All right, I have a confession to make.
The other day I drafted a lengthy post in which I argued that President Bush should fire Karl Rove. Now before I get excoriated by my friends on the right, allow me to explain my reasons for doing so.
- I never much liked the guy. I'm still pissed off by his treatment of John McCain in the 2000 primaries, and I blame him in large part for the Faustian deal the GOP has cut with the religious right.
- Rightly or wrongly, he has become a political liability and a huge distraction for the administration. (Witness the hapless Scott McLellan's train wreck of a press conference.)
- Although Rove's actions appear well short of criminal, that doesn't necessarily mean he should keep his job. Even if he were fully unaware of Plame's status, he's still responsible for his words and deeds. Politics at this level is a tough business and some mistakes demand a high price.
- The argument that Rove did not explicitly use Plame's name in his discussion with Cooper is Clintonian and meaningless hair-splitting, as even Rove's attorney admits.
- After repeated White House denials of Rove's involvement, and promises of retribution against any administration "leakers," it sets the administration up for charges of hypocrisy if nothing is done.
- I was probably drunk.
So why didn't I post it? I thought it deserved some more thought. For one thing, my Democratic, Bush-hating wife confided in me that she didn't really see the "big deal" in what we know of Rove's role in this whole soap opera. In attempting to play Devil's advocate, I came to realize the Devil's case is fairly weak. The following are some of the reasons why I'm not quite
ready to roll out the tar and feathers.
- It's all but impossible to read Matt Cooper's account of his discussion with Rove and conclude that Rove was "attacking" Plame, as Joe Wilson alleged. Rather, he was providing background ("double super secret" background no less) to the Time reporter, cautioning him that the circumstances of Joe Wilson's fact-finding mission and the conclusions of said mission were not as Wilson was leading people to believe. It seems unlikely that Rove intended the bit about Wilson's wife to be published.
- According to Bob Novak, the CIA itself freely confirmed Plame's status as an analyst, but merely asked that Novak not use her name in his column. This means Rove gave up no more information than could be obtained from a simple phone call to Langley.
- If Plame worked at CIA headquarters in Langley, how "covert" could she have been, honestly? Even Andrea Mitchell (reluctantly) admitted that Plame's status as a CIA employee was common knowledge, which is likely how Rove knew it in the first place. If true, that does make a huge difference.
- Almost everything in this story is still just about as clear as mud, and many questions remain unanswered. For example, if Rove is the source, who is Judy Miller protecting by going to jail? According to Robert Luskin, Rove signed a blanket waiver, which would apply to Miller as well as Cooper. And who was Novak's source? He was, after all, the journalist who "blew" Plame's cover, yet we have no indication that he ever spoke to Rove on the subject.
Honestly, based on what we know now, the whole brouhaha seems like a third-rate political food fight, nothing more. I continue to believe that Bush could reap some political benefit by sacking Rove, letting his opponents score a point, and putting the whole sorry mess to bed. That's not really the president's style, however, so I don't really expect it to happen.
What I do expect to happen is that the Democrats, smelling blood in the water, will grossly overplay their hand, as is their wont. Already, we have senior Democratic politicians demanding Rove's head on a platter and left-leaning bloggers and pundits calling for Rove to be "frog-marched" into federal prison, even before the investigation has concluded and before a single indictment has been handed down.
There's an excellent chance this will backfire. The more the liberals keep the focus on Plamegate, the more people will begin to realize that their breathless hysteria doesn't really match the severity of Rove's supposed transgression. More importantly, more people will begin to learn what some of us have known for a year now -- that Joe Wilson is a mendacious partisan hack. He falsely implied that he was sent to Niger at the behest of the Vice President's office, he falsely denied his wife had any involvement is his being chosen and, most importantly, he lied about his own findings, claiming to have "debunked" the Niger/uranium claim, although his report to the CIA, if anything, actually bolstered the claim.
Unlike us political junkies, the average man on the street could probably tell you very little about either Karl Rove or Joe Wilson. Democrats should probably think long and hard about whether they really want to change that.