Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Lisa Harris (lrph) Mon 4 Aug 08 10:51
We're pleased to welcome Paul Alexander to the Inkwell to discuss his book, "Machiavelli's Shadow". Paul Alexander is the editor of the essay collection Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath and the author of Rough Magic, a biography of Plath; Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the best-selling biography of James Dean; Death and Disaster, a book about the death and estate of Andy Warhol;Salinger, a biography of J.D. Salinger; and The Candidate, a chronicle of John Kerryâs presidential campaign. This summer saw the publication of Machiavelliâs Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove, an examination of the politics of Rove, as well as the release of an updated edition of Man of the People, a biography of John McCain. A former reporter for Time, Alexander has published nonfiction in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, New York, The Nation, The Village Voice, Salon, Worth, The New York Observer, George, Cosmopolitan, More, Interview, ARTnews, Mirabella, Premiere, Out, The Advocate, Travel & Leisure, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Biography, Menâs Journal, Best Life, but mostly Rolling Stone. In Europe, his nonfiction has appeared in Paris Match, Gente, and The Guardian. Alexander is a graduate of The Writersâ Workshop at The University of Iowa and a member of PEN American Center, the Screenwriters Guild, the Authors Guild, and the Playwrights and Directors Unit of The Actors Studio. In the fall of 2002, he was a Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He lives in New York City. And leading our interview will be our own Patrick Lopez. Patrick Lopez grew up in Houston and has resided in Austin for the past 20 years. He comes from a long line of Texans interested in politics. New to Austin at the end of the 1980s, he watched Rove rise from being just another Austin political consultant, to defeating the undefeatable Ann Richards, to engineering the former âpermanent Republican majority.â He has long been fascinated by Karl Rove and the mythology of Karl Rove.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Mon 4 Aug 08 12:44
Welcome to the well and the inkwell.vue conference, Paul! Thanks for sharing a bit of your time to talk about Machiavelli's Shadow. I first learned about your book when I came across, and was riveted by, the Katrina chapter that was excerpted in Salon. For those of y'all who haven't read it, the excerpt is still up at <http://www.salon.com/books/excerpt/2008/06/06/rove_katrina/index.html> Karl Rove has emerged as one of the most colorful and larger than life political figures in recent years. From his earliest years in politics, serving on the College Republican National Committee, Rove established a reputation as both a savvy campaigner and an expert in the art of dirty politics. Roveâs reputation and legend began to grow in the late 1980s when he engineered a series of defeats over formidable opponents. However, many of Roveâs campaigns, besides being victorious, included questionable and dubious components. Roveâs reputation and legend for both political acumen and dirty trickery reached a high point soon after GW was first sworn in as president. Subsequent policy missteps and disasters tarnished that reputation and the infamous interview on NPR with Bob Siegel about âTHE mathâ added a buffoonish cast that has stuck with Rove ever since. Finally, here is the question that I would like to open the interview with: Why does this book matter? Why should anyone care about what a former advisor to a soon to be departing president did? Is it just a matter of interesting stories of a scoundrel's shenanigans, or are there other reasons that people should try to understand Karl Rove and his role in the Bush presidency?
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Wed 6 Aug 08 12:17
One might hope for some preventive effect...
Paul Alexander (reporter1) Wed 6 Aug 08 13:09
First of all, thanks for having me. I look forward to having a discussion about my book, "Machiavelli's Shadow," as well as what's happening on the political landscape in general. I think my book is timely because it gives us a chance to look back at Bush the candidate and Bush the president and, at least from the point of view of politics, see what he -- through Rove -- was trying to achieve. Current opinion polls indicate that the public is pretty unhappy with Bush's overall achievement; at the moment there are not a lot of accomplishments to which this administration can point with pride. In fact, the vice president is so unpopular he doesn't plan to attend his own party's national convention this summer. But what was the goal? According to Rove, he -- and we must presume Bush -- wanted to go to Washington and establishment what Rove himself would call "a permanent Republican majority." That was the overriding objective, and my book examines how Rove went about trying to accomplish that goal -- and the consequences of his actions. My book matters, I think, because it is worthwhile to document such agendas in politics, especially since our form of government is based on having a two-party system, not a one-party permanent majority. My book also matters because Karl Rove will play a role in the fall election. According to a mass email James Carville sent out on June 30, the Republican Party -- not the McCain campaign -- is setting up a 527, funded to the tune of $250 million, that will be run by Rove. If this is true, as stated by Carville, look for Rove's past dirty tricks to be used once again, all outside the direct control of the McCain campaign.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Wed 6 Aug 08 14:29
One of the most disturbing chapters in your book focussed on Alabama, the governer's race in 2002, and the subsequent persecution of the Democratic candidate, Don Siegelman. This episode includes so many factors that frequently seem associated with Rove--there is the strange shift in the vote tally that takes the victory away from Siegelman and hands it to Bob Riley and a politically motivated prosecution that seems to kneecap a rising Democratic star. After the book came out and after I read it, there was a strange development that i can't make sense of. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committe submitted a list of 14 questions to Rove regarding the prosecution of Siegelman. Rove submitted written answers to these questions. To all of 14 questions Rove repeats the answer below, either identically or with slight variation: "I have never communicated, either directly or indirectly, with Justice Deparment or Alabama officials about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentincing of Governor Siegelman, or about any other matter related to his case, nor have i asked any other individual to communicate about these matters on my behalf. I have never attempted, either directly or indirectly, to influence these matters." (I retyped the quote above, any typos, errors, etc. are mine). In addition to providing that answer to the 14 questions, Rove also supplied some additional material. In typical Rovian fashion, the additional material did not illuminate anything about Roves involvement either. Did you see Rove's written answers? What did you make of this? Can you discuss the Siegelman case a bit and put any developments from this summer into context?
