Karl Rove's memoir, "Courage and Consequence," was released today, but due to a press leak last week most readers already knew that George W. Bush's former political strategist served up no major revelations. However, say some reviewers, there are still a few surprises.
Perhaps the biggest one, according to Steve Levingston, who reviewed the book for The Washington Post, is how personal Rove got. "In unexpectedly tender prose, Rove tells a poignant family story, which includes his father's long absences, his parents' divorce and his mother's suicide," Levingston writes. "Rove addresses far more of his personal life than one would expect from a man who so effectively controlled information in the White House."
Rove also deals with questions about the sexual orientation of his adoptive father. (Rove was 19 before he learned that the man he thought of as his father was not his biological parent.) "To this day, I have no idea if my father was gay," he writes. "And, frankly, I don't care. He was my father, with whom I had a wonderful relationship and whom I loved deeply."
But when it comes to politics and policy, some early reviews are calling the book less than scintillating. "Karl Rove has a good book in him but this one isn't it," reads the headline on Walter Shapiro's column in Politics Daily. Tim Rutten in The Los Angeles Times calls the book "a curiously empty memoir," while Kansas City Star editorial columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah calls it "sleep-inducing material."
Here's some of what Rove covers in his book:
– He tells the story of his first political fight at the age of 9, when a neighborhood girl bloodied his nose because he was a Nixon supporter.
– He accuses Congressional Democrats of hypocrisy for saying that Bush lied about the existence of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. He says that they had originally been equally outspoken about the dangers of such weapons and he charges Al Gore with "the most pathetic display of hypocrisy."
– He says that failure to defend the president against such charges was "one of the biggest mistakes of the Bush years."
– Rove defends the administration's use of waterboarding.
– He denies connections to the rumor that John McCain had fathered a black child outside his marriage and the Swift Boat campaign against presidential contender John Kerry, writing, "I had no role in any of [the Swift Boat campaign], though the Swifties did a damned good job."
In all of the above, there are few surprises and little new to be learned. In short, says Shapiro, the memoir is often "opaque" and not what he would consider a "thoughtful and candid account."
However, he points out, most appropriately paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld, even if this is not the memoir you might have wished for, all you can do is to "settle into your easy chair with the book you have."
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.