As a general matter, political memoirs are a dicey proposition. While they carry the promise of deep access and a wealth of fresh gossip, they generally fail to deliver the goods, offering tiny morsels instead of juicy gobs of storytelling. More importantly, because memoirs are written by insiders from one side of the spectrum or the other, they are almost always slanted to the point that their accounts are inherently tainted and difficult to take at face value.
The sad fact is that the cannon of great books out there, books which actually explore the modern political world with both a depth befitting a true student of politics but also from the perspective of an insider who is on the frontlines, are rare. Stories in the former category might sell well and even make the bestsellers' list, but their appeal beyond offering a string of vapid anecdotes with a one month shelf-life is limited. In other words, they are not particularly rewarding to the shrewd observer or politics junkie.
Karl Rove's new memoir is no exception to this rule, but its release represents one of the bigger losses for valuable insider accounts.
Rove is most known for being "Bush's brain," the 43rd President's top political adviser and the architect of Bush's two national electoral victories. Beyond that, Rove helped twice elect Bush to the governorship of Texas, and as one of the most talented direct mail consultants of all time, Rove was a pivotal figure in the rebirth and ultimate dominance of the Republican Party in Texas after a century of dormancy. In short, Rove has a host of experiences and triumphs in politics that are unrivaled, and whether you like him or loathe him, he is unquestionably one of the sharpest political minds of the last 50 years.
Consequently, Rove could have written a brilliant, balanced tome on politics that would have been unlike nearly all others on the market today. Instead, because he is simply so deeply partisan, he has written just another account which will delight one side and infuriate the other and eventually end up in the bargain bin between David Plouffe's new book, Sarah Palin's memoir, Harry Reid's fresh release, and ones like them.
Rove's partisanship has been a ubiquitous presence in the news for over the last decade, and since President Bush left office, the former White House guru has assumed an even larger role, appearing regularly on Fox News Channel, the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, and in other known right-leaning outlets where he has unceasingly heaped scorn and invective on President Obama and Democrats generally.
This was to be expected: Rove cut his teeth and made his career bones with the singular purpose of defeating Democrats at the polls, and his personal viewpoints are nothing new. To think that Rove would enter private life and try to become some sort of neutral statesman after a lifetime of political combat would be a laughably foolish proposition.
So, perhaps it was a bit naïve to hope that when Rove inevitably sat down to write an account of his rich career in political life he would look dispassionately at his victories and defeats alike and attempt to draw out some important general lessons on the field that no one else has the experience or knowledge to elucidate.
Instead it appears that Rove's new memoir, ominously titled Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, was written for two purposes: to defend President Bush's eight years in office while glossing over those parts of Bush's tenure that were abject failures, and to launch a coherent screed against Bush's successor, Barack Obama.
Of course it is Rove's prerogative and his right to write his memoirs in a slanted manner; besides, he will likely make more money writing an angry, score-settling book than he could have with something that might have resonated better with political junkies like me. The almighty dollar is hard to turn down.
Rove should have done better, but he is either too stubborn to write a balanced perspective, or by virtue of his lifetime in partisan dens, is incapable of doing so.
In layman's terms, and borrowing from the comparison Rove himself used to great effect in selling George W. Bush over Al Gore and John Kerry, if given the opportunity, I would not have a beer with Karl Rove because even though he could potentially be the best person to talk political shop with in the country, he would probably be a boring -- albeit animated -- companion, and use the conversation to assail Democrats and not offer a word of harsh appraisal of his own side. It would be a pointless exercise.
Frankly, watching Rove ramble incoherently on the evils of the Obama administration are sad to behold. Rove could be the smartest political commentator in the nation if he wanted to be, but given today's partisan atmosphere, he prefers to be just another slobbering talking head. Clearly, his outlook was the natural consequence of a lifetime in the partisan pressure-cooker which incubated his career, but it is nonetheless regrettable given what Rove could offer in the way of critical analysis.
Rove's new book is a reflection of this and the broader trend of peddling partisanship above all else.