Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Review: Boy Genius

Title: Boy Genius

Author: Lou DuBose

Author's current web site:

Date: 2003 (there was an update in 2009, which I've not read)

Publisher: Perseus Public Affairs

ISBN: 1-58648-192-4

Length: 253 pages

Quote: “When Miriam Rozen…asks why no reporter at the event has challenged Bush’s limited understanding of national and foreign policy issues, Rove [says]… ‘Because they were spellbound.’”

Boy Genius is a hostile biography of Karl Rove as “The Brains behind the remarkable Political Triumph of George W. Bush.” At least it wanted to be hostile.

Personally, I’ve never been convinced that W Bush lacked brains, as such. Obviously, Ben Carson he’s not; nor is he Bill Gates, nor is he Stephen Hawking, nor…My point here is that if Americans had, as a group, wanted Ben Carson as our President, we could’ve elected him. We didn’t. Given a choice between a real genius who has better things to do than make speeches and look good on TV, and an ordinary chap who did reasonably well in school and loves to make speeches and look good on TV, we’ll elect the TV “personality” every time. When I was younger this fact used to make me wish I could belong to some other nation that did better about this sort of thing than Americans. Now that I’ve given up hope that such a nation exists in our world, I can only observe that W Bush was very, very good at what We The People apparently wanted—at looking good on TV.

Good, as in bland. Good, as in…blond? Would you call W’s hair blond or grey? In any case W was very good at using the “blond” stereotype to defuse hostility. “I did that? Mercy! How? I wouldn’t even have known how to do that. I was just standing there, thinking about how I was going to look on my next TV show, and someone else came up and…” If you know how to play the “blond” game you don’t even have to blame someone else for whatever it was, the way tacky old Bill Clinton, who is not a gentleman, always seemed to need to do. W, who is a gentleman, didn't blame Karl Rove. I don’t remember anyone’s actually even mentioning that Rove was blond, originally, whereas in some early photos Bush’s ash-fair hair had darkened to a point that could have been described as brown.

Rove was, however, a political strategist, which is one of those occupations it’s easy for some people to hate. He was a quintessential nerd, which is one of those personality types it’s easy for some people to hate. He was White, he was slightly overweight, he was rich, and he was a known admirer of Richard Nixon. W did not actually need to tell his critics to bash Rove. A lot of them wanted to bash Rove, on general principles, for any reason or none. So in this book they do.

Much of the time, I confess, I have to remind myself, “Giving Rove credit for keeping W ‘on message’ about education and property tax relief, during the gubernatorial election, counts as blame…they think getting W elected was a bad thing.” A lot of practical politics is game playing. If you’re a Republican you can read many of DuBose and colleagues’ stories of Rove’s successes as praise. For me, reminding a candidate to say a lot about tax relief counts as a bad thing only if the candidate subsequently raised taxes.

Getting Walking-Target Bush into the White House was a bad thing, in my opinion, because it started a war. If DuBose and company could prove that Rove knew that would happen, they’d have had some real dirt on Rove. They can’t. I personally can prove that I suggested that W be a really compassionate conservative and back a conservative with a different family name, in 2000, but I can’t prove that Rove ever read that suggestion. A theoretical possibility remains that Rove, who was so brilliant at manipulating Americans, knew nothing at all about Arabs. I can believe that the self-serving bias, always very strong in humans, could have persuaded W—who was and is an oilman, who knew and knows Osama bin Laden’s relatives—that “Of course old Osama knows that he’s only the demented demagogue of a handful of malcontents, and that I’d mop up the floor with him if he ever went beyond ranting and did me any harm; sensible Arabs like me.” I suppose Rove might have fallen for that idea. Maybe. As a Christian I sort of hope he did. 

“In…‘the money primary’…Bush easily defeated John McCain, Gary Bauer, Lamar Alexander, Alan Keyes, Elizabeth Dole, and Pat Buchanan,” in fundraising. Nevertheless Rove has been blamed for a truly remarkable, because surely unnecessary, negative campaign against McCain.

There were valid reasons for Republicans to prefer Bush, McCain, or someone else in the 2000 primaries. Though neither candidate was “conservative” to anything like the extents that candidates Dole, Keyes, and you-can’t-be-serious Buchanan were “conservative,” Bush could be described as a “country-club, tax-and-spend” Republican. McCain had admitted in his bestselling book that, on all but military issues, he could better be described as a conservative Democrat. (Nobody at this web site hated McCain, and some of us liked him, for that reason.) A legitimate Bush/McCain primary campaign could so easily have been organized along the lines of “Senator McCain voted to increase spending…Senator McCain failed to support budget cuts…”

Instead, as most readers probably remember and as the McCain family will never forget, there was a series of palpably false rumors about Senator McCain’s personal life, including a really vile one about a child just barely old enough to be embarrassed. Any proof that Rove was directly involved with that might have been published as legitimate “political dirt” that would have given readers a reason to dislike, distrust, vote against, Rove and the candidate for whom he was working. Long story short: that’s not what Boy Genius contains.

And so this political biography starts with a growl and ends with a whimper. We know the three co-authors don’t like Rove. We’re not convinced that their reasons for disliking Rove are more than game-playing or personal prejudice. Some day Boy Genius may actually come to be considered a Republican document.

Some day it will have historical value...and right now it's a Fair Trade Book, which means that if you buy it here, $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, we send $1 per copy to DuBose or a charity of his choice. Payment may be sent to either address at the bottom of the screen. If making a payment via Paypal or (not recommended, but allowed) Amazon giftcard to Salolianigodagewi, you'd send $11 for one copy or $26 for four copies of Boy Genius (or one copy of each of four books of its size); if sending a U.S. postal money order to P.O. Box 322, you'd send us only $10 for one book or $25 for four books, and the post office would collect its own surcharge.