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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Rove's Brutus problem

Q: Like many leaders, George Bush relied on trusted advisors like Karl Rove for advice and strategy. How can a leader draw the line between receiving good advice and being overly influenced by a strong advisor?

Results count most. As Shakespeare says, "'Tis deeds must win the prize." Hence an advisor with increasing success should be increasingly valued. Those failing to do so should be reduced, eventually removed.

Initially, a leader best find advisors who supplement his or her own talents. In Julius Caesar -- still a textbook for keen leadership -- Cassius realizes he lacks the stature to lead a conspiracy against Caesar. Shrewdly, he recruits Brutus, who is full of integrity and high esteem (as he incessantly tells us).

So far, so good.

Yet once Brutus joins the team, he insists on being the team. Cassius, a canny operator with solid judgment, strangely yields to this abstract academic type. As the decision-making power moves, the story thickens or, for members of their team, sickens.

For Brutus now makes all the decisions. All are uniformly bad. All are made resolutely, without reservation. All are questioned by Cassius, who proposes a different course and explains logically why his is a better alternative. Oddly enough, all are eventually accepted by Cassius, albeit with eyes rolling, as the way forward.

Forward they do not go. Into the ditch they go - into utter defeat.

To extrapolate, when Karl Rove has long-term Republican dominance as his stated objective, (compared, as he said, to the McKinley era), and the party heads instead to short-term destruction, then the leader (President Bush) has a clear obligation. It's to say, "Thanks, friend, for all you've done. But now you're done."

Neither George W. Bush nor Cassius did so. Both ended badly as leaders. President Bush at least had the opportunity to learn this big lesson by reading Julius Caesar. That wasn't available when Cassius was on the stage assuming leadership.

By Ken Adelman

 |  March 4, 2010; 2:39 PM ET
Category:  A leader's team Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, 'This was a man!' (5.5.68)

Shakespeare called Brutus "the noblest Roman" of the conspirators - I could call Mr. Rove many things (mostly unprintable), but "noble" would not be among them.

Posted by: shadowmagician | March 4, 2010 9:43 PM
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No fair for Reaganites to carp on Bush the Younger...he's their son. For the Rabid Right, Reagan's First Inaugural Dictum, "Government is not the solution..., government is the problem," are the watchwords of freedom. "Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon," he said, and today tens of millions of Born-Agains just can't wait to see Jesus. Too bad Reagan isn't here to see what he spawned. Bush was the logical extension of his anti-intellectual dream world. Reagan consulted astrologers, Bush led with his "gut.” These days, no opinion is too bizarre because all opinions are equal and opinions are equal to facts. What's the difference, really? Facts are just words on paper, same as math is just numbers on paper and Chinese is just gibberish. Anything you don't understand is suspect and part of a liberal plot. Reagan also said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," and he was right. After 30 years of Reaganism, which we're still living under, we’ve been cut adrift from the Constitution, our articles of freedom. Bush/Rove subverted habeas corpus, ordered torture, filled the government with political and religious commissars, emptied the Treasury -- in short, wrecked the joint! -- but hurry and you, too, can drive a Hummer!

Posted by: My1Shkin | March 4, 2010 9:24 PM
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Cheney definitely played Brutus in the Bush Administration, except for the integrity and high esteem part.

Posted by: ejs2 | March 4, 2010 8:50 PM
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George W. Bush didn't need to read Shakespeare to be able to take the measure of Karl Rove's character, if he'd wanted to. He would have had plenty of insight into Rove's unprincipled behavior after his Texas gubernatorial campaign and the South Carolina Republican primary in 2000 (you can be sure that John McCain got an up-close-and-personal look into Rove's soul in S.C.). Bush only cared about results, not the cost. Unintended outcomes? Not his responsibility. History will not look as kindly on our morally and financially bankrupting escapades into Iraq and Afghanistan as former Bush Administration spinners would like you to believe.

The American people will be paying the tab for Bush's moral scotoma regarding Rove for a long, long time.

Posted by: hardrain | March 4, 2010 8:26 PM
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LOL When an ambitious slacker son with little talent, except the need to compete with the dad, meets an unprincipled operative you have the second Bush White House. That it flamed out ingloriously is no surprise is it?

Posted by: BobSanderson | March 4, 2010 7:08 PM
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Did you say Pres.Bush could have read Julius Ceasar? I'm sure you were joking Mr.Adelman. Unless you were referring to the comicbook version, of course.

Posted by: sambam | March 4, 2010 6:56 PM
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This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
Quite vanquished him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey's statue,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O! what a fall was there, my countrymen;
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourished over us.
O! now you weep, and I perceive you feel
The dint of pity; these are gracious drops. (3.2.189)

This was the noblest Roman of them all;
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, 'This was a man!' (5.5.68)

Posted by: shadowmagician | March 4, 2010 5:57 PM
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