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                                       politics + culture

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Karl Rove had come to love Cheney...[snip]...Cheney had made it clear he did not aspire to the presidency. It was almost an unheard-of luxury to not have the the vice president nipping at the president's heels, Rove realized. Cheney did not seem worried about covering his own ass, an amazing phenomenon in politics.

-Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, 2004, p 429

One thing about Rove and Bush...and it's something that characterizes the entire GOP...is that they like "slam dunks." They like things to be settled simply, directly, powerfully...in one fell swoop. They don't play chess; and if they do, they don't trade pieces. They like things done and they'll play dirty to get there quickly.

That wasn't true of Bill Clinton, a president who "traded pieces" like it was going out of style. Clinton wasn't a "dunk" man; as his infamous Lewinsky denial proved, he wasn't good at it. (If slam dunks express GOP politics, then Bill Clinton was Larry Bird, a gifted player who used almost every other move but the dunk.)

Bill Clinton's strength, in chess terms, was that he could look down a chain of eventualities, assess the strength and weakness of his position, and play the game accordingly, even with a great deal left "up in the air" and contingent. If politics is chess, then Bill Clinton understood the middle game, he understood trading pieces for position; Clinton understood how an opening is as much a way to hide one's strength from an opponent...as it is to make that strength known. Bill Starr and Newt Gingrich took on Bill Clinton...and, in terms of who was left standing at the end of the day, in 'chess terms', Clinton won.

Many very smart folks on the left today are understanding Fitzgerald as a "chess player," as someone capable of looking five or six moves down the road. I think that's true. And it seems to me that folks like Bill Safire, and George Will, and David Brooks, in their need to give Rove the "slam dunk" he's looking for....denigrating Fitz, denigrating the investigation, "pooh-pooh"-ing the seriousness of the Libby indictment...are making a big mistake.

There's a great deal contained in the "four corners" of Fitzgerald's indictment. That indictment represents, in chess terms, an "opening"; it conveys strengths and weaknesses. It hides and it reveals. Almost anything might develop from it, or, yes, as GOP spinmeisters insist, perhaps to their own eventual embarassment...the indictment might result in nothing much at all.

I'm convinced, however, that, like Watergate, we're playing chess here. And, unlike the spinmeisters, I think the public understands how serious the possible outcomes and underlying issues are. If you ask me, the Vice President knows that too. In June of 2003 Dick Cheney may very well have sent Scooter Libby on a mission to find a "slam dunk" to use against Joseph Wilson. (Link and more analysis at firedoglake)

If that is true, if close examination of the lead-up to the Novak 'Plame article' reveals the complicity of Karl Rove and the office of the Vice-President in the leak that article contained, then Bush, Rove and Cheney together may very well come to realize...in the press, in the gossip cauldron of D.C., in the halls of Congress, in the office of a Federal prosecutor, and perhaps, in a court of law, how foolish it is to try to "slam dunk" in the game of chess, especially when you touch the third rail of any presidency: vulnerability in federal court.

Chess, at the end of the day, is not so much about raw attack as it is about managing vulnerability.

Karl Rove and his lawyers may be mulling that word over right now (or, perhaps not): vulnerability. It makes one wonder, as well, if the Vice President will, at long last, be shown not simply as covetous of the powers of the presidency, but to have been very much interested in covering his own ass as well.



  • Another very thoughtful and excellent piece.

    By Anonymous prettysure(fka just wondering), at 2:26 PM  

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