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Rove signs a copy of his new book outside the famed Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel where the launch was held. (John Ortved)
Rove signs a copy of his new book outside the famed Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel where the launch was held. (John Ortved)

Books

Karl Rove takes New York Add to ...

The most telling part of Karl Rove's new book, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight is in its subtitle. No single word underscores the current conservative mood, both in its highest echelons and its most populist, Teabagging throngs, than "fight."

Rove, George W. Bush's Svengali, the architect of his campaigns and current Fox News commentator, is as aware of this as anyone. On Wednesday night, while giving his toast at his book launch party at the storied Oak Room, in New York's newly refurbished Plaza Hotel, he wasted no time evoking this ideological principle.

"I see a lot of my former White House colleagues here … I really appreciate all of you who spent consequential time in combat with me," he said to applause.

But even before Rove arrived, there was no mistake that his crowd - the middle-aged, all-white businessmen, fans, and Fox News staffers chomping on lobster dumplings and sipping good old fashioned beers (Stella Artois) - were here as much to raise their banners and beat their drums as to toast their hero and friend.

Being a polite Canadian, I had donned the press credentials requested by the party's organizers, allowing the guests - who see members of the press much the way the rest of us see registered sex offenders - to keep an appropriate distance.

I thought Christopher Healy, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, and I might bond over the freedom fries that we both seemed to be enjoying. After sizing up my credentials, he told me gruffly, "Contrary to popular belief, conservatism is popular again, which tends to happen whenever the other side gives us the opportunity." I had asked him how he was enjoying the party.

Oddly, considering his success, power and role in the mainstream media (Fox is the most watched cable news network in the United States), many of the guests see Rove as a victim, demonized by the press and smeared by the Democrats.

"I hope that the message of the successes of the Bush Administration will get out," said Sam Nunberg, an employee of Jake Sekulow, who boasts the title of America's leading evangelical lawyer. "The truth will get out."

This is ostensibly the purpose of Courage and Consequence: to set, as Rove would say later on in his toast - and a million memoirists have said before - "the record straight." But the book reads less like a tell-all than a whitewash, an aggressive one, with jabs, hooks and slaps to his enemies old and new.

Not a single bad word is said about Bush, and the "shocking" truths Rove divulges include the fact that he was worried about Bush's DUI becoming public, that Colin Powell used to make him do push-ups, and that Dick Cheney was in reality "too much of a patriot" to choose himself as Bush's vice-president.

Cheney didn't make the party, and if Weekly Standard founder and chief Sunday morning talk show pugilist, William Kristol, was the biggest celebrity in attendance ("Where are the drinks?" he boomed, affably, upon his entrance), the largest was John Catsimatidis, the billionaire and owner of New York's ubiquitous Gristedes grocery chain - the Hilary Weston of New York city.

A former Democrat, jovial and tough, Catsimatidis' language is that of the pragmatist. He thinks the Republican party is "Searching for itself … If we go to any extreme and we can't get 51 per cent, that's not a win for me. As a businessman, I've always played to win." Then, looking around, he added "This is a great room."

It was almost fitting that Rove would have his book launch at the Oak Room. Only he could throw a lavish party in the fanciest location in all of Manhattan - and so Hollywood, appearing in 50 years of films, from Funny Girl to The Way We Were to Bride Wars - the epicentre of Not-Real-America elitism, and have it appear as a celebration of Republican values and truth.

"Oak is a nice, strong, sturdy wood, and Karl Rove is a strong, sturdy person," said Roger Kimball, a social critic (and far from the only man in the room sporting a bowtie) who has amazingly wed right-wing ideology and art criticism with books like The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art.

The Bush years have made Rove into a bona fide conservative superstar. As I cowered near one of many silver vases overflowing with lilies, I overhead a gentleman discussing the demands of the conservative party circuit. "I go to parties in L.A., D.C., and here … and it's all the same people," he said. "I go to Karl's things," replied his friend, as if Karl was a celebrity DJ, or an Upper East Side doyenne. And in a way, he is. You could feel the buzz through the Brooks Brothers and pocket squares as anticipation built for his arrival.

"He's up at Fox News … They're all coming down together," said one staffer. Ah, an entourage. Apparently Rove, like any good celebrity, travels in a drove.

When the man dubbed by Dubya as "Turd Blossom" finally arrived, taking his place atop a leather banquette to give a speech, he almost immediately focused his sights on those his books would engage in hostilities: "[The book's]going to piss off some people: New York Times editorial board, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy." Here Rove paused, realizing that perhaps the anachronistic dig had revealed that this wasn't a new declaration of independence, but a reading from the same, tired old script. But this was indeed his crowd. "Well, we can't piss him off any more," he gloated. They cheered.

Rove wound down his speech promising to stick around and shake some hands, before offering one last nod to Mars. "If you don't have anything to do, and you like World Wrestling Federation, come up to the 92nd Y," he said. "I have an appearance there tonight. Don't ask me why."

Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, Rove's words had betrayed the answer.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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