Jewish World Review July 18, 2005 / 11 Taamuz 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Get Karl Rove! | You can almost hear the baying of the hounds. It's been a while since this administration's more automatic critics were so sure, so dead-certain that they had their prey cornered, trapped and convicted. Remember the over-heated presidential campaign of 2004? Then it was George W. Bush who was guilty of AWOL, desertion, draft-dodging and maybe double parking, too.

And why shouldn't the president's critics have been a little over-confident, not to say over the top, back in that distant time not a year ago? They had the documents to prove it!

Or at least Dan Rather and CBS had them. And they were mighty impressive documents, too — for about an hour or two, which is about all it takes these days for some blogger out there in the great ether to notice the slightest discrepancy, and soon enough point out that what looks rock-solid is really quicksand.

In the end it wasn't the president who was driven from office but the crusty old "newsman" himself. Pride had gone before the usual fall.

But if you can't get the king, strike down his vizier, or, in these less than royal times, his campaign manager. In this case, his Svengali, Mark Hanna and Jim Farley all rolled into one. Now it's Karl Rove who's in the hunters' sights, and the usual over-eager types are already measuring his impressive head for a prominent spot on their trophy wall.

This time it's not AWOL that's the charge but knowingly revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent, which, as Richard Nixon once said all too hastily about perjury, is a hard rap to prove. But what, a partisan like Hillary Clinton worry? Sentence first, verdict afterwards, to borrow a line from Lewis Carroll. Off with his head!

No need to go into detail, like proof. Never mind that it's not at all clear whether Valerie Plame — the Madame X in this case — was a covert CIA operative or just another desk jockey at Langley. How secret can a secret agent be if she gets in her car every day and drives over to CIA headquarters like any other mid-level corporate exec?

The law Karl Rove is accused of breaking was passed to protect undercover station chiefs abroad who were being deliberately exposed at the time by some creep who had confused himself with a crusading journalist. No one, at least no one without a political axe to grind, would have mistaken Miss Plame/Mrs. Joseph C. Wilson IV for a Mata Hari at the time.

Even if Miss Plame was indeed a secret agent straight out of Joseph Conrad at the time, did Karl Rove know it when he referred to her in a "double super secret background" comment to a reporter for Time magazine? Maybe her disguise as just another bureaucrat was so good it had him fooled, too.

But never mind all that. To those eager to see a case that hasn't been made yet, Karl Rove is guilty, guilty, guilty and, besides, they never liked him anyway.

Never mind that the special prosecutor in this case hasn't yet told us whether a crime has been committed, let alone who committed it. (Colonel Mustard with a lead pipe in the conservatory?) It's all one big guessing game at this premature point.

Back at the U.S. Senate, the mob is forming. The usual suspects are demanding that Karl Rove be rounded up. Hillary Clinton, who in another life never had a good word for special prosecutors, has joined John Kerry in demanding that this president fire his right-hand man. The hunt is on! And senators rush in where special prosecutors have yet to tread. Strangely enough, the other senator from New York — Charles Schumer, who's usually leading the partisan mob — has made the daring suggestion that we all suspend judgment till the evidence is in. Goodness, let's hope the senator is feeling all right. He doesn't sound at all like himself. Can his legal training have gotten the better of his sheer animus for once?

It sounds like such a quaint practice: suspending judgment till we know the facts. Was there ever a time when that was actually the case? Probably not in American politics, which ain't beanbag, to borrow a line from the sage Mr. Dooley.

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Here's my own fearless conclusion: We stand on the verge of (a) another scandal, (b) another non-scandal, or (c) something in-between. And till we know, let's not rush to judgment.

But all those talking heads have air time to fill and a partisan agenda to carry out, and they aren't about to be deterred by a little thing like elemental fairness — or simple prudence. They might remember just two words of caution: Dan Rather.

Of course this isn't only a legal matter. Quite aside from whether Karl Rove broke the law, did he break faith with the president? Did he mislead the boss, and lead the White House to believe he had nothing to do with this leak? One needn't break a law to violate a trust.

What happens if Mr. Rove, aka The Architect (of the president's electoral victories), becomes more of a hindrance than help to this president, and to his presidency? He will need to go. It wouldn't be the first time he was suspected of leaking to the press, and fired from a Bush team. (Back then, it was Bush 41's disaster of a campaign in '92.)

Once the facts are in, George W. Bush may have to exhibit what Fiorello La Guardia once called the first quality of a successful leader — a monumental ingratitude to his friends — and learn how to get along without the political mastermind who put him in the White House.

But let's wait till all the facts are in before we grease the guillotine, shall we?

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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