The Mayberry Machiavelli forgets his record

THE MAYBERRY MACHIAVELLI FORGETS HIS RECORD…. One of the single most important quotes about Bush’s presidency came six years ago. John J. DiIulio Jr., a domestic policy advisor to George W. Bush, told Ron Suskind, ”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.”

With DiIulio’s perspective in mind, it was jaw-dropping to hear Karl Rove insist last night, on national television, that it was policy, not politics, that won out in the Bush White House.

On “Hannity & Colmes” last night, Alan Colmes noted the criticism of Rove for combining politics and policy. Rove argued, “Well, at least in the White House I was in, policy won out, but you had to be aware of the political fallout of what you were going to do in order to contain it and deal with it. You bet. But to, but first and foremost if the president I worked for, George W. Bush, said, ‘You know what, let’s do right, and the politics will take care of itself.’ It didn’t mean you were blind to it, but it didn’t mean that you needed to focus first and foremost on what you thought was in the right interest of the country.”

I’ve heard Rove say some extraordinary things over the years — remember in June when he criticized the New York Times for having “outed a CIA agent”? — but this might be the most ridiculous.

It’s tempting to document every instance in which Rove and Bush put political considerations over the national interest, but one would need a book. OK, a book broken out over multiple volumes. Ali Frick summarized this nicely, noting, “Rove personally oversaw the unprecedented politicization of nearly every aspect of Bush’s federal government, from the Justice Department to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.” And that, of course, is really only scratching the surface.

DiIulio’s quote makes clear that Rove’s boast is without foundation in reality. DiIulio, an academic with a strong background in public policy, joined the Bush administration with an expectation that the team would, as Rove put it, pursue specific policy goals and let the politics “take care of itself.” He assumed that Bush, like most modern presidents, would naturally “focus first and foremost on what you thought was in the right interest of the country.”

But that’s not what he found. Surrounded by “Mayberry Machiavellis,” DiIulio found a West Wing filled with officials who cared about nothing but politics — how a policy helped Republicans, rallied the base, embarrassed Democrats, raised money, moved poll numbers, aided vulnerable GOP incumbents, etc.

For Rove to claim now that “policy won out” in the Bush White House is literally laughable.