Tom Howard (tom) Wed 6 Aug 08 20:02
Paul, welcome. I'm well into your book and am already regaling my friends and acquaintances with stories of Rove's youth and early campaigns. This is a nightmare that you report above: "the Republican Party -- not the McCain campaign -- is setting up a 527, funded to the tune of $250 million, that will be run by Rove. If this is true, as stated by Carville, look for Rove's past dirty tricks to be used once again, all outside the direct control of the McCain campaign." It looks like he'll be able to do absolutely anything he wants with that kind of money and then a quick pardon, after the election, and before Bush leaves office. Yes? Is there any reason to go on living?
"The Best for Your Health!" (rik) Wed 6 Aug 08 20:29
At the very least, the last line in "Candide".
Tom Howard (tom) Thu 7 Aug 08 05:46
<rik>, thanks, but I don't garden. Firstly, I believe all bad things about Rove -- his history is interesting, but his "accomplishments" say it all. The Bush Residency is all the legacy that Rove needs, an utter failure for Bush, Rove, and the US. Paul, I was wondering about your telling the tales of the two biographies, that it is all very much from the view of those two. Herskowitz seems like a nice guy caught up in an amazing fog of "WTF is going on." But then again, he's an old friend of the Bush's; how sympathetic can he be if even believable? And, of course, Hatfield seems to be just downright insane thinking he could marry without revealing his past (and current parole status!) much less write a book about a presidential candidate. I reveled in those two stories, but now come away thinking, hmmm, why should I really care about either of them and their perspectives on the attempted biographies?
Stuart (sjs) Thu 7 Aug 08 06:43
The combination of the well funded 527 group run by Rove and this line from <7>: "The Bush Residency is all the legacy that Rove needs, an utter failure for Bush, Rove, and the US." is interesting. Do you think Rove, in an effort to revive his reputation (or, in other words, to refute any notion that there has been a "Fall of Karl Rove") will be relatively more visible/up front about his activities in this election?
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 7 Aug 08 07:08
I should have posted in this up in response #4, but here is a copy of Rove's responses to Lamar Smith's questions abou the Siegelman case: <http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/siegelman-rove-answers>
(dana) Thu 7 Aug 08 13:17
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to the conversation by emailing <email@example.com> -- please put the authors name in the subject line. Thank you!)
David Wilson (dlwilson) Thu 7 Aug 08 15:24
I read the excerpt of your book on Katrina and dropped my jaw. Then my cynical side kicked in and I was able to pick it back up. If you are able to uncover such Rove machinations now, what can we expect when Bush leaves office? Most of the protections would be off and more people would be willing to talk. I remember Teapot Dome from my high school history class presented as a major politcal scandel and then an object lesson. Will this pale by comparison?
Paul Alexander (reporter1) Thu 7 Aug 08 15:43
One of the consequences of the Democrats in Congress not being more aggressive with Rove is that he is free to run a 527 in the fall campaign, should that come about. James Carville would not have sent out the email he did if such a 527 was not a strong possibility. Had the House leadership been more strident in their investigation of Rove, they may have been able to tie him up with legal problems enough to keep him out of play. But that didn't happen, because Nancy Pelosi is apparently worried about appearing partisan. How appearing partisan is a bad thing is puzzling to me, especially since they would be going after Rove, the ultimate partisan. But that has been Pelosi's thinking -- and still is.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 7 Aug 08 16:05
paul, have you ever met Rove? If so, what was that like? Has there been any response or reaction from Rove and company about your book?
