Since Karl Rove first turned up as a youthful dirty trickster for the Nixon campaign in 1972, his underhanded attacks have always been calculating. When he decided that he would question whether the fall and concussion Hillary Clinton suffered in 2012 to try to disqualify her from consideration for the presidency, it was only his latest cynical move.
That Rove is up to his old dirty tricks should come as no surprise. After all, his history of cheap shots, divisive wedge issues, and slanderous personal attacks has been well documented over the years beginning with the Watergate Report.
My family knows what it is like to be dragged through Rove's sewer. In 2003, he was part of the cabal that betrayed my wife Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA officer, in order to distract attention from the George W. Bush administration's lies about weapons of mass destruction as justification for war with Iraq. Even in the rough and tumble world of Washington politics, these attacks on the spouse of a critic were unprecedented. The fact that the spouse was a covert CIA officer and ruined her ability to serve our nation made what Rove and his partners did treasonous as well. Even though he managed to skate away from criminal charges, his fingerprints were all over the scandal as his five visits to the grand jury and last minute amended testimony enabling him to avoid being indicted made clear.
Make no mistake, Rove is a despicable figure in American politics. His game is always to divide and demonize Americans, to destroy for short-term gain. Rove demonized gays in the 2004 Bush reelection campaign by spawning anti-gay state initiatives across the country. Hardly anybody now believes in the rationale for the Iraq War. And public opinion and the courts have turned on gay rights and marriage equality. But Rove doesn't really care. He's a drive-by hit-and-run man who thinks he will always get away with it.
But when even the likes of Newt Gingrich are offended by Rove's comments, one has to wonder whether Karl has finally reached his sell-by date. How many constituencies can you offend and still hope that Koch brothers' money will bail you out? When will Republicans finally reject the Rovian approach of pitting Americans against Americans and sowing division and hate in our political process?
African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, gays, women, and even national security realists (like me) have long since fled the Republican Party as poll after poll have shown. But Rove is still practicing his old tricks. By attacking Hillary Clinton he seeks to do short-term damage. But what about the long-term damage he's done and is doing to his own party? By 2016, Rove will have succeeded in alienating millions more through his revolting tactics.
His latest target, Hillary Clinton, has served our nation nobly for decades, as first lady, Senator and Secretary of State. I have no idea what her future plans might include, but she still has much to offer the country, and should she decide to run for president we can be quite sure that she will address forthrightly all questions related to her health and age, just as all candidates do, including the vicious suggestion that she suffered a "traumatic brain episode or incident," as Rove asserted, which has already been repudiated by her doctor.
Of course, there are clear policy differences between the parties that deserve to be fully aired and discussed in the upcoming campaign. But an increasingly desperate Rove, whose results in 2012 were nil, still pursues a strategy that focuses on the politics of personal destruction rather than policy. It didn't work in the '90s when the attacks on the Clintons were ferocious. The attacks of the Birthers didn't work against President Obama, and the latest Rove attack won't work against Hillary, now or in the future. But Rove can't stop himself.
Americans have suffered through decades of Rove's cynical nastiness. His influence on the Republican Party has been counterproductive to his party and warped our broader political discourse. While the Republicans are apparently unwilling to jettison him, the rest of us, especially the media, should no longer be willing to give him free rein to slander people. Rove isn't raising "legitimate" issues. He's engaged in smears. That's what he does. That's who he is. He doesn't care if anything is true. He lies with abandon.
Unfortunately, Rove is shameless. He's got tens of millions of dark money from plutocrats to pollute democracy. He will continue to be an enemy of progress, as he promotes division, bigotry and lies. It is past time to say to him, as the attorney Joseph Welch said to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy hearings: "At long last, have you no sense of decency?"