Monday, August 13, 2007

Karl Rove: Portrait of the Bullshit Artist as an Old Man

A colleague was discussing Karl Rove today and the word she kept using was "smug." Here's a man who is leaving in a hurry, which is generally an indication that one is either being pushed or chased, yet there remains the ubiquitous smugness.

What accounts for it, I believe, is a complete lack of seriousness. Not that Rove is not intense and driven, I mean a deeper metaphysical capriciousness. It is one thing to treat everything as if it were a game, it is another to actually believe it is all a game. Here is the kid who cheated his way to a championship trophy and who believes that all those who object are just jealous that they weren't gamesmen enough to beat him.

Does anyone have much doubt that it was Rove who Ron Suskind quoted in his New York Times Magazinearticle,

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
The postmoderninsts were seduced by the idea of deconstruction, convinced that the ultimate political act was to peel back the layers of belief to expose politics where epistemology was thought to be. But Rove realized that deconstruction was for losers, it was an autopsy. The job you want is Dr. Frankenstein, building the monster in the first place. Preconstruction is the place of postmodern winners, deconstruction is for whiners.

But this game requires rejecting truth and the notion of objective reality that accompanies it. Rove was the ultimate bullshit artist, in the technical sense of Harry Frankfurt.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Truth is usefulness. Reality is what you get everyone to believe. All is maleable.

Rove leaves smug because he doesn't think reality has caught up to him, after all, he hasn't let least in the reality he creates.