese front

  • TG Chicago on December 24, 2011 11:45 AM:

    Since when is “Pass this bill!" a purely political slogan?

    It's no surprise that Obama's economic policy might include legislation. And if it does, then of course that legislation needs to pass in order to achieve his policy goals.

    Did Rove miss the fact that "Pass this bill!" referred to an *actual bill* that would have advanced Obama's economic policy?

    By admitting that there was a bill to potentially be passed, Rove openly admits that his claim that "all they can do is politics" is a lie.

  • MuddyPolitics on December 24, 2011 11:47 AM:

    You have to give Rove credit. He's smart.

    Ask a question like, "Can most Washington reporters even name them?" and you immediately create doubt in the American's mind, because obviously the average American can't name Obama's NEC head, or any economic advisor. (They probably won't think back and try to name one of Bush's economic advisors, but it doesn't matter. The seed has been planted.) One leading question becomes evidence that Obama is a politician, not a leader, even if it's BS.

    That's smart politics.

    Obama has learned to play by GOP rules: he's capitalizing on the catch phrases and slogans that shape public opinion about policy. The Republicans are at a loss, and so they attack the strategy. Is anyone surprised by this?

  • TCinLA on December 24, 2011 1:07 PM:

    if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Rove being Rove demonstrates the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of (bowel) "movement" conservatism, aka Southernist extremism.

  • Epicurus on December 24, 2011 2:55 PM:

    As always, Karl Rove remains a boil on the ass of the body politic. The self-awareness in him is obviously weak, but that's pretty typical of the psychopathic personality.

  • c4Logic on December 24, 2011 3:17 PM:

    You have to remember that Rove and his tribe operate in a cognitive framework where reality and 'facts' have little significance except as potential grist for a political fantasy mill. They are masters at spinning whole propaganda Universes out of anything that is handy, not on the basis of what is true and what evidence exists--but on the basis of what will persuade and influence their target demographic. They are consumate grifters--marketing geniuses who are set free from any semblance with reality, who have no fear of cognitive dissonance.

    They can't be evaluated except in terms of the harm they do to the public interest--a term that insist has NO validity and no reality. Of course, this is false. They are no different from the viruses that deceive our cells into letting them in and then they take over the cellular machinery, leaving us fighting for our lives...

  • Rick B on December 24, 2011 4:53 PM:

    Rove's people are part of the same political culture that is motivating Romney. They have to come out with a new attack at least every other day, and if they can't find something valid they'll just make shit up.

    I suspect that they go out of their way to steal the attacks liberals have made on conservatives based on real evidence, then just fake the evidence and throw the same kind of crap at the liberal. The purpose of this is to insulate themselves from the charge the next time it it thrown at them. The attacks become completely disconnected from reality and evidence.

    That's what a propagandist with an unlimited budget would do.

  • nemisten on December 24, 2011 6:37 PM:

    dalloway nailed it. Rove's only strategy is to smear with lies. Don't kid yourself -- he KNOWS they're lies.

    In a perfect world the GodHatesRove PAC would respond with the following ad:

    "Karl Rove is a twice CONVICTED child molestor, wants to MANDATE gay marriage, and HATES Ronald Reagan. Who can believe anything Karl Rove says? Not REAL Americans.

    Karl Rove: child molestor; gay marriage supporter; hates Ronald Reagan...[fade out]"

  • cmac on December 24, 2011 8:25 PM:

    Frack Rove.

    That was my Christmas present to myself. I admit, I altered it in the interests of political correctness, but I said it the way I meant it while I was typing.

    And now, on to the holidays. :-)

  • Robert Waldmann on December 25, 2011 1:28 AM:

    Dear Mr Benen (can I call you Steve -- I sent you some McCain flipflop data before you were so famous that you needed a totally ruthless and demanding Captcha).

    I assume you know it is deliberate. It is just not possible for Karl Rove to be so ironic inadvertently. I am pretty sure that he is deliberately provoking you and other wonkoliberals. I guess that he sees a major part of his job description as "shall pisse off liberals" and believes that it is key to raising money from rich reactionaries who like it when you are angry.

    It might just be that he says the opposite of the truth on the principal of "You don't attack their weaknesses; you attack their strengths" -- Karl Rove. But I really honestly seriously think that provoking posts like this one is part of his scam.

  • Danp on December 25, 2011 6:50 AM:

    In 2008, Bush's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers was Edward Lazear. The other two positions on the council were VACANT! Which leads to the question, "How many economic advisers does it take to advise a Republican?" Answer: 3 - One for photo ops, one to write speeches and one to coordinate with lobbyists.