The Original King of Irony Lives On

THE ORIGINAL KING OF IRONY LIVES ON…. I’ve long marveled at Karl Rove’s borderline-pathological ability to identify some of his own ugliest, most malicious qualities, and then project them onto those Democrats he hates most.

Take today, for example. Rove uses one of his many major media venues to whine that Democrats and the Obama White House are just too mean when it comes to campaigning. As his Wall Street Journal column insisted, the president and his team are guilty of adding “arsenic to the nation’s political well,” with “assaults” Rove predicts “will fail, even backfire.”

There was no evidence he was kidding. Karl Rove is accusing Dems of undermining American politics with nasty campaign attacks. The man who helped pioneer modern campaign viciousness wants Republicans to think of President Obama and congressional Democrats as big meanies.

Before you just shake your head at the sheer chutzpah it takes to spew such nonsense, note this Josh Green classic from a few years ago, documenting Rove’s routine reliance on “unscrupulous tactics — some of them breathtaking — as a matter of course,” which Jon Chait flagged this morning.

A typical instance occurred in the hard-fought 1996 race for a seat on the Alabama Supreme Court between Rove’s client, Harold See, then a University of Alabama law professor, and the Democratic incumbent, Kenneth Ingram. According to someone who worked for him, Rove, dissatisfied with the campaign’s progress, had flyers printed up — absent any trace of who was behind them — viciously attacking See and his family. “We were trying to craft a message to reach some of the blue-collar, lower-middle-class people,” the staffer says. “You’d roll it up, put a rubber band around it, and paperboy it at houses late at night. I was told, ‘Do not hand it to anybody, do not tell anybody who you’re with, and if you can, borrow a car that doesn’t have your tags.’ So I borrowed a buddy’s car [and drove] down the middle of the street … I had Hefty bags stuffed full of these rolled-up pamphlets, and I’d cruise the designated neighborhoods, throwing these things out with both hands and literally driving with my knees.” … See won the race.

Some of Rove’s darker tactics cut even closer to the bone. One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent’s sexual orientation. Bush’s 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian.

There was the Republican consultant whose reputation Rove reportedly sullied in order to get more clients. There was the Alabama judicial nominee who had a background working with troubled kids, who Rove reportedly labeled a pedophile.

Sure, by all means, Karl, lecture us some more from your high horse about the dangers of adding “arsenic to the nation’s political well.”

I’d just add, by the way, that this ties into a larger pattern — Karl Rove has made a bad habit of blasting Obama and his team for doing the exact same things Rove did.

Rove ran a White House that embraced a “permanent campaign,” so he’s accused the Obama team of embracing a “permanent campaign.” Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he’s accused Obama of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted ” political events, so he’s accused Obama of relying on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted” political events. Rove looked at every policy issue “from a political perspective,” so he’s accused Obama of looking at every policy issue “from a political perspective.” Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he’s accused Obama of snubbing snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan. Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he’s accused Obama of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons. Rove questioned the motives of those with whom he disagreed, so he’s accused Obama of questioning the motives of those with whom he disagrees.

A lesser hack may find it difficult to launch political attacks that are ironic, wrong, hypocritical, and examples of projection, all at the same time, but Rove is a rare talent.