A Short Course on Making a Silk Purse out of a Sow’s Ear

To make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is an old expression. It means when someone makes something rich and beautiful out of something rank and of little worth, well the creator of the silk purse has accomplished something rare and beautiful out of something rank and even perhaps repugnant. So it goes with the creation of political images of candidates running for public office. The trainer, or campaign manager of a candidate for elected office, has the task of creating the most favorable image of the person possible while the other side is busy trying to destroy that image. This phenomenon involves billions of dollars changing hands between lobbyist groups in DC to get what their clients are willing to pay for to see their man elected.

Karl Rove, perhaps one of the most successful handlers of candidates ever had the dubious task of turning George W. Bush into a two-term president. Under Rove’s shrewd direction of this president with a 92 IQ, Bush managed to come out of it all smelling like a rose and going on a successful book tour and joking about his public service as president on the Oprah Winfrey show. During that presidency, Bush borrowed and spent an additional 4 trillion dollars that got tacked onto the National Debt. This money Bush spent largely on guns, missiles, Homeland Security, and other war corporation-interests. Bush started two wars, one in Afghanistan and another in Iraq, where we still have boots on the ground after almost a decade. In addition, Rove made it palatable to the American voter for Bush to sponsor a 2-trillion dollar tax cut for the richest Americans, Bush’s proclaimed “base.” Karl Rove brilliantly made it okay for the new GOP (Neocons) to spend more money than the big-spending Democrats ever did, and to still blame the Democrats for being tax-and-spend enemies of America. Pretty good trick if you can pull it off. But Rove did. And Americans believed it enough to see Bush elected twice as president.

Karl Rove was first observed by President Nixon. In 1970 Rove had filched some Democratic Party letterhead in an Illinois election and had used the letterhead to discredit the Democratic candidate. It is no surprise that Rove’s mentors at the time were notorious dirty tricksters Lee Atwater and Daniel Segretti of the Nixon Watergate era. Nixon helped Rove get his start and later George Herbert Walker Bush helped Rove to rise even further. Rove became George W. Bush’s handler in the Texas gubernatorial races where George W. Bush won two terms, and later two terms as president of the United States.

Rove achieved success with Bush by keeping him off the microphone as much as possible, but on camera. Rove sold the sizzle, not the steak in promoting Bush as the good old boy who you would want to have a beer with. Not much substance, not much upstairs, but Bush could present a good swagger when he walked. The camera image of a macho president with a good smile is what Rove seized upon and used to sell a sow’s ear to the American public as a silk purse. Forget that he attacked Iraq who never harmed America. Forget that there were no weapons of mass destruction pointed at us. Forget that Scooter Libby lied and was convicted and sentenced by a federal jury only to be commuted by Bush later. Forget all the numerous signing statements Bush affixed to duly passed bills by Congress which destroyed the Constitutional separation of powers of our very government. Forget that Poppy Bush got W. into the Texas Air Guard where he would never see combat while the Viet Nam War raged. Forget that Bush probably went AWOL while in the Texas Air Guard and missed several mandatory drills. Forget all the missing Rove emails that could have meant some jail time for many White House officials, just sit back and relax. And know that George W. Bush is a good American, a Decider, who is just country enough for you to want to have a beer with. Yeehaw. Rove knew the important strings to pull and what to do with the Bush. 

The Gary Hart/Donna Rice scandal was another example of how the illusion becomes the reality. In April of 1987 Gary Hart, former Senator from Colorado, was the front-runner against Poppy Bush for president. Hart was supposed to win not only the Democratic nomination for president but the White House as well. 

Hart was in Florida on a yacht frequently docked in South Florida near Miami. The Monkey Business was an 83-foot motor yacht custom built and owned by the developers of a luxury resort. Famous guests included Elton John, Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson, and others. The very name of the yacht made for tabloid press fodder to taunt Hart about inappropriately being seen during the campaign with young women in Florida.

The boat was used by Senator Gary Hart during his 1987 campaign for president. Hart had challenged the press to provide evidence of his alleged infidelities. Reporters for the Miami Herald, in a bold move, staked out Hart's townhouse near the campaign yacht The Senator was spotted with Miami model Donna Rice sitting on Hart’s lap aboard the yacht. The media released photos of Hart and Rice on the luxurious yacht, and Hart’s shot at the presidency had been destroyed.

It was as good as it gets for Democrats back then. Ray Strother, Hart’s political advisor and an old high school acquaintance of mine, explained it this way: “Gary Hart was one of the finest men ever to run for high office. The opposition had been stalking him for quite some time to get some dirt on him prior to the General Election. They finally got their snapshot of Donna Rice sitting on Hart’s lap on the Monkey Business when the team watching Hart happened to drop their guard for a split second and Rice and the photographer came aboard the yacht. When the press saw Hart alone, that’s all it took, so smile…you’re on Candid Camera.”

“That’s all it took?” I asked. Apparently so. Ray said the other side did some splendid work getting Hart aside to where a photo could be taken with Donna Rice on his lap.

Nothing seems to be more damaging than an affair or an indiscretion when it comes to people in high office. Even though the charge is trumped up and false, the press wants to sell papers so they absolutely do not care about printing the truth. Insinuation seems to sell more copy. Gary Hart was caught (but not with his pants down) with a sweet young thing on his lap. It ruined him. Enough said. 

But is it? Is that all we care about the truth, or the lack of? Must we believe the illusion with all its circumstantial juiciness instead of the truth? Are we truly guilty until proven innocent when it comes to high public office and our elected officials? If the truth had been important to us as voters instead of falsely implied smut, would our lives had been for the better with 8 years with Gary Hart as president? Maybe so. But Poppy Bush would not have ascended to the White House. And it might have been much harder for his boy, George W. to get there as well. Everything is relative in the Universe, perhaps.

So the sultans of slime like Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Donald Segretti, and the like can use all their dirty tricks in their bag to foil the truth in the eyes of the American voter. Lies spun with big bucks from the rich GOP donors like Houston homebuilder Robert Perry and the Swift boaters to demonize Kerry back in 2004, work wonders when in the hands of the likes of Rove (Rove got $10 million from Perry alone that election year).

Segretti called foiling the Democrats by spin and lies, “Rat Fucking.” The truth gave way to the illusion. The big money made the illusion seem real. And the Illusion not only rat fucked the truth, but made Bush somebody you might want to have a beer with at Billy Bob’s. And Gary Hart into a womanizing married man that he truly was not. The illusion cost him the presidency. And most likely Americans a whole lot more.

So next time we get ready to pull the lever for who we think is an honest candidate who will serve us well, how will be know? How will we be able to perceive the illusions spin money generates when it successfully makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?