Garance at Tapped , has her hopes up that Richard Viguerie’s new book will provide some fireworks because “He’s setting up his loyalty to conservatism against Karl Rove’s loyalty to Republicanism, and the clash of those two titans should be fun to watch in the months ahead.”
There are a several possible responses to all this. The first is that, uh, I don’t know very many people who still look to Richard Viguerie as some sort of conservative saint or standard-bearer, though obviously Viguerie sees himself that way. How could he not? He’s the only person out there who actually read all of that direct mail he sent out.
But, what I think is more interesting is the underlying assumption — often brutally explicit in my email box — that Karl Rove is some undilluted hero on the right. Garance doesn’t flatly say this, but her post reminded me of the phenomenon.
I’m not saying Rove is hated or disliked on the right. But I get email from people who think it will really, really hurt my feelings if they disparage Rove. I may think they’re stupid, silly or fair depending on what they say, but I just have no huge personal investment in Rove. I certainly dislike most of his enemies and all that. Indeed, I suspect what passess for his popularity on the right has more to do with the unpopularity of his foes (I’d rather sit on an un-air-conditioned bus with Karl Rove and twenty illegal immigrants than have a steak at the Palm with Joe Wilson).
I think this is one of these much-vaunted distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Liberals admire political power, activism and organization. So, they tend to fixate on people on the right who seem to correspond most to their ideal types. If I had a penny for every time The New Republic and The American Prospect talked about Grover Norquist as The Most Important Man in the Universe, I’d have enough money to get Jack Abramoff a better lawyer. Meanwhile, conservatives tend to admire ideas (often to the point of paying too little attention to the importance of organization). So in the Clinton administration, our villains were the “ideologues” we saw as the anti-matter universe versions of ourselves.
Karl Rove’s an important and smart guy. And his status in American history remains unknown. Perhaps he will be the architect of the permanent Republican majority or some such. But I sincerely doubt he will be remembered as a hero of American conservatism. He may well end up remembered as Richard Viguerie is. An important political innovator who mistakes his fame on the right for love.