Karl Rove, Don’t Spin My Work for Your Historical Revisionism

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Karl Rove needs to work on his reading comprehension skills. I can say so because he’s been disingenuously citing me.

During the past week, the Bush-guru-turned-Newsweek-columnist has been on the defensive regarding the claim he made during a Charlie Rose interview that the Bush White House “was opposed to voting on” the Iraq war resolution right before the 2002 congressional elections. He insisted, “We didn’t think it belonged within the confines of the election.” Asserting that “we thought it made [the vote] too political,” Rove said that it was the congressional Democrats who pressed for the vote in the middle of the political season.

As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush met at the White House with congressional leaders on September 4 and told them he wanted a quick vote on a resolution that would grant him the authority to use military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush insisted he wanted this vote within six weeks. Senator Tom Daschle, then the majority leader of the Senate, wondered why the rush? He suspected that Rove was orchestrating a fast vote to put the Democrats on the spot right before the mid-term election. In fact, a day earlier, Daschle had been in a smaller meeting with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. During that get-together, he had asked Bush, wouldn’t it be better to postpone the vote until after the election and take politics out of the debate? Bush turned toward Cheney, who shot the president a look that Daschle later described as a “half smile.” Then Bush told Daschle, “We just have to do it now.”

Rove now says none of that happened and he will explain all (of course) in a book yet to be written. But not only Daschle has challenged Rove’s account. Former White House chief of staff Andy Card did the same, quipping, “Sometimes [Rove’s] mouth gets ahead of his brain.” And former White House press secretary Ari Fleishcer also chimed in, saying, “It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress. I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong.”

Despite all this, Rove has stuck with his story and has gone so far as to cite me. I’ve been reliably informed that Rove has been pointing to an article I posted on September 25, 2002, to defend his remarks. In that piece, “Democrats Whine About War Debate”, I did write that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Daschle were “pushing for a fast vote on Bush’s war resolution in order to have a chance to address other subjects prior to the November 5 congressional elections.” But the article made clear that Bush (and Rove) had pushed them into the corner with a demand for a fast, pre-election vote.

The article cited examples of how the Bush gang, in the run-up to the election, was politicizing the war vote:

Days ago, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a fundraiser in Kansas for Republican congressional hopeful Adam Taff, who is running against Democratic incumbent Dennis Moore, and he proclaimed that electing Taff would aid the administration’s war effort. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat, quickly protested. “I was chagrined,” he said, that Cheney would tell people to vote for a Republican because he was a war supporter. “If that doesn’t politicize the war,” Daschle added, “I don’t know what does.” And when GOP chairman Mark Racicot observed that a vote against the war “could be fair game in the closing days of the campaign,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri griped, “He’s making a veiled threat, outlining how Republicans would use the Iraq vote against Democrats.”

Another excerpt:

Bush might have (or probably, or definitely) pushed his war against Iraq during election time for crass political reasons–to squash debate and discussion of economic and health-related issues that tend to benefit Democrats.

The piece noted:

The Democrats’ problem is that, for the most part, they are unable or unwilling to politicize Bush’s rush to war, for that would entail fiercely challenging Bush’s demand for the authority to use force against Iraq–which is not the Democratic position.

A clear–and honest–reading of the article is that the Democrats, facing a strong and political push from the White House, were caving and looking to do so ASAP. For Rove to cite this article to defend his self-serving revisionism is an indication he’s not too careful when it comes to facts. His editors at Newsweek should take note.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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