Morning Report 7/19/05
'Stick to Principle. Stick to Principle.'

Bush must not remember those past words from Rove, backs off on vow to fire Plamegate leakers

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Golden boys: Bush handler Karl "I Heard That Too" Rove (left) and Cheney adviser Scooter "I Heard That Too" Libby

Who said George W. Bush wasn't a compassionate conservative?

As we see this morning, he has backed off on his earlier vows to fire whoever outed Valerie Plame. There's a "higher threshold" now, as the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen put it.

Guess that means the golden boys Karl Rove and Scooter Libby don't have to hand in their keys to the West Wing bathroom. Will these decidedly not enuretic imperial advisers ever be punished for leaking? Depends.

But there was a time when Bush stuck to his principles, when he was a man of his word, when he didn't yield.

In one notable case, back in 2002, the guy urging him to "stick to principle"—by choosing tax cuts for the wealthy over the financial future of average Americans—was Karl Rove.

Let's go back to a November 2002 meeting at the White House of the Bush regime's economic team. That was a memorable discussion for Paul O'Neill, at the time Bush's Treasury secretary. After he resigned, in early 2003, O'Neill dumped a load of notes and memos on Ron Suskind, who produced The Price of Loyalty, a riveting inside look at the machinations of the Bush regime.

In January 2004, Lesley Stahl pumped up the book on 60 Minutes. Here's a transcript, posted by the excellent Canadian site Centre for Research on Globalization:

    STAHL: (Voiceover) Suskind, who was given a nearly verbatim transcript by someone who attended the [November 2002] meeting, says everyone expected Mr. Bush to rubber-stamp the plan under discussion, a big new tax cut. But according to Suskind, the president was, perhaps, having second thoughts about cutting taxes again and was uncharacteristically engaged.

    SUSKIND: He asks, "Haven't we already given money to rich people? This second tax cut's going to do it again."

    STAHL: The president himself says, "But we already gave it to the rich people?"

    SUSKIND: Yes, he says...

    STAHL: "Why are we going to do it again?"

    SUSKIND: ... "Did we already—why are we doing it again? Why are we doing it again?" Now, his advisers, they say, "Well, Mr. President, the upper class, they're the entrepreneurs." That's the standard response. And the president kind of goes, OK, that's their response. And then he comes back to it again. "Well, shouldn't we be giving money to the middle? Won't people be able to say, 'You did it once, and then you did it twice and what was it good for?' "

    (Footage of Suskind; photo of Bush and Karl Rove)

    STAHL: (Voiceover) But according to the transcript, White House political adviser Karl Rove jumped in.

    SUSKIND: Karl Rove is saying to the president a kind of mantra, "Stick to principle. Stick to principle." And he says it over and over again.

    STAHL: And he's saying, "Stick and don't waver."

    SUSKIND: "Don't waver."

    (Footage of Suskind and reporter talking; O'Neill)

    STAHL: (Voiceover) In the end, the president didn't. And nine days after that meeting in which O'Neill made it clear he could not publicly support another tax cut, the vice president called and asked him to resign.

Leave aside the fact that Bush comes across in the meeting as a complete dupe, a puppet, a front man. Big surprise.

Focus instead on Bush's brief fit of compassion for ordinary Americans. And on how Rove talked him down from that precipice.

Now, almost three years since that meeting, Bush is not sticking to principle. He has wavered from his vow to fire those who outed Plame—that would be Rove and Libby.

Apparently, this time anyway, Rove wasn't whispering in his ear, "Stick to principle, stick to principle."

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