Reihan Defends Rove

Reihan has an exchange with Sam Tanenhaus over Sam's new book. It's worth reading in full. No one loves Reihan more than I do but in my view he is far too sanguine about the malign intentions of a cynic like Rove and far too soft on the rank paucity of responsible thinking on the mainstream right in recent times. His last book was flawed in my view in the same way, however imaginative it was trying to be. No viable conservatism will emerge from ignoring the cynics and crooks who got us into this mess or from giving the decomposing corpse of the Dixie rump emergency CPR.

And does Reihan truly, really believe that Karl Rove, for Pete's sake, was trying to avoid gay-baiting his way to victory in 2004 - when he strategized a polarizing, brutalizing gay marriage ban in the one state that he needed to win and that alone gave him victory? Here is Reihan:

Karl Rove never imagined that opposition to same-sex marriage would cement a permanent Republican majority. It was a distraction that I'm sure he found distasteful. President Bush himself could barely stomach talking about the issue. Yet talk about it he did, in deference to the need to press every advantage.

Rove thought this was a distraction? From his realignment? Does Reihan recall the kind of politics Rove cut his teeth on in the South? Gay-baiting was one critical part of his strategy for realignment. It was designed not just to rally evangelicals but to win over a segment of African-Americans and Hispanics. And distasteful?

Has Rove ever said anything that could conceivably reflect that fact? Has he ever uttered a single word in public that even suggested empathy with and support for gay citizens of any kind - or has he always implied that they are a threat to "real Americans" and to the family itself? Has he ever said a word in public that suggested he knew or cared about gay people or even acknowledged that we exist?

At the very beginning of Bush's term, Rove told those gay Republicans who had helped Bush win that the only thing that mattered to him was there were more votes in gay-bashing than in standing up to the bigots in his base. It was all about running the numbers. To his credit, he said that to their face, just as he told me to my face that he had no concern whatever about debt or spending, because he didn't think people voted on those issues. And once he thought he could polarize the country even further around an issue like this, he went for it. Reihan thinks this was all done terribly reluctantly because Rove had no choice but to follow the masses. To which I can only respond Judge Judy-style: don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

And, yes, Bush, despite being personally compassionate and understanding of gay men and women and hiring them from the very bottom to the very top of his administration (on the condition that they remain closeted at all times), went along. He endorsed marginalizing gays as second class citizens in the very federal constitution "in deference to the need to press every advantage." And in so doing, he never even acknowledged in any way our existence or dignity or humanity. He never met with a single one of us or our representatives in eight years in office. He never used the word itself in a formal speech. He never even referred in public to the pain and suffering that his policy would entail, to the immense hurt a tiny minority would feel if they were singled out in their own constitution as sub-human. This "uniter-not-a-divider" was indifferent to a policy that would have written a beleaguered and tiny minority out of their own country. But he had to do this "in deference to the need to press every advantage." To my mind, this makes him worse than Rove: at least Rove was a proud cynic; Bush couldn't take even that responsibility. I know all this pains Reihan and I know his heart and brilliant mind are in the right place. But he's being far too generous to the GOP elites.

But to his credit, Reihan is now saying what needs to be said:

The historical reality I have in mind is that we're living in straitened economic circumstances, that we face an unemployment crisis that might last a decade or more, and that American workers don't have the skills they need to flourish. Over the past decade, spending by state governments has increased at a rate of 6 percent a year, far outstripping economic growth. This is not sustainable. What I want most from the political right is a commitment to truth-telling: In the next few years, we will have to cut spending and raise taxes across all levels of government. In normal times, this isn't a winning political formula, but it might be in a crisis.

I have always believed that truth-telling is a conservative virtue in good times and bad. If it can only happen in a crisis, we end up in the state we're in.