06.29.11

Karl Rove’s Gift to the Dems

Liberals love to loathe Karl Rove. But as Paul Begala points out, that makes him a valuable asset, inspiring Democrats to donate to a new group to counter Rove’s influence.

I should send Karl Rove flowers. Rove, the nemesis of all things liberal, has raised more money for the progressive group I advise than any Democrat ever could. The group, Priorities USA Action, is using some of the money Karl has raised for us to air an ad responding to the ad Rove's group, American Crossroads, is running.

Rove's ad hammers President Obama on the economy, which takes some chutzpah (as we say in Texas). As counselor to the president in the Clinton White House, I helped Clinton balance the budget, build a record surplus, shrink the federal workforce to its lowest level since JFK's administration, and create 23 million new private-sector jobs. As counselor to the president in the George W. Bush administration, Karl inherited all that. And squandered it. Which surprised even me, since I figured if there's anything Republicans ought to be good at, it's inheriting things.

Almost certainly against his will, Karl is paying me back. His attacks on President Obama have been, as his old boss might say, unrelentless. Rove attacking Obama on the economy is like an arsonist attacking a firefighter. Still, Rove's remarkable success raising tens of millions of dollars from various right-wing millionaires and billionaires to fund his attacks had me fired up.

So when former Obama White House staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney approached me about helping them counterbalance Rove, I jumped at the chance. Our first major ad, responding to Rove's $20 million investment in the Blame Barack Theory, just hit the airwaves in five swing states. It can be found online here.

While it's true that some Democrats were disappointed when they realized that President Obama doesn't ride a unicorn and shoot jobs out of his fingers, it is Rove and his antics that keep bringing them back. Karl is at least partly responsible for the fact that, unlike Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, Obama is not being challenged in his party. Even the most disenchanted Democrat gets motivated to fight back when I remind her or him about Rove and his mission.

But there's the political and there's the personal. Having served in the White House at the most senior level, I respected Karl's service, even as I deeply disagreed with his agenda. I know firsthand the personal toll: the demanding hours, the impossible problems, the sleepless nights. We both love chasing quail and hunting deer in our beloved Texas. And we'd both rather read polling crosstabs than attend a Broadway show. When we meet in debates, Karl is cordial—even genial—and I do my best to reciprocate.

It's odd that we only faced off once. Twenty years ago, Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania died tragically. My client, Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey, appointed Harris Wofford to fill the seat and encouraged him to run for the unexpired term. Wofford is a visionary; he worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., he served in the Kennedy White House, and helped Sargent Shriver start the Peace Corps. But he had never been elected dogcatcher. His GOP opponent was Dick Thornburgh, a beloved two-term governor then serving as President Bush 41's attorney general. Thornburgh hired Rove to advise him and had Roger Ailes make his ads. I was about to turn 30 when Wofford asked me to be his campaign manager.

The last time Rove & Co. ran things, they ruined the country. Next time they'll ruin the world.

We started out 47 points behind but won by 10 in that rarest of political events, an upset landslide. I'd like to pretend it was because of me, but that's nonsense. Rove truly is gifted and Ailes is a television genius. Wofford won because he focused on health care, running a powerful, populist campaign.

The lesson I drew from that experience is that the message matters most. My message to voters is that Karl Rove's Republican Party has the wrong priorities; the GOP turns its back on the middle class by proposing to essentially end Medicare for future retirees and slash education while giving tax breaks to the wealthy.

And my message to activists and donors and every Democrat who is a little disappointed these days is this: We can't let Karl Rove's attacks go unanswered. Whatever your frustrations with President Obama may be, they pale in comparison to what Rove & Co. would do if they got back in power. The last time they ran things, they ruined the country. Next time they'll ruin the world.

So I want to thank Karl for uniting Democrats, inspiring donors, and reigniting the spark in so many progressives. Maybe instead of flowers I ought to send Karl vitamins. I'd hate to think what would happen to us without him.