We May Never Cheer

Creature isn't feeling excited about Rove's arrivederci: "You know, I'm not all rah rah over Rove's departure. The earth has been scorched, the death toll is astronomical, and Rove gets to go home, spin in novel form, and collect his riches. I want to cheer, but I just don't have it in me."

And I can relate. I never expected Rove to resign, unless it was in disgrace. He was supposed to get caught and collapse spectacularly, or stick it out until the bitter end—but either way, never was he supposed to hand in his resignation and stroll off with a shrug, like a college kid who gets bored with "the bullshit" at Circuit City and decides to try working at Borders for awhile. It just feels…wrong.

It wasn't even a lead story on the news last night, and why would it be? Most Americans don't even recognize the name of the man who has been a Republican operative for longer than I've been alive, who has been shadowed by scandal nearly as long, who was fired from Daddy Bush's 1992 presidential campaign for unethical leaking, who then managed Dubya's 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial campaigns, spending years molding and shaping his candidate into presidential material, finally getting him into the White House in 2000, from where the Turd Blossom himself has orchestrated domestic (and foreign) policy for the last six+ years. Much of the new American landscape is attributable to Rove's machinations, but most Americans couldn't pick him out of a crowd of two.

So it makes sense he'd go slinking off into the sunset without much fanfare, but it still doesn't feel right.

I hope that Emptywheel is right, that one of the investigations which have veered impossibly close to Rove without actually touching him might one day get him in a stranglehold. But I don't hold out much hope for it, if I'm honest. I feel like there's a good possibility this is merely the first (or second, if one counts Rummy) of many unceremonious fades from the failing light of a waning administration. I once said that I fervently long for the day when Bush takes his leave from governance and retreats to Crawford for good, where I won't give the tiniest, microscopic shit about him whethter he is lost in a tragic brush-clearing accident and his body devoured by wild dogs before the search party arrives, or whether he lives out the remainder of his useless life in good health and happiness—either way, I don't care, as long as I never have to think about him for the rest of my days. I want to say the same thing about Rove, but I can't even say it about Bush anymore.

How will I not think about them? I can't imagine casting my eyes toward Iraq, or writing a post about the still-struggling Gulf Cost, or reading another infuriating 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court, or hearing about a family who lost their home because of the catastrophic combination of a healthcare crisis and no health insurance, or a crumbling infrastructure, or American students falling behind their global peers, or American scientists falling behind theirs, or any one of dozens of issues that have Rove's grubby fingerprints and Bush's crummy signature (not to mention a signing statement or twelve) all over them, and failing to think about them. They have changed our country. They have changed our lives.

Traces of those changes will linger insistently, along with reminders of the men behind them. We will be unable to avoid thinking of them, I fear, no matter how much we may want and try, when Bush's adulators, having spent years putting his name on their bumpers and his initial on their baseball caps, turn their attentions to celebrating him in his withdrawal by putting his face on silver coins and petitioning to rename schools and highways in his honor. And it will be equally as hard to forget as it will be to remember without the peculiar lens of national memory clouding our own. The tones and shades and contours of our memory of this time may well be influenced by how the nation chooses to regard it.

The years 1945 to 1960 are often referred to as a golden age of America, after boys who were ripped from the arms of their belles and sent to another continent to fight a great war against tyranny and despair, had returned home as men, as heroes, and set to work, every last one of them, grabbing the American Dream with both hands. On the GI bill, they went to college and found themselves good jobs in an expanding economy. Scientists in white lab coats and square, black-framed glasses toiled away, trying to pull ahead in the Space Race that had captured Americans’ imagination. Teenagers hung out at sock hops and neon-lit diners, girls longing for lavaliers and boys who wondered how to get laid. It was the dawn of suburbia, with fancy, new-fangled household gadgets to make life easier, and television, and TV dinners. Elvis’ pelvis was considered a scandal, and Marilyn Monroe a bombshell. Dad had a pension and the promise of a gold watch after 30 years, and Mom had a Frigidaire. And everyone was happy.

At least in the national memory, they were. That time was imperfect like any other, and perhaps even more so than most. Half a million of those boys who went off to war never came home—and some of them weren’t boys at all, but men, who left wives and children with desperate struggles in the place where their husbands and fathers had been. Some who had come home were never the same, their bodies or minds damaged beyond real repair. Segregation was about to come to an explosive ending (in the legal books, anyway), future feminists and gay rights activists were beginning to get restless with the political and cultural marginalization they experienced, McCarthy was on his Communist witch hunt, and we fought an all-but-forgotten war in Korea for three years and lost over 35,000 soldiers. There were back-alley abortions, and J.D. Salinger, James Dean, and the beatniks represented a side of popular culture that never quite made it onto Happy Days, a show that brought the nation’s memory of the era to life. The Cunninghams never had to find out that Elvis and Marilyn both died of drugs.

In each of our histories, outside of what we remember fondly, there are the things we just can’t recall, the things we choose to forget, and the things we’d forget if only we could. The same is true of our national memory; there are times we cannot forget, and shouldn’t, even if we wanted to—Nixon will always remain shrouded in shame, never to be celebrated as a good president. Reagan is another story—we seem to have become as forgetful as he was, and his lasting legacy is more positive than not in the nation’s memory, although it probably doesn’t deserve to be. Bush's legacy is yet to be defined in our national memory, and will inevitably be determined by what falls in between now and then, whenever then may be. It’s impossible to know what will come.

Imagine being able to forget an entire war, just to make our national memory what we want it to be.

Imagine not knowing the name Karl Rove, in spite of the effect he's had on your country.

I want to cheer that he's gone, too, but the man moving back to Texas doesn't magically restore what he has dismantled. It doesn't undo what he has done. It doesn't erase everything that has transpired since the fateful day in 1973 when Daddy Bush asked his young minion to take some car keys to his son Dubya, a meeting about which Rove would later fondly reminisce: "Huge amounts of charisma, swagger, cowboy boots, flight jacket, wonderful smile, just charisma—you know, wow." We may never comprehend the full gravity of that meeting. I don't believe we yet fully grasp the scope of his influence.

And it may be a very long time before our country and our world is free of the obvious traces of that influence. Gone but not forgotten… What chills me is the thought of his lasting influence. What bothers me is the possibility that he'll never be gone enough, that perhaps we may never cheer that he has gone, because he really hasn't.

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