14 June 2012

Idiot of the week nominee: Karl Rove

To be fair to Karl Rove, he, unlike many of the people tapped for Idiot of the Week, did not say or do something self-evidently stupid this time. Instead, Rove, in his capacity as a Fox News talking head, is a victim of circumstance, but it's a circumstance that throws his credibility as a master of measuring or manipulating public opinion into question. It may just have been bad timing, too. Last night, on the Greta Van Sustern show, he dared the President to keep blaming his predecessor, Rove's former boss, for the state of the economy. " I want him to keep doing this," Rove said, because "First of all, it shows the contempt of the President of the United States for the intelligence of the average American." Later, he added: " Let him keep doing that because the American people see that as a weak leader. That's not somebody who's in charge. That's somebody who's making excuses. And we do not like to elect people President of the United States who are excuse makers."

Today, the Gallup polling organization reports that "Americans continue to place more blame for the nation's economic problems on George W. Bush than on Barack Obama, even though Bush left office more than three years ago. The relative economic blame given to Bush versus Obama today is virtually the same as it was last September." According to Gallup's non-zero-sum poll -- respondents didn't have to choose who was more to blame -- 68% of Americans still hold Bush to blame either a "great deal" or a "moderate amount" for the current state of the economy, while 52% blame Obama to a similar extent. The percentage blaming Obama has understandably risen since he took office, from 32% in July 2009 to the present number, while the percentage blaming Bush has slid from an understandable 80% in 2009 to a still-damning 68% today. Even among Republican respondents, who are predictably most likely to assign Obama the most blame for current conditions, 49% still say that Bush deserves a great deal or moderate amount of blame. The ever-mysterious "Independents" are more likely to blame Bush, 67% of such people assigning him major or moderate shares of blame compared to 51% who blame Obama in like proportions. In the name of objectivity, however, the most unrealistic respondents are the Democrats, only 19% of whom are willing to blame Obama to any significant extent. But if you believe that forceful leadership and an unflinching commitment to creating public jobs if necessary would have made a difference, then you either have to blame Obama for obvious failures or admit that Republican obstructionism, which Democrats would like to blame for everything, depends on presidential weakness to succeed.

Unfortunately for the President, he isn't running against George W. Bush this fall and the poll doesn't allow respondents to assign Mitt Romney any share of blame for the state of the economy.  I'm sure Democrats would blame him if they could, but the rest of the public may prove more willing to try someone else if more than half blame Obama for our present plight. Polls like this one help our party system survive. They invite people to blame George W. Bush as a person, but not the Republican party or Bush's (disputed) conservative ideology. Reducing blame to a personal level allows people to see Romney as a fresh hand, untainted by any association with Bush. That's how it should be in an ideal polity, but in a party-state like ours it's not unreasonable to predict Romney's performance by reference to Bush's. If there is a "Republican" mode of stewarding the economy, it can be presumed that Bush practiced it and Romney will. Our whole political culture assumes that there is a "Republican" and "Democratic" mode of stewardship, but at election time partisans will insist that Romney resembles Bush not in the least, despite their common Republicanism, and in 2016, whether Obama wins or loses this year, Democrats will say if necessary that their new candidate has nothing to do with Obama's policies. In any event, the Gallup poll isn't necessarily good news for Obama, since his numbers aren't that impressive, but it's bad news for Karl Rove insofar as it proves him wrong. Whatever they think of Obama, most Americans will agree with him when he blames Bush for their troubles. That's not what Rove was saying last night, and the truth makes him look like an idiot. The real proof, however, is yet to come.

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