Sebastian Mendler (smendler) Fri 8 Aug 08 08:02
And what is going on with the contempt citation? Will we *ever* see him testify under oath?
Tom Howard (tom) Fri 8 Aug 08 11:33
> paul, have you ever met Rove? If so, what was that like? Yikes, I can hardly imagine. We have relatively new neighbors down the street, and the woman used to work for Rove. Bush stickers on both their SUVs. Sour pusses. My wife and I can hardly stand walking by their house! Often we can just SEE the ghostbusters level toxicity sparking out of the their roof.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 8 Aug 08 11:57
Well, you can't blame them for being sourpusses. The peasants are always misbehaving!
Stuart (sjs) Fri 8 Aug 08 12:02
Ha! As long as we're sharing this kind of stuff, take a look at this clip: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM0zJl9Bxk8> at around the 4 minute mark (though the whole thing is worth seeing). It's footage from back in the days when Rove was merely Turd Sprout. He working in the office in the Nixon campaign charged with -- in Dan Rather's words -- "embarrassing pundits who claim[ed] Nixon [didn't] appeal to youth."
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Fri 8 Aug 08 12:27
I want to know how he justifies what he does. I've never been able to grasp that.
Paul Alexander (reporter1) Fri 8 Aug 08 20:15
I first encountered George W. Bush -- and as a result Karl Rove -- in 1998 when Bush was running for re-election as Texas governor. I followed Bush on the campaign trail as he was hitting, among other places, these small towns in the Hill Country. Bush refused to talk to me for that article because I was a national reporter and he was running for re-election as Texas governor. Rove was always lurking in the background at that time, as was Karen Hughes. I then followed Bush on the trail in 2000 as he was running for president. Again, Rove and Hughes were always around. I would see them at events. Hughes was always composed and professional; Rove was often willing to go to combat with reporters -- or anyone else who wanted to challenge Bush. My impression of Rove was that he was controlling and manipulative and brilliant. He knew exactly what he had in Bush as a candidate -- in his mind he was a political showhorse -- and he was determined to get him elected. No matter what he had to do in the process. Leading up to the 2000 campaign, I wrote a 10,000-word profile of Bush for "Rolling Stone" called "All Hat, No Cattle," which depicted Bush as an inexperienced, arrogant, deeply flawed man who had chalked up a miserable career as a businessman. Every business he had run or sat on the board of -- except the Texas Rangers baseball team, of which he owned only 1.6 percent -- he had run into the ground. Needless to say, Rove and company hit back hard when that piece appeared, and through the years I've had the sense that Rove was aware of the critical pieces I wrote concerning Bush, just as he has been aware of the publication of my book about him. But I've never had a conversation with Karl Rove.
Tom Howard (tom) Sat 9 Aug 08 07:10
Cogito? (robertflink) Sat 9 Aug 08 15:43
Has Rove written anything that covers similar ground as "The Prince"? Was Machiavelli addressing a person with similar credentials (or lack thereof) as "The Decider"? Are the other "man behind the throne" figures in history that compare with Rove?
Paul Alexander (reporter1) Sat 9 Aug 08 21:29
To my knowledge, Rove has never written anything, although supposedly he is currently writing a book that may or may not have a publisher -- the record is not clear on that one, like so much in Rove's life. Through the years, mostly what he has written -- or at least read in public -- are speeches. And, certainly, he has never delivered anything even approaching "The Prince" in sophistication or literary merit. Rove began telling people years ago he read "The Prince" once a year because that was the practice of Lee Atwater, his political hero. Atwater claimed he read "The Prince" once a year to keep sharp his Machiavellian skills. If that's what Atwater did, then Rove decided that's what he would do too.
Elisabeth (wickett) Sun 10 Aug 08 00:47
But, but, but Machiavelli would likely be appalled by such acolytes taking his name in vain. Of course, the eponymous author and the definition of the adjective have diverged and the adjective is now a mockery of the original. But if, in fact, Rove actually read _The Prince_ annually, he would be without a blueprint, except, perhaps, for Bush's despicable cronyism. Machievelli was a proponent of wise planning for his forays into brutality and he required them to be effective.
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Sun 10 Aug 08 07:19
Detail, details ;-).
Sharon Brogan (sbmontana) Sun 10 Aug 08 09:51
We know that people who are immersed in ideology, who believe that they are 'right', are more apt to engage in unethical behavior to pursue their ends. But Rove appears to believe in nothing. Are we to assume he is simply a sociopath, in pursuit of power? Is that the only thing that moves him?
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