Rove's Biggest Mistake?

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by David Frum

Karl Rove offers an interesting reflection on his White House career in this AM's WSJ. His biggest mistake, he said, was failing to fight back harder against the "Bush lied, people died" slur:

At the time, we in the Bush White House discussed responding but decided not to relitigate the past. That was wrong and my mistake: I should have insisted to the president that this was a dagger aimed at his administration's heart. What Democrats started seven years ago left us less united as a nation to confront foreign challenges and overcome America's enemies.

I have a different take on what went wrong in the Rove years, published in 2007 in the NY Times.

As a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question. The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center? The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need and how can conservatives achieve it?

Mr. Rove answered his chosen question by courting carefully selected constituencies with poll-tested promises: tax cuts for traditional conservatives; the No Child Left Behind law for suburban moderates; prescription drugs for anxious seniors; open immigration for Hispanics; faith-based programs for evangelicals and Catholics.

These programs often contradicted each other. How do you cut taxes and also create a big new prescription drug benefit? If the schools are failing to educate the nation’s poor, how does it make sense to expand that population by opening the door to even more low-wage immigration?

Instead of seeking solutions to national problems, “compassionate conservatism” started with slogans and went searching for problems to justify them.

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