Éminence Rove

Often referred to as shadowy and powerful, the political adviser to President Bush, Karl Rove, took a welcome step into the limelight this week.

Indeed, the intrigue over this éminence grise in the West Wing has prompted widespread speculation over how much the president bases his decisions on political calculations rather than on principles.

Such speculation is nothing new in Washington. President Clinton's political consultants drew similar attention. But Mr. Rove's successes in elections and his especially low-profile give him a special air of mysterious power. A couple of books about him are in the offing. And when he spoke at a Monitor-sponsored event, the room was packed with reporters. (See story.)

He told journalists that his reputation as a powerful Svengali was overrated, and that he was just "one voice among many around the senior staff table." But it's what he tells the president in private that really fascinates journalists and others. In a town that he says could "only operate successfully through myth," Mr. Rove could do more to demystify his reputation and continue to make himself more available.

He is, of course, just one of many political consultants who has mastered the art of the perpetual campaign, a trend that lends an air of cynicism to the affairs of state. But their work does cross a line when, despite a role in supporting a public servant, they stay in the shadows so much.

Regardless of what Americans may think after watching such TV shows as "The West Wing" and "Mr. Sterling," the inner workings of Washington should not be merely a game of political survival but a rigorous process of resolving competing interests and principles within America.

Key advisers who don't hide in the shadows should be the rule, not careful spin, or dancing to the polls, or policies calculated solely to ensure reelection.

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