Pursuit of the Great White Whale

“Aye, aye! and I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! To chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of Earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave.” — Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Comparing the long-lived pursuit of President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove by Democrats armed with subpoenas in place of harpoons to Ahab’s pursuit of the great white whale is an overused metaphor. But its overuse is a measure just how apt the metaphor has proven to be. What is often forgotten is the origin of this animus.

For Captain Ahab the obsession with the white whale began when the whale took his leg. For Democrats the source of the obsession was the ever so close 2000 presidential election. The economy was humming along and we are not (at least we believed we were not) at war. Prosperity and peace is a conventional formula for victory. All the politically modeling would have predicted a 4 o 5 percentage point win by Vice-President Al Gore over the Governor George Bush.

Surprisingly, Bush parlayed personal affability, a popular distaste for President Clinton’s personal behavior, and Gore’s awkwardness as a candidate into a victory. The victory was even more frustrating for Democrats because Gore won the popular vote but not the electoral vote. Frustrated and angry Democrats believed the election was stolen.

However, Democrats could not blame President George Bush for their loss, because their own rhetoric had painted him as a simpleton. To give Bush credit for the victory, would mean that they had been outwitted by Bush. It was far easier to grant credit for the victory to Karl Rove, Bush’s evil political genius.

Then contrary to conventional political wisdom in 2002, the President’s party actually gained seats in the House of Representatives. How could this be? It must be clever manipulation by Karl Rove of the public anxious about its security.

We can then add to this the frustration of the substantial defeat of Senator John Kerry by Bush in 2004. How could urbane and intelligent Kerry lose to Bush? It had to be that mandarin Karl Rove who conjured up the Swift Boat veterans and led the blogs in their revelation of forged documents behind a CBS report surrounding Bush’s service in the National Guard.

One might have thought that when the Democrats won the House and Senate in 2006, their awe of Karl Rove’s expertise as well as their anger might have abated. No. The victory gave them a subpoena power with which to pursue Rove. Perhaps they could catch Rove in a misstatement that could be harvested into a perjury indictment.

Alas, Karl Rove has announced his decision to resign and go to other pursuits. There is no real reason to pursue Rove any further save vengeance. Nonetheless, Democrats do not appear willing to let the matter drop. As an exercise in executive privilege, the President will not permit Rove to testify before Congress. Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, still fumes at Rove:

“The stonewalling leaves me and the Senate Judiciary Committee with few options other than considering citations for contempt of Congress against those who have refused to provide relevant testimony and documents to the Congress.”

That is a prosaic way of saying, “…from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

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