- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) — News media liberals are escalating their assault on President George W. Bush. They are convinced that someone who can speak with a drawl, hails from West Texas, and is the son of a former president of the United States and the holder of a M.B.A. degree, lacks the smarts to be in the Oval Office.

Rather than attack him head on, a tactic bound to fail given George W's high popularity, they are going at him indirectly, alternately attacking and praising his advisers in an effort to deny him all the credit but give him all the blame.

If it is suggested enough times that someone else has to do Bush's thinking for him, odds are many Americans will come to believe he's not in charge. That is exactly what is happening and the media-anointed power behind the throne who pulls the strings is supposed to be Karl Rove.

One just-published book about Karl Rove presents him as "the brains" behind the Bush presidency. A forthcoming book says Rove "made" George W. Most of the coverage of Rove in the news media implies there is something sinister in the role that Rove plays advising Bush on policy and politics.

Given that I know both Bush and Karl Rove, I think I have a little expertise on the personalities of both men and how they work together. Nothing could be farther from the truth that Karl Rove is the backroom wizard pulling the strings of his marionette George W. Bush in the manner that the little man in the backroom manipulated the overpowering specter of the "Wizard of Oz."

Rove is a loyal and trusted aide to the president and, indeed, George W. Bush does solicit his opinion on a wide variety of matters. But it is Bush, not Rove, who is calling the shots. However, Rove understands that it is useful for some people to believe that he has undue influence. That way they can be angry at Rove and still think that President Bush is the good guy.

The unexpected Republican capture of the Senate and the GOP's increased strength in the House is attributed to Rove. He insists, and a subsequent conversation that I had with the President confirms, that it was President Bush who understood that he had political capital and if he expended some of it in the midterm election, the payoff might be tremendous. Rove said that Bush was anxious to get out on the campaign trail much earlier than he did.

Rove's contribution was to convince the President that he needed to wait until his presence on the campaign trail would be most effective.

I have seen three Democratic and five Republican administrations up close in my time in Washington. This Bush administration is by far the most effective of any of the GOP presidencies in seeking input from its coalition members and acting upon their advice whenever possible.

No administration can keep all elements of its coalition happy at all times. The key is to be sure that all elements have enough at stake in the coalition so that they will continue to support it come election time.

Bush has done that extremely well and for that we can thank Karl Rove. He has excellent people who assist him in making sure he is on top of what the coalition partners desire.

One White House aide is responsible for dealing with conservative and religious groups. Another deals with the business community. Still others work with the Republican Party and all the other parts of the coalition that helped to elect Bush in 2000, as well as other groups that did not support Bush.

The views of these groups and the intensity of their feelings are conveyed to Rove, who is then able to explain to Bush the consequences of any action that he might take and how it will affect his coalition. That is one factor in keeping President Bush's ratings as high as they have continued to be.

Contrast this with the Nixon White House in which aides H.R. "Bob" Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman exercised an iron-like vise over the information that the president received. Their agenda was often different than his, and their manipulations proved counterproductive.

The Ford White House failed to connect with the coalition groups that it needed to, and the result was a bitter, divisive primary battle for the nomination and defeat in the general

election — a lesson that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — both senior members of the Ford administration — also seem to have taken to heart.

Ronald Reagan's White House did make that effort to reach out to conservatives and other important coalition groups, having pioneered the sending of a White House staff member to meetings of various groups. At least from the conservative perspective, success depended upon whether Ed Meese, our ally, was able to intercede with Reagan before he could be blocked by White House Chief of Staff Jim Baker and his flunkies.

Things grew better when Don Regan swapped jobs with Jim Baker, though Regan was a poor chief of staff for other reasons. Whatever progress was achieved was dissipated after Regan was fired and replaced in turn by Howard Baker and then Ken Duberstein.

John Sununu was an able chief of staff to George Herbert Walker Bush's presidency, seeking the conservative viewpoint and then relaying our thoughts to the president until he was forced to try to sell a tax hike to conservatives.

He flopped and eventually was fired.

George W. appears intent on not repeating the sins of his father by angering the conservative coalition. No one is perfect but the bitter complaints that many conservatives have waged against GOP White Houses past are not heard because our views are reaching President Bush and receiving due consideration.

The president has done an excellent job so far of balancing the diverse demands, keeping all factions of his coalition pleased. And for that we can thank Karl Rove, for paying close attention to our concerns, and relaying them in an accurate fashion to Bush.

Karl Rove is no villain. But the guy who deserves the white hat for making decisions in a prudent, informed manner is George W. Bush. Sad to say, too many in the news media, because of their bias, cannot give credit where credit is really due.

— Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

— "Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

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